Arts _ Culture Compilations Part 1 (Chapter 3 DRAMA, PAINTING AND VISUAL ART)

  • When the basic needs of food, water, clothing and shelter were fulfilled people felt the need to express themselves. 
  • Painting and drawing were the oldest art forms practiced by human beings to express themselves, using the cave walls as their canvas.
  • Prehistoric paintings have been found in many parts of the world. We do not really know if Lower Paleolithic people ever produced any art objects. But by the Upper Paleolithic times we see a proliferation of artistic activities.
  • Around the world the walls of many caves of this time are full of finely carved and painted pictures of animals which the cave-dwellers hunted.
  • The subjects of their drawings were human figures, human activities, geometric designs and symbols.
  • In India the earliest paintings have been reported from the Upper Paleolithic times.
  • The first discovery of rock paintings was made in India in 1867–68 by an archaeologist, Archibold Carlleyle, twelve years before the discovery of Altamira in Spain.Cockburn, Anderson, Mitra and Ghosh were the early archaeologists who discovered a large number of sites in the Indian sub-continent.
  • The rock shelters on banks of the River Suyal at Lakhudiyar, about twenty kilometres on the Almora– Barechina road, bear these prehistoric paintings. Lakhudiyar literally means one lakh caves. The paintings here can be divided into three categories: man, animal and geometric patterns in white, black and red ochre. Humans are represented in stick-like forms. A long-snouted animal,a fox and a multiple legged lizard are the main animal motifs. Wavy lines, rectangle-filled geometric designs, and groups of dots can also be seen here.
  • The granite rocks of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh provided suitable canvases to the Neolithic man for his paintings. There are several such sites but more famous among them are Kupgallu, Piklihal and Tekkalkota. Three types of paintings have been reported.
  • The caves of Bhimbetka were discovered in 1957–58 by eminent archaeologist V.S. Wakankar and later on many more were discovered.
  • The rock art of Bhimbetka has been classified into various groups on the bases of style, technique and superimposition. The drawings and paintings can be catagorised into seven historical periods. Period I, Upper Palaeolithic; Period II, Mesolithic; and Period III, Chalcolithic. After Period III there are four successive periods. The paintings of the Upper Palaeolithic phaseare linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge animal figures, such as bisons, elephants, tigers, rhinos and boars besides stick-like human figures.
  • The largest number of paintings belong to Period II that covers the Mesolithic paintings. During this period the themes multiply but the paintings are smaller in size. Hunting scenes predominate. The hunting scenes depict people hunting in groups, armed with barbed spears, pointed sticks, arrows and bows. In some paintings these primitive men are shown with traps and snares probably to catch animals.
  • The hunters are shown wearing simple clothes and ornaments. Sometimes, men have been adorned with elaborate head-dresses, and sometimes painted with masks also. Elephant, bison, tiger, boar, deer, antelope, leopard, panther, rhinoceros, fish, frog, lizard, squirrel and at times birds are also depicted. The Mesolithic artists loved to paint animals. In some pictures, animals are chasing men. In others they are being chased and hunted by men.
  • Period III covers the Chalcolithic period. The paintings of this period reveal the association, contact, and mutual exchange of requirements of the cave dwellers of this area with settled agricultural communities of the Malwa plains. Many a time Chalcolithic ceramics and rock paintings bear common motifs, e.g., cross-hatched squares, lattices.
  • The artists of Bhimbetka used many colors, including various shades of white, yellow, orange, red ochre, purple, brown, green and black. But white and red were their favourite colours. The paints were made by grinding various rocks and minerals. They got red from haematite (known as geruin India). The green came from a green variety of a stone called chalcedony.
  • White might have been made out of limestone. The rock of mineral was first ground into a powder. This may then have been mixed with water and also with some thick or sticky substance such as animal fat or gum or resin from trees. Brushes were made of plant fibre. What is amazing is that these colours have survived thousands of years of adverse weather conditions. It is believed that the colors have remained intact because of the chemical reaction of the oxide present on the surface of the rocks.

What we learn from these paintings ?

