Paintings in India

Stone Age Painting

  • Bhimbetka caves located in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh contain oldest paintings in India.
  • These paintings commenced from 1 lac BC & continued up to 1000 AD.
  • About 500 such paintings having discovered in these caves.
  • Bhimbetaka cave paintings discovered by Dr. Vikram Wakankar of Vikram University at Ujjain in 1958.
  • These caves located in Laakhajubar forest.
  • The locals believed that these caves were used by Pandava during their days of exile.
  • Archaeological evidence brought in light that man lives in these caves from lower Paleolithic age till 1000 AD.
  • Paintings in Bhimbetaka caves divide into 5 periods.
  • Oldest painting belongs to Paleolithic age. These are linear representation of animal & stick like human figure.
  • Mesolithic painting constitute 2nd These portray scene communal dance birds, pregnant women, man caring dead animal, drinking scene & hunting scene, mother & child.
  • Chalcolithic painting constitute 3rd In these huts, animal & agriculture activities are portrayed. These paintings indicate that the people living in caves were I contact with nearby Chalcolithic community.
  • The 4th phase paintings belong to early centuries of Christian era. These painting depict horse riders, religious symbols, tunic like dress & script of different period.
  • 5th phase paintings belong to early medieval age. These paintings are inferior in quality geometrical designs, curvy lines; Brahmnical deities like Ganesh & Nataraja are portrayed.
  • Red & white colors were used most commonly in Bhimbetaka, at time yello & green also used. These colors were prepared by using natural mineral, plant extract & wooden charcoal. Animal fat mixed with color to make them permanent.
  • Bhimbetaka included in UNESCO’s world heritage site list in 2003.
  • Significance of Bhimbetaka painting can be comprehended in the form that-
  • These are oldest painting in India. These painting marked beginning of art of painting in Indian subcontinent.
  • Painting indicates that early Stone Age man was not bereft of cultural sense. The test of Stone Age man in fine is revealed by these paintings.
  • Paintings help in understanding the pattern of life during Stone Age & evolution of human life during different time period.
  • The scenes of communal dance in this painting indicate that early man was aware of dance.
  • Colors used in these painting help in understanding of knowledge chemical science during Stone Age.

Paintings in Harrappan Civilization

  • The Harrappan made very fine painting depicting fish, animals, birds, geometrical designs & flowers on outer red surface of pot in black color.
  • These paintings informed that art of painting was highly developed during Harrappan Age.
  • Colors used in these painting through light on knowledge of chemical science.

Paintings during Vedic Age

  • During later Vedic Age paintings were made in blue color on outer surface of Grey colored pots used by Aryan.
  • These depict geometrical & floral designs.

Painting during Post Mauryan Age

  • Some of caves of Ajanta such of cave number 9 & 10 contain paintings of this age. Theme of these paintings was Buddhist.

Paintings during Gupta Period

  • The 2nd phase painting of Ajanta cave was carried out during 5th& 6th
  • According to inscription found in cave number 17 cut is 5th century AD. (Inscriptions belong to Varahdeva who cut the cave). The wall paintings are made in caves to cause the attainment of well-being by good people as long Sun continues to spell darkness by its rays.
  • Cave number 1, 16 & 17 have paintings of Gupta Age.
  • In cave number 1, Jataka stories are portrayed. The paintings of Padampani & Vajrapani Bodhisattvas are of very high quality. Padampani is also known as Avalokitesvara (Lord who looks down).
  • Cave number 16 at Ajanta has the world famous painting of dying princes.
  • This painting portrays Sundri, the wife of Buddha’s half-brother Nanda in the state of sorrow because Nanda left home to join Buddha.
  • Cave number 17 has the painting of mother & child.
  • This painting portrays 1st visit of Buddha to his home after attaining enlightenment.
  • There 2 interpretation of this painting. The 1st interpretation says that Buddha receiving Alam. From his son Rahul, while Yasodhara looks upon.
  • 2nd interperation says that Yashoda asked her son Rahul to demand his rightful place as Royal prince as intertie. As this Buddha shows his beginning bowl that Buddha has only this begger bowl.
  • Bhaga caves (Dhar, Madhya Pradesh) also contains a large number of paintings.
  • Paintings in Bhaga caves depict the wordly / materialistic life.
  • Cave number 4 is most famous in terms of paintings. It contains large number of paintings on his face, wall & roofs. It’s famously known as “Chitrashala” / “Rang Mahal” / “Hall of Colors”.
  • Literacy reference also provides information about paintings during Gupta Age.
  • According to Varah Mihir (Author of Brihatsamhita) different types of lepas (paste) used for prepare the wall for paintings.
  • Vatsyayana also wrote about progress of during Gupta Age.
  • Painters of Gupta Age used both Fresco technology (painting was made on wet plaster & Tempera technology (Dry plaster) in their Murals (Wall paintings).

