Artists: Notes on Art Making

It is not generally known that the researches of scholars have established the surprising fact of the unbroken continuity of the History of Pictorial Art in India over a period of little over Four millennium (2500 BC to 1946 AD). Scholars are not yet agreed as to the relative priority of the vedic and the Indus Valley civilizations. While some are inclined to date Vedic culture in the third millennium before Christ, and post-date the Indus Culture, the majority of the specialists agree in placing Indus civilization between 3000 and 2000 B.C., and the Vedic civilization about 1500 B.C. Whatever may be the relative chronology of the two cultures, we have relative chronology of the two cultures, we have actual records of Pictorial Art of remarkable beauty and technique on the Painted potteries dug up at Mohenjo-Daro, which must be at least as old as 2500 B.C. The Indus Culture is supposed to have come to an end about 1500 B.C., just before the beginning of Vedic civilization. At any rate, in hundreds of painted potteries from the Indus sites, we have a large body of remnants of pictorial designs of plant life, animal life, and of geometrical patterns of wonderful beauty and technical excellence - which indeed, reach a very high level of aesthetic culture, and highly sensitive powers of observation and the ability to treat Form, in attractive designs of beauty. If Vedic civilization antedates the Indus Valley culture, then one can claim, on the basis of the literary records of painting which could be assigned to the Vedic Period, though the style may be inferred from various forms of archaic painting. In fact there appears to have existed two streams of Pictorial Art - one represented by the Aryan Current, and the other represented by the Primitive schools practised by the various Aboroginal Races of India - representing the non-Aryan culture, - from the Neolithic Period, -- of which the most characteristic specimens have been discovered in the Caves of Singanpur (Central Provinces) representing hunters and wild as well as domesticated animals and some unremarkable drawings under rock-shelters near Hasangabad in Nerbadda Valley - some of which have been assigned absurdly early dates. Some of these primitive rock-paintings including these in the Mahadeo Hill, near Panchmarhi (Central Provinces) are said to be a akin to the Cave Paintings discovered at Altamira (Spain) and other places.

Coming to historic periods, we find that in after the close of the Vedic and Post-Vedic epochs, the existence of Pictorial Art is referred to in the work of Panini, the great grammarian, who is believed to have lived at Und (Uda-bhandapura) in the Punjab, sometime between the 8th and 5th century BC. In the text of Panini, there is a very interesting reference to a class of Krishna-Lila paintings ----which appear to establish that the Hindu-Brahmin u, Pictorial Art is actually earlier than the Buddhistic formulations. Unfortunately, we have no actual relics of this class of Paintings - we may perhaps infer their style survival of from the their traditions in 11th and 18th century playing cards of Orissa. The to of Patanjali (3rd century B.C.) refers to a class of itinerant Showmen - who used to go about with Scrolls of Pictures, using them for an edifying purpose. In the meantime, we have, in the evidence of early Buddhist Literature, and the Birth-stories (Jatakas) of the Buddha, ample testimony of the wide and extensive practice of the pictorial arts. In fact, Buddha, practising as he did a doctrine of renunciation, and avoidance of sensual appeals and enjoyment, enjoins his disciples, monks as well as nuns from looking at wall, paintings in the Royal Palaces and Galleries of Art and other secular, forms of Paintings (Vainika Chitra). Notwithstanding such ins junctions, monasteries and dormitories of monks used to be decorated with designs of floral patterns and symbolic pictures, 'The extensive body of Buddhist literature is full of references to Pictorial Art which cover at least our centuries from the date of the death of the Buddha in 487 B.C. Though literary references to Pictorial Art are prolific in ancient Buddhist literature (Vinaya Pitaka, Cullavagga, Jatakas), we do not come across actual relics of Buddhist Paintings before we come to Frescoes of Cave IX and X at Ajanta (Circa 175 B.C.) and in a cave at Vedsa (C. 150 B.C.). That the Art flourished much earlier is proved by the linear character of various phases of Mayurian. Art, and of the highly developed style of the wall-paintings of Ajanta, which presuppose centuries of pictorial practice behind them. The remarkable evidences of these Buddhistic Paintings survive more or less in sixteen caves (Nos. 1 to 4, 6-7, 9-11, 16-22, and 26) at Ajanta, where in caves 16 and 17 the inscriptions of the Vakataka dynasty (about 4th and 5th century AD) help to fix the chronology of stylistic evolution from the second century to 7th century AD analogous frescoes occur at the Bagh caves (5th to 7th century) and at Sigiriya (Ceylon). To the earliest Buddhist frescoes in India, we have interesting parallels in Ceylon recorded in the Mahavamsai, which refers to the mural painting decorating the relic chamber of the Ruwanweli dagoba constructed by King Dutthagamini about BC 150. In the meantime, very interesting ramifications of Buddhist painting spread their branches in Gandhara, Tibet, central Asia and China. We have literary references to Painted Images of the Buddha in the stupa of Kanishka at Peshawar, datable about the second century A.D. In the Vesantara Jataka Fresco at Miran (4th century A.D.), in the fresco of the Water-nymph at Dandan-Uliq (7th to 8th centuries) and in the painted panels of Ganesa and Sada-siva on other monuments at Khotan, we have reflexes of the ideals and technique of Indian Pictorial Art. But in India itself - the course of Pictorial Art appears to be interrupted for a time about the 8th century, though the traditions of the Art, and the peculiar style of the pictorial language id followed and developed in the 8th century Hindu paintings in the Vaishanavite frescoes at Ellora, and in the Parvati-Kalyan fresco at Badami, followed by the moving paintings of Dabcer at a cave in Sittanavasal (Puducottai, Tanjore District) belonging to the time of the early reigns of the Pallavas that of King Mahendra Varman. The tradition of the Buddhist Schools of Paintings are, as a matter of fact, continued in some of the early 8th to 9th century) frescoes in the monasteries of Little Tibet discovered by Prof. Tucci, and in the more widely known illustrated manuscripts of the Pala period which survive in many dated examples-bearing dates between the 9th and 12th centuries. When the impact of Islamic culture, represented by the inroad, of Muhammad Khiliji in 1199,interrupted the development of both Buddhist and Hindu Culture in Bengal, the art of Indian paintings took refuge in the distant recesses of Nepal, where the Pala school of painting continued its career in an un-interrupted course for many centuries as is evidenced by many dated Illustrated manuscripts of Prajanaparamita and other important Buddhist texts, the most important land-mark being a large painting on cloth illustrating the Kapisa and Pinda Patra Avadana (two- of the most edifying Buddhist legends), inscribed with the date of 1716 A.D., in the reign of Mahendra Sinha Deva. The persistence of Buddhist Paintings in Nepal, with its affiliated branch in Tibet, is attested by thousands of large paintings on cloth many of them dated throughout the 18th century and 19th century, a very fascinating corpus of Indian and Indianesque Paintings which carry the story of the practice of Indian Pictorial Art in its Buddhist Phases right up to the edge of the twentieth century.

