Painting had always been a very powerful language of expression. There is always a thought involved in every brush stroke. Picasso once said “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary”. Talking in Indian context, painting had been a very old fashion in India. It existed before any other language did, it served the purpose of documentation, demonstration and of’ course communication. Though there is no definite proof that since when it started, but, it is believed that oldest paintings are the wall art of the Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh. Which depicts the paintings from Paleolithic (10,000 B.C.), Mesolithic (5000 B.C.) and Chalcolithic (2000 B.C.) times.

The impressions of Indian painting exist even in the most nondescript form of work, yet it never goes unnoticed. Rangoli, door outlines, painting the verandahs and the Temples are very good examples. In older times, colors used to play a major role in Indian painting. Indian art is known for using bold color shades and color symbolism in their paintings. Like reds and saffron for valor, Yellow for religion, black for tamas (evil) and whites for satvik (pure/goodness). The subjects of the wall art were mostly inspired by religious literature like Ramayana and Mahabharata, God painting and other themes like bravery, sacrifice, joy, love, and motherhood were the subjects. These wall art went on to become themes for various art and craft in India.


Mural paintings originated in South West India. It developed during 2nd century and continued till 6th century. Very popular examples of mural painting are the sculptures and frescoes of Ajanta and Ellora caves. The subjects of murals varied from Buddhism, gaudy pictures of gods and goddesses, highly stylized flora and fauna and engraved sketches on the walls. Kerala murals are an example of highly stylized imagery of gods.

Miniature Paintings

Miniature painting as the name specifies is a wee sized subtle form of art. This style was mainly used in manuscripts written on perishable items like leaves, cloth or wooden barks. Miniature painting popularized in the western India, Rajasthani and Mughal paintings are very good examples of this type. Though a very interesting form of original painting, today it is not practiced anymore rather is found only in the preservation of the archaeological department of India.

The Mughal school of Painting

The trend of Mughal painting originated during the reign of Humayun and went on to develop and bloom under Akbar, Jahangir and Shajahan. It is a brilliant blend of Indian, Islamic and Persian style of miniature painting. This style flourished during 16th to 18th century. Paintings were often used to keep an illustrative record of deeds in wars, court scenes, legendary fables, portraits, hunting scenes, wildlife, etc. It was only after Aurangzeb took command, the decline of Mughal paintings started as he didn’t pay much heed to development of the art.

Rajasthani Paintings

This style prospered in the last decades of the 18th century in the royal courts of the Rajputana, India. Highly inspired by the Mughal Paintings, yet cultivated a style of their own. They reflect the rich Rajasthani culture with themes like forts, battlefield, desert scene, women, scenes from epics, etc. Also known as Rajput painting, it branched into various schools like Mewar painting, Bikaner, Jodhpuri, Kangra, Dalchand School of paintings. This style of art flourished into not just paintings but also into beautiful art and craft. Mirror work, tie and die painting, flower vase painting, earthen pot painting, framed art of oil paintings, etc are a few examples of its diversification. Though being very local and regional in India, these paintings are highly in demand across the globe.

Madhubani Paintings

The roots of Madhubani paintings lie in the village of Mithila (Madhuvan), Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. Hence they are also known as Mithila paintings. Traditionally these paintings were done on the mud walls, floors of huts, but now they are done on more perishable material like canvas, handmade paper, etc. It is believed that this style sprouted from Dwaparyuga (The time of Ramayana), and matured over the ages. The themes for these paintings are generally Hindu gods like Krishna, Shiva, Rama, Durga, Saraswati, Kali, etc. Interestingly, tools used for these paintings are not conventional; instead they are made with fingers, twigs, pen-nib, natural dyes, etc. Presently, these paintings have become a craze among the ethnicity lovers, as it adds to the ambience of the surroundings.

Mysore Paintings

The Mysore paintings portray classical touch of South India from Mysore, India. Originated during the 15th to 16th century during the rule of RajaWodeyar, these paintings speak of the rich culture of southern India. Known for their subtle colors, gesso work, sophistication and detailed refinement, these paintings mainly revolve around the themes of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Usually, Mysore paintings depict scenes from the Hindu mythology. In modern times, Mysore paintings are popular souvenirs of festivals in south India.

Warli Paintings

Warli art is a specialty of the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, India, found in the northern outskirts of Mumbai. These paintings use geometrical shapes and patterns to paint their graphic vocabulary, and are usually done on the walls of houses. The themes of Warli paintings revolve around simple life of human beings, scenes from daily life, humans with animals, folk dances, etc. One of the oldest tribal art of India, it’s usually done on occasions like marriages, festivals, folk dances, harvest, celebrations, temple rituals, etc. it is also known for its trademark red or black background and use of white for painting.

Tanjore Paintings

One of the richest painting styles of all the Indian times is Tanjore painting. Prospering since the 16th century, these paintings represent the unique style of south Indian paintings from Tamil Nadu (Thanjavur), India. Known for their longevity and grandeur, Tanjore paintings are embellished with semi-precious stones and gold. This style of Indian painting is inspired by themes from Hindu mythology and Gods and Goddesses. In present times, these painting usually adorn the temples and exchanged as gifts during festivals.

Bengal Paintings

The Bengal School of art originated in the times of British Raj (20th century). Highly influenced by the present circumstances of British suppression, these paintings were associated with Indian nationalism and patriotism. Interestingly, this style of painting was promoted by British art lovers. It’s much respected form of art due to its significant promotion of Indian patriotism that still inspire the young guns of its motherland.

Contemporary Indian Paintings

With the changing times and advent of globalization, Indian art took a great leap and blended with the west. The contemporary paintings or more commonly known as modern Indian art are deeply influenced by the western concept of sublime composition and mystery hidden in the layers of color. The most interesting fact about the modern Indian art is, though, its style is inspired by the west but its themes are associated with Indian mythology, Hindu gods, women, emotions, etc. A perfect blend of modernity and tradition makes it an instant like among the painting lovers. With new artists emerging, the popularity and variety of contemporary Indian paintings is increasing exponentially today

Author's Bio: 

Deepak Agarwal is founder of An experienced, qualified and result oriented professional with several years experience in technology industry, primarily in new product design and development.