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By Alex Brown





Conventionally, Indian culture is typified by LITERATURE (sahitya), MUSIC (sanget), ARTS (kala). The realm of the arts is two folded:




Performing Arts  : MUSIC, DRAMA and DANCE.


All arts in India are practised. They are central to the education and lifestyle of the society’s elite. The religion has always impregnated the field of arts. The making of an artwork, be it a sculpture or a building (architecture) is preceded by a religious ceremony.


Due to the great variety of Indian art in history, it forbids a generalisation, but disregarding the exceptions, the oldest works are narrative and with time they evolved (particularly in sculpture)as decorative and meaningful. Hindu art is more vigorous and dynamic. The elaborate sculptures on the temple facade speaks of not only the legends and myths but also the profound teachings of Indian Metaphysics.


The Indian artist aimed at the depiction of:


1.      Rasa (emotions) or Bhava (ecstasy)

2.      Rupa (physical Charm)

3.      Artha (meaning or message that makes an art useful and communicative)




The two categories of Indian temple architecture are: monolithic, rock-cut building form and free-standing construction form.


In Nh Indian cosmology, the centre of the Universe was conceived as a mountain "Mount Meru", the home of the Gods. The temples were raised on high platform and each of the several roofs of the porches and halls preceding the tower over the sanctuary build up gradually to a crescendo of form in the spire itself. The roofs like foothills preparing us for inspiring heights of the peak. In Holy scriptures, vicinity of a temple to river or a tank is considered to be sacred, that is why most of the famous pilgrim centres like Hardwar, Varanasi etc. are along the river fronts.


In South India the temple planning was inspired from the ancient village plan, with double walls, gateways and a concept different than Nagara style. The gateways, Gopurams are symbolised as a transition between material world and spiritual world. In these temples the arts of architecture, sculpture and painting are combined as a setting for the live performing arts of music and dance, transfused by flickering flames of butter lamps. It is a profound and living union.


2.1    Style of Ornamentation


The Buddhist style is one of tranquil quality, embracing the spirit of peace and serenity of the religion. The grandeur is in its SIMPLICITY.


The Hindu style of ornament is unique in the world. The style is luxurious and full of life and vitality. Ornamental designs embellish persons, floors and walls, doors and windows, shrines and temples.


The various kinds of ornamental forms were:  Lotus, Plant forms, animal forms like crocodiles, elephants, lions etc.




On one hand, the Muslims developed the Persian style they created in Persia, with its variations found in various parts of India. (The typical Mughal style followed the Islamic purity of forms and lines.)


On the other hand, they adopted the principle components of Indian architecture (Hindu temple) - pillars and corbelled domes - onto their building forms, thus creating the Indo-Islamic style.




1.      Gandhara style

         In the so-called Greco-Buddhist school of Gandhara, the sculptures carried Hellenistic  characteristics.

2.      Mathura style

         Adopting the Gandhara’s Apollonian torso, the Mathura style however has a round head with the monastic material             of finer quality, clinging to the Buddha’s body. 

3.      Amaravati style

         Taking more of traditional Indian features like the Mathura style, the Amaravati style exposed the right shoulder and             adopted the southern Dravidian’s long face quality.

4.      Gupta style

        The drapery attaches itself so closely to the figure that it reveals the form without any folds.




Until the introduction of paper into India from Iran (c.14th century), paintings were done mostly onto wooden panels, cloth or palm leaves. The earliest fragments of Indian wall paintings were found in the Gupta period. The paintings were narrative in nature and depicted scenes of life and activity, like court scenes, lives and incarnation of Buddha.


The painting occupied the entire space given, with  a linkage from group to group not easily seen. The composition follows the age-old principles, whereby each group has several vanishing points. Many a time, each group is arranged within a circular scheme in accordance with the MANDALA (the imagined shape of the cosmo).


Foreign influence from China and Persia can be detected by the strange appearances of landscapes and animals.




The earliest Indian miniature found earlier than 11th century. However, it was the Mughal conquerors who gave the great increase of paintings (as book illustrations) in India.


In Mughal India, arts and crafts were associated with main centres of power and were chiefly, dependent on personal patronage. The Mughal school of Miniature painting owed its existence to the patronage of three rulers, Akbar; his son, Jahangir and Jahangir's son, Shah Jahan.


Akbar was the founder of the Mughal school of painting. He created a hybrid art form by blending the Persian and native Indian elements. The paintings of that period illustrated qualities as sense of space, agitated action and formal balance. The Mughal paintings are not lively and realistic, but even contain elements of individual portraiture.


The remarkable features of Mughal paintings are:


1.      Descriptive draughtsmanship, figures with the rhythmic beauty of calligraphic curve.

​2.      Refined elegance of the color and aesthetic sensitivity.

3.      Imaginative organisation of colon.

4.      Use of perspective with planes superimposed on each other with several vanishing points.  The European method of           shading was used.

5.      The subject matter included depiction of important events, portraiture (members of the royal family), vegetal forms               and nature.


Mughal style of painting brought realism that was unknown before.

6.1    Rajput School:


The evolution of early Rajasthani painting in central India was the period when Hinduism began to experience a Renaissance. The scriptures and epics formerly prerogative to nobles and priests, now became more directly available and entered main stream of life.


