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The earliest Indian paintings were the rock paintings of prehistoric times, the petroglyphs as found in places like Bhimbetka, and some of them are older than 5500 BC. Such works continued and after several millennia, in the 7th century, carved pillars of Ellora, present a fine example of Indian paintings. Thereafter, frescoes of Ajanta and Ellora caves appeared. Indian paintings provide an aesthetic continuum that extends from the early civilization to the present day. From being essentially religious in purpose in the beginning, Indian painting has evolved over the years to become a fusion of various cultures and traditions. The Indian painting was exposed to Greco-Roman as well as Iranian and Chinese influences.

Indian paintings can be broadly classified as the murals and miniatures. Murals are huge works executed on the walls of solid structures, as in the Ajanta Caves and the Kailashnath temple. Miniature paintings are executed on a very small scale on perishable material such as paper and cloth. The Palas of Bengal were the pioneers of miniature paiting in India.


Early examples of murals are found in the caves of Ajanta and Bagh. Fragments of mural paintings are also found in the comtemporary Pitalkhora Caves. Early evidences of the tradition of mural paintings in southern India are found in the sites of Badami and Sittanavasal. Evidences of mural paintings are also found in the Kailashnath temple in Ellora.

Miniature painting

The pattern of large scale wall painting which had dominated the scene, witnessed the advent of miniature paintings during the 11th and 12th centuries. This new style figured first in the form of illustrations etched on palm-leaf manuscripts. The contents of these manuscripts included literature on the Buddhism and Jainism.

Eastern Indian painting

In eastern India miniature painting developed in 10th century. These miniatures, depicting Buddhist divinities and scenes from the life of Buddha were painted on the leaves of the palm-leaf manuscripts as well as their wooden covers. Most common Buddhist illustrated manuscripts include the texts Astasahasrita Prajnaparamita.

Western Indian painting

In western India between the 10th to 12th century miniature painting developed. These miniatures are found in some Jaina manuscripts and are of 2 to 4 inches in size. It was in the 14th century, that paper replaced the palm leaf. The Jaina style of paintings attained a high degree of development by the late 15th and 16th century. In the 16th century, a number of Hindu illustrated manuscripts appeared in western India, which include the texts, the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva and the Bhagavata Purana.

Malwa schools of painting

A new trend in manuscript illustration was set by a manuscript of Nimatnama painted at Mandu, during the reign of Nasir Shah. This represent a synthesis of the indigenous and the Persian style of painting.

Mughal painting

Mughal paintings were a unique blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles. Akbar’s reign ushered a new era in Indian miniature painting. During his reign more than a hundred painters were employed, most of whom were Hindus who gave birth to a new  school of painting, popularly known as the Mughal School of miniature paintings. One of the first productions of that school of miniature painting was the Hamzanama series. They are in the Persian safavi style. After him, Jahangir was a good painter himself. He encouraged artists to paint portraits and durbar scenes. His most talented portrait painters were Ustad Mansur, Abdul Hasan and Bishandas. During the reign of Shahjahan this trend continued though he was more interested in artitecture.

Rajput painting

Rajput painting, a style of Indian painting evolved and flourished, during the 18th century, in the royal courts of Rajputana, India. Each Rajput kingdom evolved a distinct styly, but with certain common features. Rajput paintings depict a number of themes,events of epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Krishna’s life, beautiful landscapes, and humans. Miniatures were thepreferred medium of Rajput painting.

Tanjore painting

Tanjore painting is an important form of classical South Indian painting native to the town of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. These paintings are known for their elegance, rich colours and attention to details. The themes for most of these paintings are Hindu Gods and Goddesses and scenes from Hindu mythology.

Bengal school

The Bengal School of Art was an influential style of art that flourished in India during the British Raj in the early 20th century. It was associated with Indian nationalism, but was also promoted and supported by many British arts asministrators. The first artist of this school was Abanindranath Tagore, a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. He painted a number of works  influenced  by Mughal art. Tagore’s best-known painting Bharat Mata, depicted a young woman, portrayed with four arms in the manner of Hindu deities, holding objects symbolic of India’s national aspirations. The Bengal school’s influence in India declined with the spread of modernist ideas in the 1920s.

Modern Indian painting

During the colonial era, western influences started to make an impact on Indian art. Some artists developed a style that used Western ideas of composition, perspective and realism to illustrate Indian themes. Others, like Jamini Roy, consciously drew inspiration from folk art. The Progressive Artist’s Group, established shortly after India became independent in 1947, was intended to establish new ways of expressing India in the post-colonial era. The founders were six eminent artists- K H Ara, S K Bakre, H A Gade, M F Hussain, S H Raza and F N Souza. This group was dissolved in 1956, it was profoundly influential in changing the idiom of Indian art. Almost all of India’s major artists in the 1950s were associated with the group. Some of those who are well-known today are Bal Chabda, V S Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta and Akbar Padamsee. Other famous painters are Jahar Dasgupta, Prodash Karmakar and Bijon Choudhure enriched the art and culture of India. They have become the icon of modern Indian art. From 1990 to till 2009 the Indian art is growing with powerful expression. One of them is Raj Mehta.


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