India is one of the longest standing civilizations in the world. Ages of history, rise and fall of empires and wide cultural and regional diversity has given Indian some spectacular art forms making Indian art, craft and architecture one with a very rich heritage. Each time period and era introduced India to new styles of art and architecture all of which culminated to what we call today the “traditional Indian art”.
Let us study Indian art and architecture in a chronological order starting from caves to modern day contemporary art forms.
This period marks the beginning of mankind on earth and not much is known about this period owing to the lack of languages, scripts etc., at that time. Art was used as a form of communication to indicate directions, threats, pass on information and kind.
This is the time of cave paintings where gestural drawings were made on the walls of caves using readily available pigments such as stones, minerals, flowers etc.
In India, Bhimbetka caves exhibit such art from palaeolithic and mesolithic period. It is located in Madhya Pradesh and research suggests that they were used as shelters 100,000 years ago.
This is the period of Indus Valley Civilization. Around 2nd century B.C (called the Bronze age), artists developed a keen sense of observation and art was more a form of expression than means of communication.
Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro are significant settlements of that time and excavations at these sites in 1922 by R.D. Banerji revealed some exquisite sculptures, seals, vessels, terracotta crafts, jewellery, pottery, and more.
Statues were mostly made of stone and bronze and the art style had a sense of elusiveness to it.
Early Indian Art
Fast forward to 3rd century, Emperor Ashoka patronised art greatly in the subcontinent leading to Mauryan art. This period gave some of the most famous structures such as the Pataliputra capital, four lions which was originally called the Sarnath Lion Capital and is now the national emblem of India etc. He was greatly influenced by the teachings of Lord Buddha and spread Buddhism far and wide in India. Overtime, paintings are sculptures depicting Lord Buddha and his life began emerging in India. This was also the time when stupa structures were constructed in the country.
Sanchi, Sarnath, caves of Ajanta and Ellora, and Badami caves are examples of Buddhist art from 5th and 6th century A.D.
The caves feature realistic, relief stone carvings of Lord Buddha and other deities of Hinduism.
After this came many other art forms specific to kingdoms and dynasties such as the Shunga art, Kushan art, and Gupta art.
Circa 10th century A.D, Hinduism started influencing art and architecture in India. This was the period of Cholas which introduced Dravidian art to India.
Grand temples were constructed that featured exquisite and most detailed carvings of Hindu deities and tales from the epics on their walls, pillars, and more.
This period was also known for lost wax bronze sculptures and fresco paintings.
The trend was carried on by many other dynasties such as the Chodaganga, Tuluva etc.
Temples of Khajuraho, Konark sun temple, Puri Jagannath temple are examples of temple art and architecture of that time.
Around 15th century, India was invaded by the Mughals who set up the Delhi sultanate and began ruling over the country creating an era of art that was starkly different to what was seen until then.
Architecture was greatly patronized by the Mughal rulers and the construction was in Indo-Islamic style. The structures were heavily detailed, decorated with expensive jewels and made of materials like stone, rocks, marbles etc.
The art style was symmetric and took influence from Persian and Turkish styles.
Taj Mahal, Tomb of Humayun, Fathepur Sikri, Buland Darwaza, Sheesh Mahal are just some of the many exquisite structures that were constructed under the Mughal rule in India.
The Mughals ruled for approximately 4 centuries after which Britishers made way into the subcontinent through East India Company.
Traditional style of art began to be less recognized and patronaged and European styles introduced.
Many modern schools of art began emerging such as the Bombay Art Society, Madras school of art, and Calcutta school of art.
Art was now made on canvas or paper and mediums such as oils, watercolours etc. were used.
This was also the time when regional sentiments rose among Indians and artists like Raja Ravi Verma, Abarindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, M.F. Hussain etc. started being recognized.