Post Gupta Age Painting

  • Some of the paintings made in Ajanta caves such as cave number 1 & 17 belong to this age (6th century – early 7th century).
  • Ellora caves also haave paintings of this age.
  • Ellora painting depict 2 phase. 1st depict God Vishnu & Laxmi.
  • 2nd phase depict Shiva, Parvati & Apsara.

Early Medieval Age

  • During this age art of painting flourished almost in whole of India.
  • Chaurapanchasika (50 stanza (paras) of thief) is a book of Kashmiri writer Bilhana belonging to 11th
  • In this book, love story of thief & princes is depicted through paintings.
  • In Eastern India, Buddhist paintings made in large number under patronage of Palla rulers.
  • These paintings also known as “Pala paintings”.
  • Use of Sinuous line (curves & turns) & subdued (light) tones of colors are the important features.
  • In Western India (Gujarat, Rajasthan) large number of Jaina paintings were made.
  • Depiction of linear energy (straight line) & use of Taut Angular (tight) outlines of face are important features of these paintings.
  • Jaina paintings divided into 3 periods. In the 1st period palm leaves & Birch Bark were used. In the 2nd period, paper was used & 3rd period cloths were used for making paintings.
  • These paintings of Early Medieval Age are example of miniature painting.
  • In South India, paintings were made on walls of caves & temples during Early Medieval Age.
  • Kailash temple (Elora) & Brihadeshwar temple (Thanjavur) have large number of paintings of this age.
  • These painting depict religious & mythological scenes along with the bird and animals.

Mughal Paintings

  • The art of painting witnessed remarkable progress during Mughal period. Because liberal & progressive Mughal rulers patronized painters in their court.
  • Beginning from reign of Babar painters were patronized by Mughal rulers.
  • Babar in his autobiography mentioned that painters were employed in making images for his book.
  • Significance progress in field of painting commenced during reign of Humayun.
  • While returning from Persia. Humayun brought 2 famous painter with him – Khawja Abdul Samad & his son Mir Sayyad Ali.
  • Mir Sayyad Ali was appointed as Akbar’s teacher.
  • Paintings were mainly in form of book illustration (Narrative painting in which stories of books were presented).
  • Akbar patronized large number of painters in his court. He established department of painting known as “Tasvir Khana”.
  • Painters were appointed in state services to support them.
  • Most remarkable progress in field of paintings took place during reign of Jahangir. He himself was a fine painter. He could find out which part of painting was made by whom by composite work.
  • Mansoor was greatest painter of birds, animals & natural beauty.
  • Bisandas was the greatest portrait painter. He was even send to Persia to make portrait of Persian ruler. He received a gift as elephant from Persia.
  • Art of painting continued to flourish during reign of Shah Jahan.
  • Portraits of members of Royal family were made during his reign.
  • Golden color was used on large scale. These costly paintings reflect the high level of prosperity.
  • Aurangzeb prohibited the art of paintings. He considered painting was against tenets of Islam.
  • Royal painter were banished & painting located on walls of Akbar’s palace (Arya) & his tomb Sikandara were ordered to be white washed.
  • Aurangzeb also destroyed the paintings of Bijapur & Gowalkonda. The 2 Southern state annexed by him.
  • The Mughal painters expelled from court moved into Rajasthan & Hilly area. As result of which Rajasthani / Rajput style painting & Pahadi school of painting emerged.

Characteristic Features of Mughal Paintings

  • Mughal paintings were example of court art because painter lived under patronage of king.
  • The themes of Mughal painting revolved around court life primarily.
  • Court scene, palace scene, hunting scene, war scenes & natural beauty were painted.
  • Some of painting of this age also portrays the life of common people in villages. The huts, bullock carts, women pulling water from well & farmer busy in their agriculture activity were also portrayed.
  • The Mughal paintings reflected an assimilation of Persian, Indian & European elements.
  • Persian influence was visible in the form of 2 dimensional (flat) painting & narrative paintings.
  • Indian influence was visible in the form of portrait painting. 8D paintings & use of peacock blue & red color.
  • The European, influence was visible in form of Halo, light & shadow effect, depiction of roaring cloud & greater progress in field of miniature paintings.
  • Oil painting was absent during Mughal period.
  • Rose flower enjoys place central significance in Mughal paintings just like lotus flower enjoys central significance in Ajanta paintings.