In the Burmese phases the Jataka Frescoes at Kubezat-paya and at Pagan (12th century) have strong stylistic affinities with Bengal and Nepal and are evidently inspired by the Pala school. In Ceylon, the Buddhist traditions of Cave frescoes are carried through and survive not only in the animated wall-paintings at Sigiri (5th-6th century) but also in many later frescoes as those at a shrine at Tamankaduwa (7th century) and in the series of magnificent wall-paintings at Polannaruva (12th century) and later, in many cave frescoes throughout the centuries, reaching the nineteenth in the large series of wall-paintings at Kelaniya Vihara.

The decay of Buddhist religion and culture in the main continent drove the Indian Artists to seek the patronage of two other religious systems: Jainism and Vaishnavism -which helped to develop many interesting features not covered by the Buddhist phases.

The oldest remnants of Indian Painting, of the non-Buddhistic phases, survive on the walls of Jogimara Cave of the Ramgarh Hill (Sirguja State, C.P.). " They probably date from the second century, and cannot well be later than the first century before Christ (Vincent Smith).

According to a very ancient tradition, recorded by the Tibetan Historian, Lama Taranath (circa 16th century), Maru (Marwar, or Jodhpur, Rajputana) was the centre of an "Ancient School " of Western Indian Painting of which the founder was a Master named Sringhadhara, who flourished, probably, under King Siladitya Guhila (646 AD.). The traditions of the Western School survived in a large series of wall-paintings on the walls of most ancient Temples in the various culture-cities of Rajasthana (Udaipur, Jaipur, Nathadwar, and other centres) which have been supposed to be the descendents of the Buddhist Frescoes. But another and very vigorous school of painting has flourished in various parts of Rajaputana applied in a remark-able series of book illustrations of an archaic character which suggests a very ancient lineage. This school, formerly miscalled "The Jaina School of Painting "-has now been correctly designated as the "Southern Rajasthani" or "Guzarati" School, having been principally practised in Southern Rajputana and Northern Guzarat. This has undoubtedly been used by the Jaina Manuscripts as the current language of Pictorial Art dating from early times in these regions. Numerous Hindu Brahminical sacred texts (Vaishnavites and Shaivites) are illustrated in this peculiar dialect of pictorial art. But the school is principally represented by a large body of Illustrated Jaina Manuscripts and Scroll-Paintings, many of them dated, governing a period of six centuries (12th to the 19th century). On the basis of these dated documents it is not possible to accept the suggestion of a learned writer in the pages of this journal (July 1946, page 25) to the effect that " the second distinct period of art of Painting begins after a lapse of nearly nine hundred years." Indeed there is practically no gap, no lacunae, whatsoever, in the continued narrative of the story of Pictorial Art for a period of about five thousand years. Where actual remnants are lacking we have ample literary evidences to prove that the Art was practised continually.

