India is a land of veritable treasures, at once interesting to the tourist as well as to an enquiring student of Indian architecture. India has been the birth place of three major religions of the world-Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism; these have inspired most of her art. India’s artistic traditions are ancient and deeply rooted in religion. While at various times in her long history, foreign races and cultures exercised some influence on Indian art forms, the main aesthetic currents remained predominantly Indian.
The character of Indian art is best described as plastic, organic and sculptural. This is well symbolized by the nature of Indian architecture-primarily a sculptural mass rather than a space enclosure. Though sculpture is the Indian art par excellence, it is in architecture that the national genius has shown it’s most unquestionable originality and much of the greatest Indian sculpture was produced in connection with, indeed as an art of, architecture. Broadly speaking, architecture has been described as an art of organizing space, functionally and beautifully.
A great architect clothes his well spatial structure with a form of beauty, not an extraneous superimposed beauty but inherent in all the structure, in every part, making the whole. The “dominance” of the sculptural mode in India is due to the Indian propensity, stronger than that of any other culture, for carving sculptural caves and temples out of the living rock, of mountain escarpment or outcropping. Also in ancient India, the arts were not separated as they unfortunately are today the architect; the sculptor and the painter were often one man. Sculptures were invariably painted in colour and the sculpture generally was not free-standing, but formed part of the temple structure. In this way architecture, sculpture and painting were in fact, much more intimately connected than they are today and much of this was a happy combination.
India occupies an exalted position in the realm of art of the ancient world. If the Greeks excelled in the portrayal of the physical charm of the human body, the Egyptians in the grandeur of their pyramids and the Chinese in the beauty of their landscapes, the Indians were unsurpassed in transmitting the spiritual contents into their plastic forms embodying the high ideals and the common beliefs of the people. The Indian artists visualized the qualities of various gods and goddesses as mentioned in their scriptures and infused these qualities into their images whose proportions they based on the idealised figures of man and woman. Indian art is deeply rooted in religion and it conduces to fulfilling the ultimate aim of life, moksha or release from the cycle of birth and death. There were two qualities about which the Indian artists cared more than about anything else, namely, a feeling for volume and vivid representation, even at the risk of sacrificing, at times, anatomical truth or perspective. A sense of narrative a taste for decoration, keenness of observations are clearly brought out in each sculpture. Indian art is a wholesome, youthful and delicate art, a blend of symbolism and reality, spirituality and sensuality. Indian art may well be said to bear in itself the greatest lesson an exemplary continuity from pre-historic times to the present age, together with an exceptional coherence. We said earlier that Indian art was inspired by religion, for India is the birth place of three of the world’s great religions Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and these three faiths have inspired most of our Indian art. We use the word ‘most’ purposely for the simple reason that not all Indian art is religious. The Indian artist was a man of this universe, he lived here, looked around himself, saw the joys and sorrows of the life and reproduced them in whatever medium he happened to be working in at a given time; clay, wood, paper, metal or stone. The creation of art by the Indian artists are not “realistic” representations in the sense we understand the term on Greek or Roman Art (but they are imagined and are idealised).
None had actually seen the major gods like Rama, Krishna, Vishnu and Shiva, etc., but according to their description in the scriptures the Indian artists visualised them as shown generally standing erect, signifying mental, physical and spiritual equilibrium. In form, the males are virile beings broad shouldered, deep chested and narrow hipped. The females are precisely contrary to the males narrow shouldered, having full and fir breasts, and attenuated waist and’ broad hips. The females according to the Indian artists represent Matri or the mother. In the course of this guide book we proposed to keep the hum form as the peg on which to hang our story and will venture to see the hum body treated by different periods according to the changing styles – the like and dislike of a particular age. Indian art is a treasure house of ancient contemporary life, its faiths and beliefs, customs and manners. It is considered by some to be the function or purpose of art of any age to mirror contemporary society, its customs, manners, habits, modes of dress and ornamentation etc.
Painting is one of the most delicate forms of art giving expression to human thoughts and feelings through the media of line and colour. Many thousands of years before the dawn of history, when man was only a cave dweller, he painted his rock shelters to satisfy his aesthetic sensitivity and creative urge.
Among Indians, the love of colour and design is so deeply ingrained that from the earliest times they created paintings and drawings even during the periods of history for which we have no direct evidence.
The earliest examples of miniature painting in India exist in the form of illustrations to the religious texts on Buddhism executed under the Palas of the eastern India and the Jain texts executed in western India during the 11th-12th centuries A.D.
During the 15th century the Persian style of painting started influencing the Western Indian style of painting as is evident from the Persian facial types and hunting scenes appearing on the border’s of some of the illustrated manuscripts of the Kalpasutra.
The origin of the Mughal School of Painting is considered to be a landmark in the history of painting in India. With the establishment of the Mughal empire, the Mughal School of painting originated in the reign of Akbar in 1560 A.D.
Though no pre-Mughal painting from the Deccan are so far known to exist, yet it can safely be presumed that sophisticated schools of painting flourished there, making a significant contribution to the development of the Mughal style in North India. Early centres of painting in the Deccan, during the 16th and 17th centuries were Ahmednagar, Bijapur and Golconda. In the Deccan, painting continued to develop independently of the Mughal style in the beginning. However, later in the 17th and 18th centuries it was increasingly influenced by the Mughal style.
Unlike Mughal painting which is primarily secular, the art of painting in Central India, Rajasthani and the Pahari region etc. is deeply rooted in the Indian traditions, taking inspiration from Indian epics, religious texts like the Puranas, love poems in Sanskrit and other Indian languages, Indian folk-lore and works on musical themes. The cults of Vaishnavism, Saivism and Sakti exercised tremendous influence on the pictorial art of these places.
The Pahari region comprises the present State of Himachal Pradesh, some adjoining areas of the Punjab, the area of Jammu in the Jammu and Kashmir State and Garhwal in Uttar Pradesh. The whole of this area was divided into small States ruled by the Rajput princes and were often engaged in warfare. These States were centres of great artistic activity from the latter half of the 17th to nearly the middle of the 19th century.