Indian Art

What is Traditional Indian Art? Understanding its 5 most famous kinds

IN ART

Laden with a charismatic appeal that transports its viewers to a bygone era and brings every scene to life, Traditional Indian Art certainly exudes magic! More than mere colorful brush strokes, each canvas is a lesson learned in history. These paintings deal with ancient traditions, customs, food, fashion, and more. The category of Traditional Indian Art is diverse and is broadly categorized into schools of Mughal paintings, Rajasthani paintings, etc. These schools flourished from the 16th century up until the 20th century.

These schools are marked with their own unique style and while they may outwardly seem quite “Indian”, they are actually a coalescence of different cultures. In the present time and age, Mughal paintings and Rajasthani paintings seem to be the trend. Their miniature versions enjoy huge popularity with their flawless and intense strokes. 

These Traditional Indian Paintings are a remarkable record of history and literature. Traditional Indian Art has been a favorite of royalty and found manifestation in the royal households of various emperors and even commissioned by them.  This patronage led to the flourishment of many artists, across various styles around the Indian subcontinent.

1. Deccan Paintings

Two Indian women dancing in courtyard. From Deccan Painting Collection 1
Two Indian women dancing in courtyard. From Deccan Painting Collection.

This form of art springs from different Deccani arenas of Hyderabad, Bijapur, Mysore, Golconda, Ahmednagar, and Thanjavur. In comparison with Mughal paintings, Deccan art exudes the sheer richness of colors and a vivacious air of luxury.

Perhaps the most fascinating and popular aspect of this art is the use of the ‘composite animal’, a kind of art where one large animal is created by using images of several small animals. Shaped by Persian trends and cultures, Deccan Paintings also draws from European art. This school of art undertakes several interpretations of Krishna as an infant. 

Thus, it is pretty evident that one can never get enough of Traditional Indian Art owing to the colossal themes and imaginative stories fettered with this school of art.

2. Mughal Paintings

The Story of the Princess of the Blue Pavillion.
The Story of the Princess of the Blue Pavillion.

The Islamic Mughal rule has its origin in Central Asia thus the art was enormously influenced by Persian cultural trends. However, changing times saw a change of themes. Several emperors of the dynasty, and in particular Akbar, commissioned artists to depict Hindu epics and illustrate Persian texts as well. In addition to this, both Akbar and Jehangir were also fascinated by European art. Thus, Mughal paintings also manifested the impact of Renaissance along with the incorporation of various European elements like Christian motifs in the art, and using chiaroscuro for shading.

Dastan-e Amir Hamzeh, a series of miniatures, was among the earliest Mughal art paintings. The reigns of Akbar, Jehangir, and Shah Jahan depicts the pinnacle of imperial Mughal art. Various schools of art were set up in cities of Lucknow, Murshidabad, Firozabad. The Akbarnama paintings, also commissioned by Akbar, went on to become one of the most treasured Mughal paintings.

3. Rajasthani Miniature painting

A woman swings from a Peepul Tree in Rajasthani Painting - - Traditional Indian Painting
A woman swings from a Peepul Tree in Rajasthani Painting

The Rajasthani Miniature Paintings had its main exponential centres in the popular towns of Jodhpur, Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan. The Rajasthani school of art depicted subjects like hunting, and religious scenes, typically from the life of Krishna. Though Rajasthani art is influenced by Mughal art, it imbibes the use of bold colors to connote a sense of local culture. These local elements are laden with strong profiles.

The diverse themes of these paintings also depicted several seasons, festivals, social occasions, and court scenes. It was only around the 17th century that distinct schools of art began to rise in the Rajput princely states when several Mughal miniaturists worked at their ateliers.

4. Pahari Paintings

Pahari Painting - Traditional Indian Painting
Krishna Longing for Radha from Pahari Painting Collection

The classical Pahari paintings owes its origins to a small pre-colonial town of Guler. It was when a family of Kashmiri painters trained in Mughal paintings relocated to the town of Guler in the 18th century that they were taken in by the then Raja Dalip Singh. They mingled with local artists and took inspiration from natural surroundings. Thus, their work was a reflection of nature.

What is intriguing to note here is that the artists took a detour from Mughal art and went on to depict the love of Radha and Krishna. Thus, a major bulk of Pahari art manifests the divine love between Radha and Krishna set against the backdrop of natural landscapes and embracing pastel color schemes.

5. Madhubani Paintings

Madhubani - Traditional Indian Painting
Folk Art in Madhubani Painting Collection

Madhubani art is also known as Mithila Art, as it was most commonly practiced by the women in the Mithila Region, an ancient cultural region of Bihar State in India. The precise and eye-catching geometrical patterns make this art form unique. Madhubani Paintings depicts religious rituals, occasions and events and usually revolve around Hindu Deities and Culture. Women Painters usually use natural dyes and pigments, twigs, brushes and matchsticks to make these beautiful Madhubani Art pieces.

In addition, there are five main styles of Madhubani Paintings which includes:

  • Bharni
  • Kachni
  • Tantrik
  • Godna
  • Kohbar

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