India is a land of varied culture, people and tradition. Not only the human element leads to this, but also the natural elements like geography and climate also have a hand in this. So as a result, not only the food and dressing habits of the people are different from one part of the country to another, their language and culture also get varied across regions. And it is this reason that India is home to several art forms be it dancing, singing or painting. Herein, I have tried to introduce you to the ten major forms of paintings in our country. So that the next time you hear them, you are aware of the whole of it.
Also called Mithila art, it originated in the kingdom of Janak (Sita’s father in Ramayana) in Nepal and present-day Bihar. It is one of the most popular Indian folk arts, practiced in the Mithila region of Bihar. It comprises of art created mostly by women who wanted to be one with God. This type of painting is characterized by geometric patterns and bright colors. Also, instead of painting brushes, things like twigs, matchsticks and even fingers are used to make paintings. This art form wasn’t known to the outside world until the British discovered it after an earthquake in the 1930s which revealed broken houses with Madhubani paintings. Most of these paintings or murals depicted gods, flora and fauna.
- Miniature Paintings
Miniature paintings are practiced in Rajasthan. These paintings are characterized by their small size but intricate details and sharp expressions. The colors used in this painting are obtained from natural sources like vegetables, flowers, indigo, precious stones etc. Originating in the Mughal era, around the 16th century, Miniature paintings are influenced by Persian styles and flourished under Shah Jahan and Akbar’s rule. Later, it was adopted by Rajputs, and therefore became an art-work of Rajasthan. Like any other art form, miniature paintings also depict religious symbols and epics. These paintings stand different as compared to others as humans are portrayed with large eyes, a pointed nose and a slim waist, and men are always seen with a turban.
Originating in Rajasthan, Phad is mainly a religious form of scroll painting depicting folk deities Pabuji or Devnarayan. The artists need to be very skilled for this, as this painting is very complex. The 30- or 15 feet-long canvas or cloth that it is painted on is called Phad and the Phad making process is completely natural with natural fabrics and colors. Vegetable colors and a running narrative of the lives and heroic deeds of deities characterize these paintings.
This painting has been originated by the Warli tribes from the Western Ghat of India, particularly in the Warli region of Maharashtra. Evolved in 2500 BCE, this is one of the oldest art forms of India. It is mainly the use of geometric figures like circles, triangles and squares to form numerous shapes and depict daily life activities like fishing, hunting, festivals, dance and more. What sets it apart is the human shape: a circle and two triangles. All the paintings are done on a red ochre or dark background, made by mud and cow dung, while the shapes are white.
This painting has been invented by the Gondi tribe in Madhya Pradesh. Characterized by a sense of belonging with nature, these contain bold, vibrantly colored paintings, depicting mainly flora and fauna. The colors come from charcoal, cow dung, leaves and colored soil. If you look closely, it is made up of dots and lines. Today, these styles are imitated, but with acrylic paints. Apart from Madhya Pradesh, this art form is also practiced in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh and Odisha.
Meaning ‘drawings with a pen’ it is done on a cotton or silk fabric with a ‘tamarind pen’. Kalamkari is of two types in India: Machilipatnam, which originates from Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh and Srikalahasti, which originates from Chittoor in the same state. While the former refers to a block-printed form of art, the latter is a free-flowing art with a pen on fabric. This art includes almost 23 tedious steps and is thus one complex form to understand. Today, Kalamkari art is also used on saris and ethnic clothing and depicts anything from flora and fauna to epics such as Ramayana or Mahabharata.
Originated in the South, around 1600 AD, Tanjore or Thanjavur paintings were encouraged by the Nayakas of Thanjavur. This painting is famous for its use of gold foil overlaid on delicate but extensive gesso work and inlay of glass beads and pieces or very rarely precious and semi-precious gems. The gold foil glitters and lends the painting a surreal look. These panel paintings on wooden planks depict devotion to gods, goddesses and saints. It borrows its styles from Maratha and Deccan art, as well as European styles.
- Cheriyal Scrolls
This art form originated from Cheriyal, a place situated in Warangal, situated in present-day Telangana. This dying art form is practiced by the Nakashi family only, where it has been passed down for many generations. The tradition of long scrolls and Kalamkari art influenced the Cheriyal scrolls, a much more stylized version of Nakashi art. Using a rich scheme of colors, this painting depicted Puranas and epics and were an essential visual accompaniment as saints wandered around singing or narrating the epics. They use primary colors and vivid imagination, a stark contrast from the traditional rigor of Tanjore or Mysore paintings.
- Kalighat Paintings
This painting style originated in the 19th century Bengal, from Kalighat. It was the time when upheaval against the British was a new and exciting idea. These paintings, on cloth and pattas or mill-made paper, at first depicted Gods and Goddesses, but then took a turn towards social reform. With cheap paper and paint colors, squirrel hair brushes and color pigments, the art was characterized by flawless strokes, brushwork, and simple but bold drawings. It sought to raise awareness about social conditions also.
It is one of the oldest and most popular art forms of Odisha. A cloth-based scroll art, these paintings with sharp, angular bold lines depict epics, Gods and Goddesses. This painting originated from the fifth century in religious hubs like Puri and Konark, around the same time that sculpturing began. What’s unique about this art form is that the dress style depicted in the paintings has a heavy influence of the Mughal era.