Indian art

art from Indian Subcontinent cultures

Indian art consists of a variety of art forms, including plastic arts (e.g., pottery sculpture), visual arts (e.g., paintings), and textile arts (e.g., woven silk).


  • Indian Art demands of the artist the power of communion with the soul of things, the sense of spiritual taking precedence of the sense of material beauty, and fidelity to the deeper vision within...
    • Sri Aurobindo, Ghose, A., Nahar, S., & Institut de recherches évolutives. (2000). India's rebirth: A selection from Sri Aurobindo's writing, talks and speeches. Paris: Institut de recherches évolutives.
  • I have, however, mentioned [in The Foundations of Indian Culture] that Islamic culture contributed the Indo-Saracenic architecture to Indian culture. I do not think it has done anything more in India of cultural value. It gave some new forms to art and poetry. Its political institutions were always semi-barbaric.
    • Sri Aurobindo, Ghose, A., Nahar, S., & Institut de recherches évolutives. (2000). India's rebirth: A selection from Sri Aurobindo's writing, talks and speeches. Paris: Institut de recherches évolutives.
  • We shall never be able to do justice to Indian art, for ignorance and fanaticism have destroyed its greatest achievements, and have half ruined the rest. At Elephanta the Portuguese certified their piety by smashing statuary and bas-reliefs in unrestrained barbarity; and almost everywhere in the north the Moslems brought to the ground those triumphs of Indian architecture, of the fifth and sixth centuries, which tradition ranks as far superior to the later works that arouse our wonder and admiration today. The Moslems decapitated statues, and tore them limb from limb; they appropriated for their mosques, and in great measure imitated, the graceful pillars of the Jain temples. Time and fanaticism joined in the destruction, for the orthodox Hindus abandoned and neglected temples that had been profaned by the touch of alien hands.
  • We may guess at the lost grandeur of north Indian architecture by the powerful edifices that still survive in the south, where Moslem rule entered only in minor degree, and after some habituation to India had softened Mohammedan hatred of Hindu ways. Further, the great age of temple architecture in the south came in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, after Akbar had tamed the Moslems and taught them some appreciation of Indian art. Consequently the south is rich in temples, usually superior to those that remain standing in the north, and more massive and impressive; Fergusson counted some thirty "Dravidian" or southern temples any one of which, in his estimate, must have cost as much as an English cathedral.
  • Before Indian art, as before every phase of Indian civilization, we stand in humble wonder at its age and its continuity.
  • From that time to this, through the vicissitudes of five thousand years, India has been creating its peculiar type of beauty in a hundred arts. The record is broken and incomplete, not because India ever rested, but because war and the idol-smashing ecstasies of Moslems destroyed uncounted masterpieces of building and statuary, and poverty neglected the preservation of others. We shall find it difficult to enjoy this art at first sight; its music will seem weird, its painting obscure, its architecture confused, its sculpture grotesque. We shall have to remind ourselves at every step that our tastes are the fallible product of our local and limited traditions and environments; and that we do ourselves and foreign nations injustice when we judge them, or their arts, by standards and purposes natural to our life and alien to their own.
  • In India the artist had not yet been separated from the artisan, making art artificial and work a drudgery; as in our Middle Ages, so, in the India that died at Plassey, every mature workman was a craftsman, giving form and personality to the product of his skill and taste. Even today, when factories replace handicrafts, and craftsmen degenerate into “hands,” the stalls and shops of every Hindu town show squatting artisans beating metal, moulding jewelry, drawing designs, weaving delicate shawls and embroideries, or carving ivory and wood. Probably no other nation known to us has ever had so exuberant a variety of arts.
  • It is clear, from the drawings, in red pigment, of animals and a rhinoceros hunt in the prehistoric caves of Singanpur and Mirzapur, that Indian painting has had a history of many thousands of years. Palettes with ground colors ready for use abound among the remains of neolithic India. Great gaps occur in the history of the art, because most of the early work was ruined by the climate, and much of the remainder was destroyed by Moslem “idol-breakers” from Mahmud to Aurangzeb. The Vinaya Pitaka (ca. 300 B.C.) refers to King Pasenada’s palace as containing picture galleries, and Fa-Hien and Yuan Chwang describe many buildings as famous for the excellence of their murals; but no trace of these structures remains. One of the oldest frescoes in Tibet shows an artist painting a portrait of Buddha; the later artist took it for granted that painting was an established art in Buddha’s days.
  • Everywhere in India, in the millennium before the coming of the Moslems, the art of the sculptor, though limited as well as inspired by its subservience to architecture and religion, produced masterpieces. The pretty statue of Vishnu from Sultanpur,47 the finely chiseled statue of Padmapani, the gigantic three-faced Shiva (commonly called “Trimurti”) carved in deep relief in the caves at Elephanta, the almost Praxitelean stone statue worshiped at Nokkas as the goddess Rukmini, the graceful dancing Shiva, or Nataraja, cast in bronze by the Chola artist-artisans of Tanjore, the lovely stone deer of Mamallapuram, and the handsome Shiva of Perur—these are evidences of the spread of the carver’s art into every province of India.