Before the advent of the Great Moghals, we have ample specimens of the indigenous schools of painting in various culture-centres far away from Delhi. These schools continued to flourish even after the establishment of the " Indo-Persian " School, at the Royal Studios founded by Akbar. In fact, Akbar invited the living Indian Masters then practising in various distant centres (Gwalior, Guzarat, Lahore, Kashmir) to come and join his Royal Studio and build up a New School under his patronage.

The most important documents of the Southern Rajasthani (Guzarati) School are the remarkable illustrated manuscript of Vala-Gopala-Stud (datable about 1430 AD.) and a long scroll on cloth known as Vasanta-Vilasa (Enjoy-ment of Spring) executed at Ahmedabad and actually bearing the date 1451 A.D.

Another important indigenous school is represented by what has been called the Orccha School specializing in a large series of Illustrations of Indian melodies (Ragas and Raginis) of remarkable vitality and vigour. This school is supposed to have come into existence shortly before 1500, absolutely un-influenced by any of the Masters of the Moghal School. The later phases of the Rajasthani School are represented by a School of Portraits practised in all the centres, and, principally at Jaipur and Udaipur. Jaipur was the focus of many culture centres in the interior, and kept up the flame of Rajput Painting in numerous masterpieces of Ragini Pictures-executed during the 17th, 18th and 1 9th centuries.

When transferred to recesses of the Himalayan Hill states, the Rajput School develop various local phases, in a new environment, and founded many brilliant sub-branches of the Hill School ("Pahari Qalam") principally known as the (1) Jummu, (2) Basholi, (3) Chamba, (4) Kangra, (5) Gharwal Schools, thus covering a period of four centuries the last representative of the Kangra School, Molaram having left an in-scribed miniature dated 1843 AD., a few years before the Sepoy Mutiny.

Mughal Painting (formerly miscalled "Indo-Persian") is a New School developed under the inspiration of Akbar who founded with the help of a group of Persian and Indian Painters an eclectic school which developed qualities independent of, and radically 'different from the Persian Schools, on the one hand, and the Indigenous Indian Schools on the other, though it borrowed elements from all Schools, including some phases of European paintings.

The pre-Mughal phase in Islamic Art Culture in India is represented by some specimens of the time of Firuz Shah (1351-1388) and of Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlak (1325-1351) Humayun(1530-1593) anticipates Akbar in initiating the birth of the Mughal school in the illustrations to the Hamzanama. This was continued under the patronage of Akbar. It was under Jehangir (1605-1627) who was a great connoisseur of Pictures that Mughal Painting reached its Zenith, particularly in a new phase of Animal Painting. By the time of Shah Jahan (1627-1658) the school was over-ripe and on the path of decline. Aurangzeb's (1658-1707) refusal to patronize art let to a disruption of the Moghal School the artist of which took shelter under various minor chiefs away from Delhi at Guzarat, Oudh and Patna and at various centres in the Dekhan.

While the traditions of the old Indian Schools expire with Molaram (1843) the last representative of the Kangra School, a new chapter opens with the advent of the British Rule in India. With the establishment of the Schools of Art (with English Teachers of Art) in Calcutta and Bombay, a Naturalistic School of illustration was initiated in the two cities. In Calcutta, about 1880, some artists trained in the Government School of Art (Biswas, Bagchi), began to design and publish in the "Bowbazar Art Studio" colour prints (Litho-prints coloured by hand) of Hindu mythical subjects which at cheap prices received popular patronage. In India the "School of Art" productions Western in western technique was anticipated by Raja Varma (1848-96) of Travancore who by reproducing in cheap colour lithographs, his illustrations from Hindu mythology printed in off, overshadowed the Calcutta colour prints, and acquired a world-wide celebrity, winning medals at Chicago. He has a worthy follower in Mr. M. V. Dhurrandhar. The new reaction in Bombay to the Tagore School in Bengal is represented by Fresco paintings by the students of Sir J. J. School of Art, under the direction of Mr. Gladstone Solomon.

The rise of the Tagore school in Bengal under the inspiration of the late Mr. Havell is too well-known throughout the world to need any recapitulation here.

Published in Silpi, June, 1947, page 15-19.
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