The very first works of visual art created in the Indian sub-continent were primitive cave or rock paintings. Many are assumed to exist, but the largest number of discoveries are in Central India, on sandstone rock shelters within a hundred mile radius around Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. these paintings are dated at around 5500 B.C. i.e. they are 1500 years old. Some of these paintings have been overlaid with later paintings and graffiti.
The paintings generally depict animals, in scenes such as hunting. Human figures are also shown with bows and arrows, and swords and shields. The colours used An intricately carved pillar at Ellora in Maharashtra dating back to the 7th century. are made up of natural minerals and are in various shades of red and orange. These paintings are the forerunners of the frescos of a later age which are seen at Ajanta, Ellora and elsewhere in India. But unfortunately no well preserved art remains, to document the period between the coming of the Aryans i.e. 1500 B.C. to about the time of Buddha i.e. 550 B.C.
We are told by the literary sources that the art of painting was practiced. In the Buddhist texts, elaborate palaces of kings and houses of the wealthy are described as being embellished with wall paintings. But actual evidence about this art is lost. How this art could have been, can be guessed from the paintings on stone surfaces found at Ajanta and Ellora which are said to have been done in around 400 A.D.
These paintings at Ajanta and Ellora depict Buddhist tales from the Jatakas. Though the paintings are today 1500 years old, the paint has not only retained its colour but also much of its lustre. The technique of painting has been thus described by a student of Indian Art,"The surface of the stone was first prepared by a coating of potter's clay, mixed variously with cow dung, straw, and animal hair. Once this was levelled to a thickness of half an inch to two inches, it was coated with a smooth fine white lime plaster which became the actual painting surface.
On the still-damp wall, the artist first laid out his composition with a red cinnabar line and then defined the subjects with an undercoat of grey or terre verte. This was followed by the addition of local colours, and once the whole wall was completely coloured, a brown or black line restated the drawing to finish the composition. A last burnishing with a smooth stone gave it a rich lustrous surface. The colours which were natural and water soluble, consisted of purple, browns, yellow, blue, white, green, reds and black."
Thus it is evident that the technique of painting had developed to an advanced level This monumental bull was carved in marble in the 3rd century B.C.
It stood on a column built by Emperor Ashoka, which was inscribed with Buddhist edicts of sophistication due which the paintings could survive for 1500 years. Though the colours used are supposed to have been derived from minerals and vegetables they had been treated to last long.The above description also illustrates how,complicated procedures of preparing the surface to be painted had evolved in India.
This technique of painting had also spread to central Asia and South-east Asia. Some strains of Indian painting can even be identified in western church paintings and mosaics. Indian influence is clearly evident in the paintings at Bamiyan in Afghanistan and in Miran and Domko in Central Asia. Not only do these paintings depict the Buddha but also Hindu deities such as Shiva, Ganesha and Surya.
The statues in the caves at Kizil in central Asia depict Lord Krishna with Gopis (shepard maidens). The cult of Narayana had also spread to Soviet Central Asia. This is corrobotated by the discovery of Kharosthi inscriptions of the Kushana period which have been deciphered as 'Narayana be victorious'. Another panel at Kizil shows the performance of a dance style which has a close resemblance with the frescos at Ajanta.
As mentioned earlier, some Indian motifs can be traced in Gothic sculptures and paintings. The occurence of images of the lotus, elephants and the Swastika support the fact that they could have been borrowed from India as these images are traditionally Indian. Strzygowski an European archealogist has compared the masonic background of the Ajanta caves, that we referred to earlier, with the Ravenna mosaics found in Europe.
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