  • The same motives and methods crossed the frontiers of India proper, and produced masterpieces from Turkestan and Cambodia to Java and Ceylon. The student will find examples in the stone head, apparently of a boy, dug up from the sands of Khotan by Sir Aurel Stein’s expedition; the head of Buddha from Siam; the Egyptianly fine “Harihara” of Cambodia; the magnificent bronzes of Java; the Gandhara-like head of Shiva from Prambanam; the supremely beautiful female figure (“Prajnaparamita”) now in the Leyden Museum; the perfect Bodhisattwa in the Glyptothek at Copenhagen; the calm and powerful Buddha, and the finely chiseled Avalokiteshvara (“The Lord who looks down with pity upon all men”), both from the great Javanese temple of Borobudur; or the massive primitive Buddha, and the lovely “moonstone” doorstep, of Anuradhapura in Ceylon. This dull list of works that must have cost the blood of many men in many centuries will suggest the influence of Hindu genius on the cultural colonies of India.
  • Aurangzeb was a misfortune for Mogul and Indian art. Dedicated fanatically to an exclusive religion, he saw in art nothing but idolatry and vanity. Already Shah Jehan had prohibited the erection of Hindu temples;127 Aurangzeb not only continued the ban, but gave so economical a support to Moslem building that it, too, languished under his reign. Indian art followed him to the grave.
  • But we cannot judge these works in their original form from what survives of them today; and doubtless there are clues to their appreciation that are not revealed to alien souls. Even the Occidental, however, can admire the nobility of the subject, the majestic scope of the plan, the unity of the composition, the clearness, simplicity and decisiveness of the line, and among many details the astonishing perfection of that bane of all artists, the hands. Imagination can picture the artist-priest who prayed in these cells and perhaps painted these walls and ceilings with fond and pious art while Europe lay buried in her early-medieval darkness. Here at Ajanta religious devotion fused architecture, sculpture and painting into a happy unity, and produced one of the sovereign monuments of Hindu art.
  • Sages such as Sri Aurobindo who have meditated on Hindu iconography, and savants such as Ananda Coomara-swamy, Stella Kramrisch, and Alice Boner who have studied the subject, assure us that the forms and features of Hindu icons have a source higher than the normal reaches of the human mind. The icons are no photocopies of any human or animal forms as we find them in their physical frames. They are in fact crystallizations of the abstract into the concrete, of the infinite into the finite. They always point beyond themselves, and a contemplation of them always draws us from the outer to the inner.Hindu Šilpašãstras lay down not only technical formulas for carving holy icons in stone, and metal, and other materials. They also lay down elaborate rules about how the artist is to fast, and pray, and otherwise purify himself for long periods before he is permitted, if at all, to have a psychic image of the God or Goddess whom he wants to incarnate in a physical form. It is this sublime source of the Šilpašãstras which alone can explain a Sarnath Buddha, or a Chidambram NaTarãja, or a Vidisha Varãha, to name only a few of the large assembly of divine images inhabiting the earth. It is because this sublime source is not accessible to modern sculptors that we have to be content with poor copies which look like parodies of the original marvels.
    • S.R. Goel, Defence of Hindu Society, Chapter 5
  • "India has always been an object ofyeaming, a realm of wonder, a world of magic."... "India is the land of dreams. India had always dreamt - more of the Bliss that is man's final goal. And this has helped India to be more creative in history than any other nation. Hence the effervescence of myths and legends, religious and philosophies, music, and dances and the different styles of architecture." ... "India has created a special momentum in world history as a country to be searched for."
    • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,quoted in Klosterrnaier, Klaus K A Survey of Hinduism. State University of New York Press. 1994. Patri, Umesh Hindu scriptures and American transcendentalists 1st ed. quoted from Londhe, S. (2008). A tribute to Hinduism: Thoughts and wisdom spanning continents and time about India and her culture. New Delhi: Pragun Publication.
  • The Hindu architects produced buildings incomparably more rich and interesting as works of art. I have not visited Southern India, where, it is said, the finest specimen of Hindu architecture are to be found. But I have seen enough of the art in Rajputana to convince me of its enormous superiority to any work of the Mohammedans. The temples at Chitor, for example, are specimens of true classicism.
    • Aldous Huxley, quoted in : On Hinduism Reviews and Reflections - By Ram Swarup p.161-165
  • Gold and silver bangles, ear-ornaments, necklaces, and other jewelry “so well finished and so highly polished,” says Marshall, “that they might have come out of a Bond Street jeweler’s of today rather than from a prehistoric house of 5,000 years ago.”
    • Sir John Marshall, Quoted in Durant, Will (1963). Our Oriental heritage. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • "It will be seen that stage practice in Asia owes a great deal to India as an ancestral source. Indian influence on dance and theatre which are one and the same thing in Asia was like some great subterranean river following a spreading course and forming new streams on the way".
