Murals in India date back to times beyond the pages of history.
Painting murals is intrinsically linked to Indian painting traditions. In fact, murals are considered to be the earliest evidence of Indian paintings unearthed from the remnants of ancient civilization. India has a rich tradition of paintings since ancient times. In fact, in classical texts like Kamasutra of Vatsyanana, painting is considered as one of the 64 arts while Vishnudharmottarapurana accords it the status of the supreme art. It is also accepted as the giver of all deeds i.e. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.
According to the Vinaya Pitaka, the noted courtesan
Amrapali of Vaishali instructed the painters to paint
on the walls of her palace the figures of kings, traders,
and merchants seen by them. It was by seeing the portrait
of Mauryan ruler Bimbisara painted on the wall that
she lost her heart to him. There are also numerous references
to Chittagaras or picture halls or galleries maintained
by the rulers in the ancient texts.
Painting referred as Alekhya was a medium of expression
of artists deepest instincts and emotions reconciled
and integrated with his social experiences and cultural
The earliest paintings appear in the form of cave or
rock wall paintings called Murals in pre historic India,
in the region of Uttar Pradesh and Central India. These
mural paintings are executed on bare rocks or diversely prepared
supports and grounds or plasters, and the colors materials
are derived from the natural materials like terra verte,
red ochre, chalk, and yellow-ochre mixed with animal
The figures of human beings and animals, hunting and
family scenes are the central themes of these murals, which convey the
observant eye and the trained hand even in mans
The next phase of wall paintings can be traced to the
Caves 9 and 10 of Ajanta near Aurangabad in Maharashtra,
which appeared in the 2nd century BC. The decorative
motifs, crowded compositions, figure types and details
of costume are some of the notable features of these
mural paintings. The paintings at Ajanta continued till the
5th-6th century AD. The subjects are predominately Buddhists.
The other significant sites belonging to the same period
are at Bagh in Madhya Pradesh, and Cave 3 at Badami
in Karnataka. While, the Jain Cave shrine at Sittannavsal,
Tamil Nadu, and the Kailsanatha Temple at Ellora, Maharashtra
of the 8th century AD are known for their linear styles.
In Eastern India there is presence of wall and panel
paintings depicting the Buddhist and non-Buddhist themes.
The region of Ladakh is known for its wall paintings
in Alchi and Hemis Monasteries, which were executed
in 11-12th century. And the Spiti Valley in Himachal
Pradesh is known for its Buddhist paintings in the gomphas
of Tabo Monastery.
The mural wall paintings at the Vishnu Temple located at
Madanpur in Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, dated
to the 12th century AD, speak volumes of the artistic
merit of the painter.
In the Mughal Period, Persian influences were at work,
which had its bearings on the Mughal style of painting.
This school is known for its highly refined miniatures
and mural wall paintings. The enthralling murals embellished
the forts and the palaces of the Emperors Akbar and
The Mughal painting traditions influenced the Rajput
School of painting. The wall paintings in Deeg, Bundi,
Jaipur, Ajmer, Jodhpur and other places in Rajasthan
are quite extensive, well executed and well conceived.
The murals of South India, which flourished in the
kingdoms of Cholas, Vijayanagaras and Nayakas are highly
significant while studying the painting traditions of
The Deccan art of Bijapur, Hyderabad, and Golconda
schools were influenced by the Mughul traditions and
later by European idiom. Maratha mural paintings employed
oil as a medium and borrowed certain Mughal traditions
The mural art of Kerala is vividly depicted in the
temples and monuments while at some places European
affinities can also be traced.
In Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura sublime mural work
has been identified that needs to be further studied.
India has a rich tradition of mural wealth and treatises
like Vishnudharmottara, Silpashastra, Manasollasa, Shilparatna,
Naradashilpashastra and Kashyapashilpa, which provide
detailed methods of preparation of walls, plasters and
colors for the murals. The procedures and techniques
are extensive but it is believed that artists did not
adhere to them strictly but improved upon them and instilled
a life, rhythm and vigor of their own in the murals.