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Home >> Indian Painting Styles >> Murals


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 artist’s deepest instincts and emotions reconciled and integrated with his social experiences and cultural heritage.

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 fat.

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 man’s savage state.

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 Jahangir.

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 India.

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 too.

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.

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