The History of Indian Art

The History of Indian Art

“The History of Indian Art” is an exceptional book for any art enthusiast who wants to peep into the development and progress of Indian art for over 10000 years or you can say since dawn of man. This book was suggested by a museologist working in Indian Museum Kolkata. He was gracious enough to show me all the paintings and sculptures collected and excavated from different parts of India and world.

The book written by Sandhya Ketkar, discusses the details of various artforms from various periods. It begins discussing the pre-historic art forms of cave paintings. As suggested cave paintings found in India belong to old stone age era, where humans led a wild existence and survived on hunting using stone weapons. The cave paintings were mostly images of the objects found in those times like animals and human figures. These were drawn mostly as silhouettes with no detailing of other features of the body. Many such cave paintings were found in central India places like Singanpur, Jogimara, Aurnagabad etc. Unique style of cave paintings was found in Bhimbetaka which had coloured images. Implying, they were far evolved than what were found in other locations. The other thing to note here was, these images were drawn to decorate or even perform religious ceremonies or sometimes to convey joy and fear. Hence, images of those times were mere reflection of the activities happening around the humans and were far less evolved.

Moving on from wild existence, few thousand years later civilizations emerged on the banks of great rivers. One such civilization was “Indus Valley Civilization”. Art found another meaning in such societies. Art manifested itself in the form on seals, jewellery, sculptures and sometimes even decorative art. Excavated sculptures from the civilisation are uniquely identified as simple and decorative. Indus valley civilisation also had hands on experience in mixing metals and alloying processes. Certain artefacts excavated from various sites contained bronze. This was also the civilization which had toys created for kids. Many toys (which have been oftenly ignored by historians) have been excavated implying artisans spent time and energy to keep the kids entertained by their artwork as well.

Moving further, the book talks about the influence of Buddha and his work on Art. And how Buddha’s work has influenced Maurya Dynasty, Shungam Kanva, Kushan,Satavahana, Gupta and its rulers. The architecture of houses, buildings and temples were heavily influenced by the Buddhist iconography and philosophy. Various Buddhist cave temples called Vihara were constructed in unique styles. The Sarnath pillar which embodies the logo of Indian government was conceptualised and created in this era. It was emperor Ashoka who had erected this pillar to commemorate the first religious discourse by Lord Buddha. It is important to note, like western art movements, Art was extensively used to propagate religious beliefs. For almost 1000years since 320 BC, Buddhism had its own unique impact on Indian Art. Sculptures, Literature, Religious discourses were heavily influenced by Buddhist mindsets. It was during this time, Buddhism had crossed Indian borders to started thriving in China, Cambodia, and other south east Asian countries.

While Buddhism was on the rise in the Northern part of India, various dynasties in the South were building architectural gems some of which are still standing today and are in use for religious purposes. Each jurisdiction had its own style of building temples. Some of the important temples which still stand today are Ladkhan Temple, Konark Temple, Khajuraho Temple, Sapta Ratha in Mahabalipuram, Ellora Caves, Kailash Temple etc. These temples were built in 500 AD- 700 AD.

Inspired from the past, rulers across India started employing world class engineers and artisans to build more and more temples. These temples are still holding up to their popularity and structures. These temples were not built by one unique architecture. Moreover, many of these temples were Jain temples as well. Classic example of a Jain temple is the Dilwara temple of Mt. Abu. In southern India, Chola dynasty was on the rise which had established trade routes to Indonesia and Cambodia. They were not only wealthy but also visionary in technology and Science. Classic example which is still in existence in Brihadeshwara Temple.

Till now, what is known to Indians was created and consecrated by powerful dynasties and kings. Hardly anything is clearly known on any outstanding piece of work which came from general populous. The main reason for that was general populous and artisans were all heavily occupied in building these temples.

The next innovation which influenced the art movement in India was the miniature art from Rajasthan and Tanjore Paintings. Miniature art forms embodied gods and king’s life with various naturally found colours and pigments. Miniature art form of Rajasthan was created and embraced by Rajput and Jain Kings. These artworks are still being carried out, however the artisans pursuing this art form have trickled down due to lack of support and market for such art pieces.

Moving further, the next set of changes to Indian art came from an external influence. India was attacked and even won over by Islamic rulers coming from Persia and nearby countries. Not only did they attacked India but also brought a lot of their cultures which eventually got mixed with the existing culture. They brought unique Architecture which is reflected from the forts and palaces built by their rulers. They brought delicacies from their countries. They also brought a unique style of Carpet weaving which is still being used. Inlay work on Marble, Jaali Work on stones and sequin work on monuments are few things which has attracted everyone in the world. The classic work from Islam art and architecture is Taj Mahal, features in the 7-wonders of the world.

In continuation, the book talks about the art in modern age where artists were not only influenced by religion but also the still life around. Many budding painters of the times have started to use multiple medium to express their creativity and influence other artisans. Various school of thoughts have featured over time and have been influenced by travel and exchange of various ideas and ideologies. There are 2 principles outlined by the progressive group of artists which features being totally free about ideas, media and themes and use of bold strokes of colour to express the message.

In conclusion, what have we learned from this book:

  1. Religion has played a major role in shaping up the art movement in India
  2. India has always been accepting and assimilating various new ideas even if they were external to begin with.
  3. Art and Human life are intertwined with each other. Both have a significant influence on one another.
  4. Art has always been reflection of society
  5. Art will always find place in study of human emotions and evolution.

Nihit M

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2 thoughts on “The History of Indian Art”

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Who is Nihit Mohan?

Nihit Mohan is a banker, author and a TEDx speaker. He was born & raised in the cradle of cultural diversity of India, & currently resides in Singapore. He did his education from seven schools spread across multiple cities & cultures. He is an engineer by education & has made a successful career in the financial services industry. He hails from a family of engineers, bureaucrats & academicians.

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