Paintings of India


Painting has been a passion of humans since prehistoric times. Paintings across the walls of caves in Bhimbetka, Ajanta and Ellora prove this fact. Let's take a look at unique traditional styles of painting that have emerged from India!


Thangkas are paintings with the imagery of all that revolves around the life of Buddha. The themes pertain to the mystic sect of Buddhism. These paintings are painted on silk or cotton using various bright colours. This work is done by trained Tibetan and Nepali artists. Thangkas are predominantly used for wall hangings. Thangkas are divided into two broad categories - those which are painted (called 'bristhan' in Tibetan) and those which are made of silk either by weaving or with embroidery (called 'gos-than').


Madhubani, also called Mithila, is a style of painting that is traditionally done on the freshly plastered mud walls of huts in Bihar. Today it is done on paper, canvas and cloth too. These paintings are done by village women using colours extracted from the plants grown locally. There are certain symbols that are always part of Madhubani paintings including the ring of the lotus ('kamalban' or 'purain') and the bamboo tree.


Warli paintings are made by the people of the Warli tribe that inhabits Thane district. Warli paintings are strikingly different from other forms of Indian paintings. These paintings are never themed around mythological stories. Instead they talk of the life of people who create this art. These paintings are made with only two colours, a brown background with white line drawing. The only exceptions are red and yellow spots that are auspiciously put to decorate the painting. In Warli paintings figures form a loose, rhythmic pattern across the entire sheet. Scholars have traced their origin to the Neolithic Age that extends from 3,000BC to 2,500BC.


Tanjore paintings originate from Tamil Nadu and are known for their traditional ornate touch. This art form originated in the 16th Century under royal patronage. These paintings are created by a meticulous process, which involves many stages. Layers of cloth are pasted over wood to create the base for the painting. This is then treated with lime paste to make the surface smooth for painting. The next step involves drawing outlines of the figures. Later pearls, semi-precious stones, beaten gold leaf and gilt are stuck on the image with a mixture of sawdust and glue.


Kalamkari paintings evolved from two ancient cities of Andhra Pradesh - Masulipatnam and Srikalahasti. The literal meaning of Kalamkari is a painting done using pen. Kalamkari is an ancient craft that can be traced to 3,000 years ago. It's an art of painting as well as printing using vegetable dyes. Kalamkari belongs to India and Iran historically. There are two basic styles of kalamkari painting. One is the Masulipatnam style where the designs are Persian in character with intricate and delicate forms. This style of Kalamkari is chiefly done on bed covers, curtains and also garments. The Srikalahasti style is inspired by temples. This style has episodes from the Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana and other mythological stories.


Phad paintings originated in Rajasthan. They are a type of scroll painting. This style of painting on cloth is mainly found in the Bhilwara district. The main theme of these paintings is the depiction of local deities and the stories and legends of erstwhile local rulers. These paintings are created using bright and subtle colours.


Miniature paintings are hand-painted illustrations created using subtle strokes of the brush, marked by intricate, colourful and realistic scenes. Miniature paintings in India had begun to take shape as far back as the 6th and 7th Century. Miniature painting is done on paper, ivory panels, wooden tables, leather, marble, cloth and walls. Flowers and animals are used as common images in these paintings and the colours are mainly derived from minerals, vegetables, precious stones, indigo, conch shells, pure gold and silver. The preparation and mixing of the colours is an elaborate process and it sometimes takes many months to get the desired colour. The brushes used for this style of painting are very fine.


Patachitras are folk art paintings that worship Lord Jagannath. Organic or natural colours are used in the Patachitras. The leaves of plants, flower petals, fruits (like mango for yellow), ground rock and even urine of domesticated animals contribute to the production of a variety of shades and hues. Once the colours are extracted they are combined with gum resin and then used in painting. The brushes used to apply the paint are prepared from plant fibres or animal hair. The depiction of images in a Patachitra is not always uniform. It can vary from a single image painted on a circular Patachitra to the depiction of several stages of a story on long rectangular 'patis'.

Along with cloth paintings, the artists also create delicately etched images on dried palm leaves, usually known as Talapatachitra. Large palm leaves (talpata) are cut into rectangular pieces of the required size and dried. These flat rectangular palm leaves are then stitched together with thin black thread. The designs are engraved with a needle on the face of the palm leaves. Within the limited space, detailed human figures, animals, trees and ornate designs are etched out with perfect precision and beauty.


Leather carving is popular in Auroville and Pondicherry. The terra cotta leather enables the artist to execute carving and braiding work by hand. After carving and braiding, the piece is coloured. Gold embossed painting on leather has a unique charm of its own. The leather is pasted on iron and wood, geometrical designs are made and flowers, leaves and figures are drawn with a thin pen brush. A specially prepared paste made from guggal, sakkar, gum and fenugreek is applied on the drawings. Fine pieces of gold are then pasted on leather with sugar solution and enamel paint.