Exploring The Prevalent Art Forms of Medieval India

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The Indian Medieval Period is undoubtedly was a flourishing period for art, and its influences on the regional kingdoms, the Delhi Sultanate, and the Mughal Empire can be seen to this day. The period is divided into two: one characterized by indigenous reigns of notably the Palas, Pratiharas, Chalukyas, and Cholas. The later medieval period saw the rule of the five major dynasties under the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals. It was during the later medieval period that art developed Indo-Persian traits. Fine arts during these times were highly endorsed in the form of patronage and every kingdom and region in the country had its unique style of art which has largely impacted the shape of the country today.

1. Miniature Paintings

Prevalent Art Forms in India-Miniature Painting
Image/Wikimedia

Miniature paintings are intricate and are renowned for their great attention to detail. In India, the origin of these paintings goes back to the 7th century under the reign of the Palas in the form of illustrations of Buddhist texts and scriptures. These paintings are a sight to see and truly glow to the artists’ use of natural ingredients such as rocks, fruits, and vegetables to extract color for the paintings. A defining characteristic of these paintings has to be the brushwork that is done with impeccable precision that captures the most minute of detail. Even today, after centuries, the brushes used for these paintings are made from squirrel hair to ensure perfection. These paintings are often seen on palm leaves, wood, cloth, and other such materials. There are various schools of miniature paintings such as the Deccan School, the Pala School, the Orissa School, the Jain School but the two most prominent ones that emerged were the Mughal and Rajasthani School.

1.1 Mughal School

Prevalent Art Forms in India-Mughal School
Image/Nathan Hughes Hamilton/Flickr

During the Mughal Empire, the art featured influences of native Indian as well as Persian styles, therefore, giving rise to this amalgamation which is the reason for the formation of the Mughal School. The Mughal rulers greatly promoted its development and therefore miniature paintings became synonymous with the Mughal reign. These paintings first particularly thrived under Akbar whose portraits as well as scenes from his court, wildlife, and battle give us an accurate overview of the time. This served as the foundation of this school and this style was only refined during the reign of Jahangir whose love for art was truly commendable and was also the reason he was referred to as the connoisseur of Mughal Art. The same continued under Shah Jahn, however, it was under the rule of Aurangzeb whose focus on expansion and condemnation of art led to a reduction in patronage which ultimately led to the decline of Mughal miniature paintings.

1.2 Rajasthani School

Prevalent Art Forms in India-Rajasthani School
Image/Wikimedia

The decline of the Mughal School was followed by the rise of the infamous Rajasthani School. These paintings show great contrast to their predecessor because as opposed to the natural portrayal in the Mughal School, the Rajasthani School saw a majority of abstract paintings. A defining characteristic of this school is the subject of these paintings that remains scenes from the epic of Ramayana with special emphasis on Krishna, evoking its popularity with Hindus. The Rajasthani school further gave way to various divisions within it that are the Mewar School, Jaipur School, Bikaner School, and many more. Each of these had its own features that made them unique but followed a similar foundation. The flourishing nature of this school was again due to patronage by various Rajput Kings.

2. Mural Paintings

Prevalent Art Forms in India-Mural Painting
Image/Wikimedia

Mural Paintings refer to paintings that are drawn predominantly on walls or even ceilings. (The word mural is derived from a Latin word ‘murus’ that translates to the wall) The traces of this art form can be tracked earliest to the Bhimbetka caves in India. However, their rise to popularity was during the medieval period. These are also a great source as they tell us about the civilization and life of the common people. They can be seen most commonly at caves, for instance at Ajanta, Bagh, and Ellora Caves. They were quite prevalent during the Delhi Sultanate where these paintings can be seen in the royal courts and chambers in addition to mosques.

3. Chola Sculptures

Prevalent Art Forms in India-Chola Sculptures
Image/Wikimedia

The Cholas were a prominent dynasty in the south during the early medieval period while the northern dynasties engaged in a struggle for political stability. During their reign, the arts flourished. They were great patrons of paintings, poetry, music, dance, and drama but what the Chola Dynasty is widely remembered for are the mesmerizing bronze statues. Customarily, these statues depict religious deities and occasionally the rulers themselves. These sculptures are renowned for their great attention to detail as well as beautiful carvings. They are made using the lost wax technique. Another reason for its prevalence is the greater appeal of bronze sculptures as opposed to those made from stone due to the lack of finesse. They have, furthermore, also been found outside of India due to the Chola rulers’ expeditions to Sri Lanka and other surrounding regions.

4. The Mughal Architecture Wonders

Prevalent Art Forms in India-Taj Mahal
Image/Bishnu Sarangi/Pixabay

The Mughal Architecture, again, features a blend of the two cultures resulting in the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. Architecture is another field that flourished under the Mughal Empire emphasizing the zenith it reached during the reign of Shah Jahn. This style was first witnessed with the construction of Humayun’s tomb and only progressed further. The highlight of Akbar’s reign was undoubtedly the city of Fatehpur Sikri and the Jami Masjid. Symmetry, balance, and the utilization of double domes were the features that marked Shah Jahn’s rule with his infamous crown jewel being one of the seven wonders of the world: The Taj Mahal.

It is rightly said that India reached its zenith in the fields of art, crafts, and architecture in the medieval period whether it be the portraits of Akbar, the murals of Delhi Sultanate, or the admirable paintings that emerged. Even today, people throughout the globe marvel at the various stunning art forms of India that arose during the medieval period and it remains a gem in the diverse culture of our country.

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