Ans:- These prehistoric paintings help us to understand about early human beings, their lifestyle, their food habits, their daily activities and, above all, they help us understand their mind—the way they thought. Prehistoric period remains are a great witness to the evolution of human civilization, through the numerous rock weapons, tools, ceramics and bones. More than anything else, the rock paintings are the greatest wealth the primitive human beings of this period left behind.

  • The arts of the Indus Valley Civilization emerged during the second half of the third millennium BCE. The forms of art found from various sites of the civilization include sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry, terracotta figures, etc.
  • The two major sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation, along the Indus river—the cities of Harappa in the north and Mohenjodaro in the south—showcase one of earliest examples of civic planning. Other markers were houses, markets, storage facilities, offices, public baths, etc., arranged in a grid-like pattern. There was also a highly developed drainage system. While Harappa and Mohenjodaro are situated in Pakistan, the important sites excavated in India are Lothal and Dholavira in Gujarat, Rakhigarhi in Haryana, Ropar in the Punjab, Kalibangan and Balathal in Rajasthan, etc.
  • The stone statuaries found at Harappa and Mohenjodaro are excellent examples of handling threedimensional volumes. In stone are two male figures — one is a torso in red sandstone and the other is a bust of a bearded man in steatite—which are extensively discussed.
  • Terracotta:- The Indus Valley people made terracotta images also but compared to the stone and bronze statues the terracotta representations of human form are crude in the Indus Valley. They are more realistic in Gujarat sites and Kalibangan. The most important among the Indus figures are those representing the mother goddess. In terracotta, we also find a few figurines of bearded males with coiled hair, their posture rigidly upright, legs slightly apart, and the arms parallel to the sides of the body. The repetition of this figure in exactly the same position would suggest that he was a deity. A terracotta mask of a horned deity has also been found. Toy carts with wheels, whistles, rattles, birds and animals, gamesmen and discs were also rendered in terracotta.
  • Seals:- Archaeologists have discovered thousands of seals, usually made of steatite, and occasionally of agate, chert, copper, faience and terracotta, with beautiful figures of animals, such as unicorn bull, rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, bison, goat, buffalo, etc.
  • The standard Harappan seal was a square plaque 2×2 square inches, usually made from the soft river stone, steatite.
  • The most remarkable seal is the one depicted with a figure in the centre and animals around. This seal is generally identified as the Pashupati Seal by some scholars whereas some identify it as the female deity. This seal depicts a human figure seated cross-legged. An elephant and a tiger are depicted to the right side of the seated figure, while on the left a rhinoceros and a buffalo are seen. In addition to these animals two antelopes are shown below the seat. Seals such as these date from between 2500 and 1500 BCE and were found in considerable numbers in sites such as the ancient city of Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley.


  • A large quantity of pottery excavated from the sites, enable us to understand the gradual evolution of various design motifs as employed in different shapes, and styles. The Indus Valley pottery consists chiefly of very fine wheelmaker wares, very few being hand-made. Plain pottery is more common than painted ware. Plain pottery is generally of red clay, with or without a fine red or grey slip. It includes knobbed ware, ornamented with rows of knobs. The black painted ware has a fine coating of red slip on which geometric and animal designs are executed in glossy black paint. 

Beads and Ornaments

  • The Harappan men and women decorated themselves with a large variety of ornaments produced from every conceivable material ranging from precious metals and gemstones to bone and baked clay. While necklaces, fillets, armlets and finger-rings were commonly worn by both sexes, women wore girdles, earrings and anklets. Hoards of jewellery found at Mohenjodaro and Lothal include necklaces of gold and semi-precious stones, copper bracelets and beads, gold earrings and head ornaments, faience pendants and buttons, and beads of steatite and gemstones. All ornaments are well crafted. It may be noted that a cemetery has been found at Farmana in Haryana where dead bodies were buried with ornaments.