Rajasthani School of Painting 

  • Rajput painting, also called Rajasthani painting, evolved and flourished in the royal courts of Rajputana in India. Each Rajputana kingdom evolved a distinct style, but with certain common features. Rajput paintings depict a number of themes, events of epics like the Ramayana.
  • Miniatures in manuscripts or single sheets to be kept in albums were the preferred medium of Rajput painting, but many paintings were done on the walls of palaces, inner chambers of the forts, havelis, particularly, the havelis of Shekhawati, the forts and palaces built by Shekhawat Rajputs.
  • The colors were extracted from certain minerals, plant sources, conch shells, and were even derived by processing precious stones. Gold and silver were used. The preparation of desired colors was a lengthy process, sometimes taking 2 weeks. Brushes used were very fine.
  • In the late 16th Century, Rajput art schools began to develop distinctive styles, combining indigenous as well as foreign influences such as Persian, Mughal, Chinese and European.
  • Rajasthani painting consists of four principal schools that have within them several artistic styles and substyles that can be traced to the various princely states that patronised these artists. The four principal schools are:
  • The Mewar school that contains the Chavand, Nathdwara, Devgarh, Udaipur and Sawar styles of painting
  • The Marwar school comprising the Kishangarh, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Pali and Ghanerao styles
  • The Hadoti school with the Kota, Bundi and Jhalawar styles
  • The Dhundar school of Amber, Jaipur, Shekhawati and Uniara styles of painting.
  • Economic prosperity of commercial community and revival of “Vaisnavism” and the growth of Bhakti Cult were the major factors that contributed greatly to the development of Rajasthani paintings. In the beginning this style was greatly influenced by religious followers like Ramanuja, Meerabai, Tulsidas, Sri Chaitanya, Kabir and Ramanand.
  • All of Rajputana was affected by the attack of the Mughals but Mewar did not come under their control till the last. This was the reason that Rajasthani school flourished first in Mewar, (the purest form and later on in), Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bundi, Kota- Kalam, Kishangarh, Bikaner and other places of Rajasthan.


Rajasthani paintings of Bikaner were also based on Mughal tradition. Apart from the Mughal style, the paintings of Bikaner also reflect marked influence of Deccan paintings. During the late 18th century, the city started showing conservative Rajput styles with smoothness and abstractions. However, they were devoid of any pomposity and flamboyance.


Rajput paintings started originating in Bundi around the late 16th century and reflected heavy Mughal influence. Wall paintings, dating back to the reign of Rao Ratan Singh (1607-1631), are good examples of Bundi style of paintings. The time of Rao Chattar Sal (1631-1658) and Bhao Singh (1658-1681) saw great emphasis on court scenes as themes. Other themes include those based on the lives of nobles, lovers and ladies.


  • Kota paintings look very natural in their appearance and are calligraphic in their execution. The reign of Jagat Singh (1658-1684) saw vivacious colors and bold lines being used in portraitures. With the arrival of Arjun Singh (1720-1723), the painting started depicting males with a long hooked nose. 18th century was also the time for hunting scenes, Ragamalas, and portraits as the themes. Ram Singh II (1827-1866) ordered the depiction of worship, hunting, darbar and processions in paintings.


  • Kishangarh style of painting was basically a fusion of Mughal and regional style. The most common theme of this style consisted of the depiction of the love between Krishna and Radha. Other popular themes included the poetry of Sawant Singh, Shahnama and court scenes, etc. Kishangarh School is best known for its Bani Thani paintings. With the demise of Savant Singh and his leading painters, this school lost its glory and started breaking down.


  • One of the most conservative Rajput Painting Schools of the 17th century, Malwa was highly influenced by Chaurpanchasika style. The emphasis was laid on strong colors and bold lines. At times, one can also observe a remote Mughal influence on these paintings.


  • The earliest example of the Rajasthani paintings of Marwar is that of Ragamala, which was painted in Pali in 1623. In the 18th century, the most common themes included the portraitures of nobles on horses and darbar scenes. With the arrival of artists like Dalchand, Marwar paintings also started reflecting Mughal influence.


  • Mewar school of Rajput paintings concentrated on its conservative style, trying to avoid the dominance of the Mughals. The earliest example of the Mewar School is that of Chawand Ragamala, dating back to 1605. One can observe heavy similarity with the Chaurapanchasika style, especially the flatness, the bright colors, and even common motifs. Towards the end of the 17th century and the early 18th century, Mewar style saw revival and late 18th century again witnessed its decline. From mid 19th century to mid 20th century, it continued as a court art.

Pahadi School of Painting

Pahadi painting is the name given to Rajput paintings, made in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir states of India. These paintings developed and flourished during the period of 17th to 19th century. Indian Pahadi paintings have been done mostly in miniature forms.

