Indian art: The folkish inclination

traditional indian paintings

a traditional painting of Indian deities
  • By Megha Sharma

The Indian terrain has always been an amalgamation of different art forms. It encompasses a whole range of Indian art fields from literature, paintings, various handicrafts etc that are bought throughout the world. The  traditional Indian paintings will be focused in this article and how these traditional artistries elevate the cultural heritage of India. Moreover, the lands where these are widely produced and their historical significance will also be seen.

  • Bengal Pat

18 sahib pat

As the name suggests, the art form is rooted in the Bengal region of the country. It is observed to be hundreds of years old. It came as an entertaining part at the court to intensify the performances by painting and also depicted the life of the contemporary period. It also was a thoughtful process of preserving for the later beatification of the artist.  Interestingly, this art also uses natural colours like that of minerals, soot or other things. It observes paintings of some social evils prevailing in the society and was made to expose it to the common masses.

  • Miniature Paintings

a scene of the queens' room in a miniature painting
a scene of the queens’ room in a miniature painting

Miniature paintings are beautiful hand-made arts which developed in the Mughal period. They were short and descriptive paintings which through their subtleties expressed great ideas.  Mughals even introduced Persian tradition to the same. The earliest example of the paintings was seen in the 11th century that was related to the Pala school. The phenomenon of hothouse cultivation helped for the widespread of the art and it got manifested in a lot of schools. The colours were handmade from minerals, vegetables, precious stones, indigo, conch shells, pure gold and silver. It flourished a lot under the reign of Akbar, Shahjahan and Jahangir.

  • Tanjore Paintings
a beautiful Tanjore painting of Radha-Krishna
a beautiful Tanjore painting of Radha-Krishna

Tanjore is a city in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is a classical art form of the place. It is made with dense, beautiful colours and embedded with stones, pearls and glass pieces which give it a 3-D effect and add to their glory. The paintings flourished in the 16th century under the reign of the flourished Chola kingdom. It was patronised by various kingdoms of the period. The specimens included the pictures of gods and goddesses. They are also known as ‘Palagai Padam’, which means a painting made on a wooden plank.

  • Patachitra

the patchitra art of Orissa
the patchitra art of Orissa

The art form is a unique invention of Odisha. It is a painting made on canvas, as the word is taken from Sanskrit “pata” which means a canvas whereas “chitra” means a picture. It is usually painted on mythological themes with beautiful colours. “Some of the popular themes represented through this art form are Thia Badhia – depiction of the temple of Jagannath; Krishna Lila – enactment of Jagannath as Lord Krishna displaying his powers as a child; Dasabatara Patti – the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu; Panchamukhi – depiction of Lord Ganesh as a five-headed deity.” The art undergoes deep concentration and take up to five days for completion. The basic cloth or the canvas is painted yellow using turmeric and preparing it well. It is also interesting to note that the colours are made of natural ingredients with kaitha tree gum as the basic ingredient. As to this day, the form has seen transition from being painted on a yellow cloth to now as wall-hangings. However, it has not lost its essence and is still done with this natural touch.

  • Madhubani Painting

a madubani painting
a madubani painting

This form is as old as the Ramayana epic was written. It is believed to originate in Maithili village in the space of Bihar, a state of India. Maithili was the capital of King Janaka, father-in-law of Lord Rama. Though a specific time period cannot be discovered for the form but it is assumed that Sita used to paint beautiful pictures in her adolescence and even the king of the space ordered Maithili paintings on the auspicious occasion of his daughter’s wedding. “Maithili paintings make use of three-dimensional images and the colours that are used are derived mainly from plants.” The paintings were thematised on mythological figures and natural elements. It was used to be made with natural colours and the brush was made of a bamboo stick. It also recorded certain auspicious events and celebrated the nature Gods like- Surya Dev, Indra Dev, the religious plant of Tulsi and many others. In those times too, they used different geometrical shapes and hold significant position in the Indian arts.

  • Gond paintings

a recent painting of the art
a recent painting of the art

Gond is an indigenous word which means the people who lived in the hill forests of Central India. Thus the art acquired its name, formulated by these tribes. The paintings had mundane themes which represented the life of these tribals. There was no grand theme for them as they have always been considered as marginalized by the society. It was painted on the walls and floors of their houses and was considered a factor of good luck for them. It is parallel to the art of tattooing. Each painting possessed a certain signature of the artist who made it, which provided a quality of individualism to their art. “The paintings are a combination of earth tones and vibrant hues, which bring the canvas to life.”

  • Kalamkari Painting

a still from Hindu scripture Mahabharata in Kalamkari style
a still from Hindu scripture Mahabharata in Kalamkari style

The art has attained this name with the way it is been carried out, as ‘kalam’ means pen and ‘kari’ means work. It is considered to originate about 3000years ago in Kalahasti (80 miles north of Chennai) and at Masulipatnam (200 miles east of Hyderabad). It became popular under the ancient tradition of using organic colours. The artists executed it using a bamboo stich, sharply pointed at the end. Initially the main themes were to highlight the Hindu deities but today it has advanced to quite a great level and is used on various fabrics, mainly cotton. It undergoes a long process of dyeing and hand-printing and thus take a long time to be finalized.

One sees how the traditional art forms of India, acknowledged the gods and mundane things and gave a rich panoramic idea to the world of painting. It is also interesting to note that all these arts used organic and natural colours for their paintings. Today, they have not lost their name but flourished more and more with national and international identification. The widespread of these forms make it possible for Indians, all around the world, to admire them. They attract a lot of foreign audience as well because of the beautiful colours and natural touch they possess.

Megha is a student at the University of Delhi. She is pursuing her Masters in English and has also done her studies in the German Language.) Email: [email protected] Twitter @meghash06510344