Maurya period art forms

  • Ashoka emerged as the most powerful king of the Mauryan dynasty who patronised the shraman tradition in the third century BCE
  • Buddhism became the most popular social and religious movement. Yaksha worship was very popular before and after the advent of Buddhism and it was assimilated in Buddhism and Jainism. Construction of stupasand viharasas part of monastic establishments became part of the Buddhist tradition. The Mauryan pillar capital found at Sarnath popularly known as the Lion Capital is the finest example of Mauryan sculptural tradition. It is also our national emblem. Monumental images of Yaksha, Yakhinisand animals, pillar columns with capital figures, rock-cut caves belonging to the third century BCE have been found in different parts of India.
  • Large statues of Yakshasand Yakhinisare found at many places like Patna, Vidisha and Mathura. These monumental mimages are mostly in the standing position.
  • One of the best examples of the structure of astupain the third century BCE is at Bairat in Rajasthan. It is a very grand stupahaving a circular mound with a circumambulatory path. The great stupaat Sanchi was built with bricks during the time of Ashoka and later it was covered with stone and many new additions were made.
  • The pattern of patronage has been a very collective one and there are very few examples of royal patronage. Patrons range from lay devotees to gahapatisand kings. Donations by the guilds are also mentioned at several sites. However, there are very few inscriptions mentioning the names of artisans such as Kanha at Pitalkhora and his disciple Balaka at Kondane caves. Artisans’ categories like stone carvers, goldsmiths, stone-polishers, carpenters, etc. are also mentioned in the inscriptions.
  • The Lion Capital discovered more than a hundred years ago at Sarnath, near Varanasi, is generally referred to as Sarnath Lion Capital. This is one of the finest examples of sculpture from the Mauryan period. Built in commemoration of the historical event of the first sermon or the Dhammachakrapravartana by the Buddha at Sarnath, the capital was built by Ashoka.
  • The capital originally consisted of five component parts:

(i) the shaft (which is broken in many parts now),

(ii) a lotus bell base,

(iii) a drum on the bell base with four animals proceeding clockwise,

(iv) the figures of four majestic addorsed lions, and

(v) the crowning element, Dharamchakra, a large wheel, was also a part of this pillar. However, this wheel is lying in a broken condition and is displayed in the site museum at Sarnath. The capital without the crowning wheel and the lotus base has been adopted as the National Emblem of Independent India. 

Post mauryan period


  • Bharhut sculptures are tall like the images of Yakshaand Yakhshiniin the Mauryan period, modelling of the sculptural volume is in low relief maintaining linearity. Images stick to the picture plane. In the relief panels depicting narratives, illusion of three-dimensionality is shown with tilted perspective. Clarity in the narrative is enhanced by selecting main events. At Bharhut, narrative panels are shown with fewer characters but as the time progresses, apart from the main character in the story, others also start appearing in the picture space. At times more than one event at one geographical place is clubbed in the picture space or only a single main event is depicted in the pictorial space.
  • Narrative reliefs at Bharhut show how artisans used the pictorial language very effectively to communicate stories. In one such narrative, showing Queen Mayadevi’s (mother of Siddhartha Gautam) dream, a descending elephant is shown. The queen is shown reclining on the bed whereas an elephant is shown on the top heading towards the womb of Queen Mayadevi.


  • The next phase of sculptural development at Sanchi Stupa-1, Mathura, and Vengi in Andhra Pradesh (Guntur District) is noteworthy in the stylistic progression. Stupa-1 at Sanchi has upper as well as lower pradakshinapatha or circumambulatory path. It has four beautifully decorated toranas depicting various events from the life of the Buddha and the Jatakas. Figure compositions are in high relief, filling up the entire space. Depiction of posture gets naturalistic and there is no stiffness in the body. Heads have considerable projection in the picture space.
  • The first century CE onwards, Gandhara (now in Pakistan), Mathura in northern India and Vengi in Andhra Pradesh emerged as important centres of art production, The Buddha image at Mathura is modelled on the lines of earlier Yakshaimages whereas in Gandhara it has Hellenistic features.

Early Temples:

The shrines of the temples were of three kinds—

(i) sandharatype (without pradikshinapatha)

(ii) nirandharatype (with pradakshinapatha), and

(iii)sarvatobhadra(which can be accessed from all sides).

Important temple sites of this period are Deogarh in Uttar Pradesh, Eran, Nachna-Kuthara and Udaygiri near Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh. These temples are simple structures consisting of a veranda, a hall and a shrine at the rear.

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