History of Pahadi Painting

Pahadi paintings have been widely influenced by the Rajput paintings, because of the family relations of the Pahadi Rajas with royal court at Rajasthan. One can also see strong influence of the Gujarat and Deccan paintings. With the emergence of Bhakti movement, new themes for Indian Pahadi paintings came into practice. The Shaiva-Shakta themes were supplemented by argot poetry and folk songs of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. At the same time, the themes of the paintings revolved around love and devotion also. There was also illustration of great epics, puranas, etc. The depiction of Devi Mahatmya manuscript painted at Kangra, in 1552, has been much acclaimed.

Types of Pahadi Paintings

Basohli Paintings

  • The town of Basohli is situated on the bank of the Ravi River in Himachal. This town has produced splendid Devi series, magnificent series of the manifestations of the Supreme Goddess. Apart from that, it is also known for the magnificent depiction of the Rasamanjari text. Artist Devidasa painted it under the patronage of Raja Kirpal Pal. Gita Govinda of 1730 is also believed to have Basohli origin. Geometrical patterns, bright colors and glossy enamel characterize Basohli paintings.

Bilaspur Paintings

  • Bilaspur town of Himachal witnessed the growth of the Pahadi paintings around the mid-17th century. Apart from the illustrations of the Bhagavata Purana, Ramayana and Ragamala series, artists also made paintings on rumal (coverlets) for rituals and ceremonies.

Chamba Paintings

  • Chamba paintings are quite similar in appearance to Mughal style of paintings, with strong influences of Deccan and Gujarat style also. The late 17th century witnessed Chamba paintings of Himachal being dominated by Basohli style, which ultimately gave way to Guler painting tradition.

Garhwal Paintings

  • Garhwal Paintings originated in Himachal and were first dominated by the Mughal style. Later, it started reflecting the cruder version of Kangra traditions.

Guler Kangra Style Paintings

  • The nature Guler Kangra style of Himachal developed somewhere around the year 1800. It was a more naturalized version of painting, with visible difference in the treatment of eyes and modeling of the face. Landscapes were also commonly used as themes. Along with that, this style also accentuated the elegance and grace of the Indian women.

Jammu Paintings

  • Jammu paintings of the late 18th and early 19th century bear a striking similarity to the Kangra style. Shangri Ramayana of the late 17th and early 18th century was produced in Jammu itself.

 Jasrota Paintings

  • Jasrota paintings are mainly found in Jammu and Kashmir and revolve around court scenes, events from the life of the kings, allegorical scenes, etc.

Kullu Paintings

  • The paintings of Kullu style include a Bhagavata Purana, two Madhumalati manuscripts, etc.

Mandi Paintings

  • Mandi, situated in Himachal, witnessed the evolution of a new style under Raja Sidh Sen (1684-1727). During that time, the portraits depicted the ruler as a massive figure with overstated huge heads, hands and feet. Other works were characterized by geometric compositions and delicate naturalistic details.

Mankot Paintings

  • Mankot paintings of Jammu and Kashmir bear a resemblance to the Basohli type, with vivid colors and bold subjects. In the mid-17th century, portraitures became a common theme. With time, the emphasis shifted to naturalism and subdued colors.

Nurpur Paintings

  • Nurpur paintings of Himachal Pradesh usually employ bright colors and flat backgrounds. However, in the later periods, the dazzling colors were replaced by muted ones.

Modern Age – Modern Indian Painting

  • Modern Indian painting emerged in 18th century & flourished during 18 & 19th Its emergence was outcome of established of British rule in India because the established of British attracted number of European painter to India & they brought European technology with them.
  • The company style & the nationalist school were the two main branches in Modern Indian painting.
  • Use of Easel / tripod / stand & oil painting were two most essential features that different modern painting from Mughal / Medieval age painting.

British Indian Paintings

  • This school is also known as company style (East India Company was ruling authority), Patna style (Patna was an important center) & Bazaar style (Kasim Bazaar was another important center. This school emerged as result of arrival of number of European painters to India. Such as William Daniel Reynolds, Emily Eden, George Chinnery. They came to India because court of native states was big market for their painting.
  • These painters used European theme. They promoted colonial agenda through their painting.
  • Raja Ravi Verma & Amrita Shergil were two most prominent Indian painters associated with this school.

Nationalist School of painting / Bengali style / Shantiniketan / Calcutta style

  • This school emerged as reaction to Western theme & materialism portrayed by painters by British School.
  • It was outcome of growing spirit of nationalism among Indians. Work of painters tried to encourage Anti-British struggle. Their main intension was to motivate the freedom fighter.
  • Abnindranath Tagore, Gajendranath Tagore, Jaimini Rai, Mukul Dey & Nandlal Bose were prominent painter associated with this school.
  • Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore was main patron of this school.
  • This school gains immense popularity in swadeshi movement / Anti partition of Bengal agitation.
  • Painting of Bharatmata made by Abnindranath Tagore is finest piece (4 arms).