The devotional cult became popular and among personalised Gods emerged Radha and Krishna ‑manifestation of Vishnu.


Characteristics of Rajput Paintings:


1.      The paintings were conceptual, being concerned with the expression of idea, whether religious or poetical.

2.      The colours used were strong and opaque, different colours had different meanings, like red‑fury, yellow‑marvellous, brown‑ erotic.

3.      The paintings were quite close to folk art.

4.      The subject matter and symbolism are clear in illustration of seasonal songs, life of  Krishna, and love stories.


The themes of this sensuous style were further elaborated and expressed in moods and sensations associated with love called ragmala. These were also musical modes and sensations expressed through elaborate ragas (masculine modes) and raginis (feminine variations).


Paintings, poems and music were considered appropriate to certain hours of the day and seasons of the year, in cycles based upon cosmological considerations. In general, Rajasthani (the Rajput miniatures) are influenced by Mughal style accepting the fiery color schemes and forceful profile.




In Indian culture, the body is invested with various meanings. Decorating the body is yet another way of conveying meaning. Through out the history, the kind of costumes and accessories worn can be seen to fulfil two criteria: Simplicity and Opulence. Earlier, the choice of clothes was dependent on the person's status, wealth and religious orientation.


Indus valley civilisation, clothes tended to be simple, status reflected by the kind of Jewellery worn.


In the Aryan era complicated clothing was worn. This consisted of the lower and upper garments. Later a cloak was added.


In Mughal era more elaborate costumes were used in conjunction with jewellery. The costumes had patterns of beads and precious stones. Gold and silver brocades, fine figured muslins, fabulous weaves, exquisite carpets and intricate embroideries showed the general opulence of that era. The art of Jewellery also developed considerably. While gold remained the symbol of prosperity, precious stones and pearls became center of attraction. Enamel work (Mina) on the ornaments was much sought after by the wealthy.




Right from the start of Indian civilisation, one thing that has been prevalent throughout is the projection of an attractive and dignified image, which resulted in the development of applied art in India. This was the outcome of refined taste and encouragement by the patrons and the skills of the craftsmen. From the existing sculptures and relief of the period, we can see that garments, ornaments and utensils created were of extraordinary quality.


Stone/Ceramic mosaic and tiles first appeared in the 13th century with colourful flowers and geometric patterns, and beautiful animals.


Coins served as currency, mostly silver but gold, copper and other metal alloys were also used. Gold coin was indicative of the prosperous conditions prevailing during that period.


Weapons were not only used in war and self defence ,but also served as decorative items. Sometimes swords, daggers and other arms were plated in gold accompanied by ornamental scabbards and hilts made of jade and other fine quality stones and metals in the shape of animals like horses and lions. The shield was also given a charming look and carved with a variety of motifs.


The utensils and dishes during the Vedic era was mostly made of clay. Around 18th century, brass utensils were made with intricate carving and inlay work. The flasks, paandan (betel nut boxes) and huqqas (a traditional instrument of smoking) were the most popular decorative art objects in the royal households of the 17th and 18th  centuries embellished with stylised with floral designs.




Indian music and dance are an epitome of community spirit in India. The performance of music and dance is a divine experience, enjoyed not as ends in themselves but as dedication to God.


9.1    Indian Music


The classical music tradition in India is based on the principles enunciated by sage Bharata and continues to be the form of meditation, concentration and worship.


The Raga, or the musical mode ,form the basis of entire musical event. The Raga is essentially an aesthetically rendering of seven musical notes and each Raga is said to have specific flavour or mood. Tala is what binds the music together. It is a fixed time cycle for each rendition and repeats itself after completion of each cycle. With the help of Raga, Tala and Shruti (microtones) Indian musicians have created a variety of feelings.


The Indian musical tradition has two domains:


Carnatic or South Indian music

Hindustani or North Indian music


The Northern school of Indian Music can boast of names like Amir Khuero (13th century) and Tansen (16th century).The great musicians of the Southern style include Venkatamakhi (17th century), Thyagaraja and Shyama Shastri.


All Indian musicians belong to a particular gharana (family)or school. Each has their own style and traditions.


Today, there is much interaction and concourse between music from the North and that of the South. Both styles influence each other and will lead to the enrichment of the great Indian tradition.


9.2    Indian Dance


The origin of classical dance in India goes back to 2 BC when ancient treatise on dance, Natya Shastra, was compiled. Dance in India is guided by elaborate codes in the Natya Shastra and by mythology, legend and classical literature. ln ancient India, religious dancers known as devadasis performed in temples. Classical dance forms have rigid rules of presentation.


Among the leading forms of classical dance are :


1.      Bharat Natyam in Tamil Nadu (South India).

2.      Kathakali in Kerela (South India).

3.      Kathak in North India, developed as a court dance under Mughals.

4.     Manipuri in the eastern state of Manipur, describes games of Krishna and Gopis.

5.      Oddisi temple dance in Orrisa

6.      Kucchipudi dance drama from Andhra Pradesh, based on themes of epics Ramayana and Mahabharata .­


In addition, there are numerous forms of folk and tribal dance in India.





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