    • A.C.Scott at the very start of his "The Theatre in Asia".SCOTT 1972: The Theatre in Asia (The History of the Theatre). Scott, A.C. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1972. Quoted in [1] [2]
  • "China also passed on to Japan the ceremonial dances of India with their music, which were Japanized as the solemn and colorful Bugaku".
    • (SACHS:1943:105). SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [3] [4]
  • [And here is what Sachs has to say about Bharata's ancient text the Natya-Shastra, which he agrees could be as early as the 4th century BCE and about which he tells us that it] "testifies to a well-established system of music in ancient India, with an elaborate theory of intervals, consonances, modes, melodic and rhythmic patterns". ... "Bharata's text was probably rehandled as early as antiquity, and it may confirm the idea that Bharata himself wrote his treatise much earlier" ... [He also tells us that this text establishes that it represents a stage where the] "slow transition from folk-song to art-song, from hundreds of tribal styles to one all-embracing music of India […] had long ago come to an end".
    • (SACHS 1943:157-169).SACHS 1943: The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. Sachs, Curt. W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1943. Quoted in [5] [6]
  • “I am sad to note that Indians know very little about their folk arts or the artistes…using this medium (TV) to destroy one’s own originality and to spread foreign culture is dangerous…the intellectuals…should recognise the fact that their own culture is dissolving like delta in the sea”. .... [When he had visited Gujarat some years earlier, he had met a Bhavai folk drama artiste who knew 200 plays. But, this time, the oldest Bhavai artiste knew only 65 plays:] “Between two generations, 135 Bhavais were lost! Nobody bothered to record them. They were lost forever”.
    • Dr. James O’Barnhill, retired Professor of Theatre Arts, Brown University, USA, in an interview to the Organiser (5/3/1989) quoted in [7] [This article is a major extract from the article "Sita Ram Goel, memories and ideas" by S. Talageri, written for the Sita Ram Goel Commemoration Volume, entitled "India's Only Communalist", edited by Koenraad Elst, published in 2005.
  • So deep has the Mohammadan influence (on art) sunk that even in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama, the craft of wood work presents no image of the ever popular hero with the bow.
    • Sir George Birdwood (1903), quoted in "Madras", CENSUS OF INDIA 1961 - VOLUME IX[1]
  • It may also be noted in this connection that Hindu art practically went out of existence in Muslim States, though in a few places like Gujarat, its influence may be traced in Muslim architecture. After the thirteenth century, notable specimens of Hindu art are to be found only in the Hindu States of Vijayanagara and Mewar. Hindu culture did not flourish under Islam, and the few facts brought forward to prove the contrary may at best be likened to a few tiny oases which merely serve to bring into greater relief the barren desolation of the long stretch of arid desert. (Preface)
    • RC Majumdar, Volume 6: The Delhi Sultanate [1300-1526]
  • And it is precisely the totality of these devices of Harappan art that gives it an intangible yet unmistakable air of ‘Indianness’: thus Stella Kramrish, one of the most distinguished experts on Indian art, felt that ‘in certain respects some of the Mohenjo-daro figurines can be compared with the work by village potters and women made to this day in Bengal’.
    • Stella Kramrisch, in Exploring India’s Sacred Art: selected writings of Stella Kramrisch, p. 87. quoted from Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • At a more formal level, she was convinced that ‘the beautiful Maurya sculpture presupposes continuity in the artistic traditions since the Harappa period’.
    • Stella Kramrisch, in Gonda, J., Change and Continuity in Indian Religion, op. cit., p. 26, with reference to Kramrisch, Stella, Indian Sculpture, Y.M.C.A. Publishing House, Calcutta & Oxford University Press, London, 1933, pp. 11 & 143. quoted from Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • The French Vedic scholar Jean Varenne also noted how ‘several of these [Harappan] themes (figures seated in the “lotus posture”, mythical animals, celebration of dance) appear as constants in Indian art’.
    • Varenne, Jean, L’art de l’Inde, Flammarion, Paris, 1983, p. 105. quoted from Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • In the same manner, if on finding mention of the word Yavanikâ (curtain) in the dramas of Kâlidâsa and other Indian poets, the Yâvanika (Ionian or Greek) influence on the whole of the dramatic literature of the time is ascertained, then one should first stop to compare whether the Aryan dramas are at all like the Greek. Those who have studied the mode of action and style of the dramas of both the languages must have to admit that any such likeness, if found, is only a fancy of the obstinate dreamer, and has never any real existence as a matter of fact. Where is that Greek chorus? The Greek Yavanika is on one side of the stage, the Aryan diametrically on the other. The characteristic manner of expression of the Greek drama is one thing, that of the Aryan quite another. There is not the least likeness between the Aryan and the Greek dramas: rather the dramas of Shakespeare resemble to a great extent the dramas of India. So the conclusion may also be drawn that Shakespeare is indebted to Kalidasa and other ancient Indian dramatists for all his writings, and that the whole Western literature is only an imitation of the Indian.
    Lastly, turning Professor Max Müller's own premisses against him, it may be said as well that until it is demonstrated that some one Hindu knew Greek some time one ought not to talk even of Greek influence.
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