All paintings done on walls are not necessarily called mural paintings. This term is usually reserved for classical styles used for temples, churches and palaces.
Cave paintings in India are found at many places dating back to prehistoric times as found in Bhimbetka caves, which were discovered in 1950s only, which were called as Petroglyphs. Generally ochre red, yellow earth or soot black was used as coloring medium. Rocks were first scratched and in the space formed colours were filled. Figures were generally stick like figures of animals, hunters etc. Other examples include – Jogimara caves in Jharkhand etc.
Mural tradition started in 2nd century BCE and matured by the times of Ajanta paintings. All the early paintings were murals. The early murals of India were painted by guilds of painters. The themes were Buddhist, Jain and Hindu. Later, significant achievements were made at Ajanta, Bagh, Sittanvasal, ArmamalaiCave, Ravanchaya, KailasnathTemple at Ellora, Brihadeshwar Temple paintings and paintings in Lepakshi and Virupaksh (a form of Shiva) temples of Vijaynagar rulers etc
–The word Bhimbetka is said to derive from Bhimbaithka, meaning ‘sitting place of Bhima’. The Bhimbetka rock shelters are an archaeological World Heritage site located in Raisen District in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The Bhimbetka shelters are the earliest rock cut caves in India and belong to various periods including – Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Chacolithic. Largest numbers of them belong to Mesolithic period. Some analyses suggest that at least some of these shelters were inhabited by man for in excess of 100,000 years. Some of the Stone Age rock paintings found among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are approximately 30,000 years old. 400 painted rock shelters in five clusters. Largely in white and red (though other colors were also used), the paintings are essentially a record of the varied animal life of the surrounding Fresco is a technique of mural painting executed upon freshly laid lime plaster. This implies that the Fresco is done on wet plaster and that is why it is more durable work than Mural. Murals are painted on already dried surfaces.
forest and of various facets – economic and social- of peoples’ lives. Images include extinct fauna, mythical creatures; people dancing with hands joined; domesticated animals, carts and chariots; designs and patterns, inscriptions and also some symbols of the Historic period and along with pictorial narratives of events such as large processions of men on caparisoned horses and elephants,
and battle scenes. Though animals were painted in a naturalistic style, humans were depicted only in a stylistic manner. The artists here made their paintings on the walls and ceilings of the rock shelters. Some of the paintings are reported from the shelters where people lived. But some others were made in places which do not seem to have been living spaces at all. Perhaps these places had some religious importance.
II. Jogimara Paintings
Jogimara Paintings are the best example of the Pre-Buddha paintings is the Jogimara cave, which is situated at Amarnath near the origin of Narmada, in Sarguja in Madhya Pradesh. The paintings of these caves have been dated from 300BC to as back as 1000BC. The roof of the cave has some seven paintings which include the human figures, fish and elephants. There are two layers of paintings in it. The Original paintings are of expert artists but the upper layer has been done by incompetent artists. In true sense, the Jogimara Caves seem to be the first human endeavours as expert paintings.
III. Ajanta paintings
Ajanta paintings largely depict events from Buddha’s life in form of Jataka tales and they belong to 200 BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. Paintings here are drawn in continuity without using separate frame and they are essentially two dimensional. Expressions in these are expressed through hand gestures. Even animal and birds are shown with emotions. It also reflects social life of that time and females are shown in different hair-styles. They are predominantly frescos. ‘Dying Princess’ is one of the
most critically acclaimed paintings for its emotions. Early paintings were made by Gupta rulers. Ajanta caves can be classified into two phases namely the Hinayana phase (Uniconic) and the Mahayana phase (Iconic). Both phases of the excavation and the creation of art were patronized by Hindu kings, the Satavahanas in the early period and the Vakatakas in the latter period. Ajanta paintings are known as fountainhead of all painting traditions in Asia.
IV. Ellora cave paintings
Ellora cave paintings and sculptures unlike Ajanta paintings have influence of three religions – Jaina, Buddhism and Hinduism. While Buddhist themes are from Jatakas, Hindu themes are from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata and other mythological stories. All of these are now in a damaged condition, almost unrecognizable.
The Padmapani, the Bearer of the Lotus. It is the most popular Bodhisattva in Buddhism. This gentle figure is one of the masterpieces of Indian art in Cave 1, Ajanta.
The Vajrapani, the Bearer of the Thunderbolt. The glorious figure portrays the majesty of the Spirit in Cave 1, Ajanta.
Pitalkhora – The caves of Pitalkhora are located near Ellora in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. Pitalkhora Caves belonged to once upon largest temple complexes of Buddhists in India. Today it is known as largest group of Hinayana Buddhism monuments in India.
VI. Bagh caves
Bagh caves are also similar to Ajanta caves, but themes are more secular in nature and apart from Buddhist themes, day today life has also been shown.
VII. Bhaja & Kanheri Caves – The Buddhist caves of Bhaja and Kanheri in Maharashtra. Bhaja Caves located at the Valley of Indrayani River, near Lonavala in Maharashtra has 22 rock-cut caves that were created approximately 2,200 years ago, circa 200 BC. These are one of the oldest surviving examples of rock cut architecture in India. These caves are known for their ornate facades. There is an impressive chaitya though the most of the caves in Bhaja are viharas. Apart from the sculptural wonders, Bhaja Caves contain the paintings of Buddha. Due to the nearness to Karla caves, the Bhaja Caves are sometimes known as Bhaja-Karla caves.
VIII. Paintings at Badami
Paintings at Badami are among the earliest surviving in Hindu temples belonging to 6th century CE and patronized by Chalukya kings who succeded Vakataka kings, just as the paintings at Ajanta and Sittannavasal are the earliest Buddhist and Jain murals. They are an extension of the tradition of mural painting from Ajanta to Badami in South India. The most surviving murals include the paintings of Vishnu, Shiva and Parvathi as well as some other characters. Apart from these, murals of Chalyukya kings are also shown.
IX. Ravan Chaya Rock Shelter paintings
Ravan Chaya Rock Shelter paintings in Keonjhar district of Odisha date back to 7th century AD and are secular in nature.
X. Pallava paintings
Pallava paintings – The Pallava kings who succeeded the Chalukya kings in parts of South India,
were also patrons of arts and they helped in spreading mural tradition further down south in 7th century CE. Mahendravarma I who ruled in the seventh century was responsible for building temples at Panamalai, Mandagapattu and Kanchipuram. The inscription at Mandagapattu mentions Mahendravarman I with numerous titles such as Vichitrachitta (curious-minded), Chitrakarapuli (tiger among artists), Chaityakari (temple builder), which show his interest in art activities.
XI. Pandya Paintings
Pandya Paintings – They include paintings at Sitanvasal and Tirumalaipuram. Paintings at Sitanvasal are Jaina paintings in Tamil Nadu in Puddukkottai town near Trichy. The paintings are located in
rock cut temples and were made in 8th-9th century CE.
XII. Armamalai Cave paintings
Armamalai Cave paintings – Located in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu, Armamalai Cave is known for a Jain temple with ancient paintings, Petroglyphs and rock art. These paintings are similar to
murals in Sittanavasal cave which is located 250 km south of Armamalai Cave. Natural caves were turned into Jain shrines around 8th century CE.
XIII. Chola paintings
Chola paintings – Brihadeshwara temple also houses paintings of Hindu deities that were made during Chola period i.e. 9th to 13th century. Chola art also reached its zenith when Chola reached pinnacle of power in 11th century. The paintings show narrations and aspects related to Lord Shiva, Shiva in Kailash, Shiva as Tripurantaka, Shiva as Nataraja, a portrait of the patron Rajaraja and his mentor Kuruvar, dancing figures, etc. Bridheshwara paintings shows the perfection that mural tradition has reached in South India. During the Nayak period, the Chola paintings were painted over. The Chola frescos lying underneath have an ardent spirit of saivism is expressed in them. They probably synchronised with the completion of the temple by Rajaraja Chola..
XIV. Vijaynagara paintings
Vijaynagara paintings – With the decline of power of the Chola dynasty in the 13th century, the Vijayanagara Dynasty captured and brought under its control the region from Hampi to Trichy with Hampi serving as its capital. Vijaynagara rulers also promoted mural paintings and the paintings in the temples like Lepakshi temple depicting Hindu gods – mainly Shiva – as well as secular themes like royal scenes are example of their art. Other famous painting art includes wall-paintings such as Dasavathara (ten Avatars of Vishnu) in the Virupaksha (a form of Shiva) temple at Hampi, the Shivapurana paintings (tales of Shiva) at the Virabhadra temple at Lepakshi. The paintings at Tiruparakunram, near Trichy, done in the 14th century represent the early phase of the Vijayanagara style. In Hampi, the Virupaksha temple has paintings on the ceiling of its mandapa narrating events from dynastic history and episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, incarnations of Vishnu and so on. Some of the primary colors are totally absent and these paintings mark the decline of mural paintings.
XV. Nayaka paintings
Nayaka paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries are seen in Thiruparakunram, Sreerangam and Tiruvarur. The Nayaka paintings depict episodes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and also scenes from Krishna-leela. Nayaka paintings were more or less an extension of Vijaynagara style. Their 60 panel mural of Ramayana in a temple near Arcot is famous one. Male figures are shown slim-waisted but with less heavy abdomen as compared to those in Vijayanagara.
XVI. Kerala Murals
Kerala Murals – They were drawn in 16th to 8th century, partly inspired by the Nayakas and Vijaynagara style, but maintaining their own distinct style influenced from the Kathakali tradition using vibrant and luminous colours, representing human in three dimensional forms. Their themes are also derived from local traditions – which are influenced by Ramayana and Mahabharata – but have their own interpretation. More than sixty sites have been found with mural paintings which include three palaces—Dutch palace in Kochi, Krishnapuram palace in Kayamkulam and Padmanabhapuram palace.
As we can see, murals of South India were mostly related to Hindu deities, unlike those of other parts which had origin in Buddhist art. Even today mural painting on interior and exterior walls of houses in villages or havelis is prevalent in different parts of the country. These paintings are usually made by women either at the time of ceremonies or festivals or as a routine to clean and decorate the walls. Some of the traditional forms of murals are Pithoro in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, Shekhawati paintings in Rajasthan, Mithila painting in northern Bihar’s Mithila region, Warli paintings in Maharashtra and so on.