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Category Archives: Indian Painting

The Legacy of Chitrasutra- Three – Badami

[This is the third article in the series.

This article and its companion posts may be treated as an extension of the series I posted on the Art of Painting in Ancient India .In the present set of articles , I propose to talk , briefly, about the influence of Chitrasutra – its outlook, its theories and its recommended practices – on the Indian mural paintings. In this process I propose to cover some , not all , of the main mural paints of India that succeeded Ajanta , such as : Pitalkhora (c.6th century), Badami (c, 6th century), Sittannavaasal (c.7th century), Pannamalai (7thcentury), Kailasanatha – Kanchipuram (8th century),Brihadeshwara – Tanjore (11thcentury), Lepakshi (16th century), Mattancheri (c.17th century) and Padmanabhapuram palace (18th century).I propose to round it up the discussion with a note on the sublime paintings of Shri S Rajam , who kept alive the tradition of Chitrasutra in the modern times.

The first article was meant to serve a brief introduction to the subject outlining the characteristics of the Chitrasutra tradition.

The present article attempts to give an account of the murals at Badami.]

Continued from the Legacy of Chitrasutra- Two-Pitalkhora

Badami

Badami caves, Karnataka

8.1. Badami, along with Aihole, Pattadakal and some other sites in and around the valley of the River Malaprabha in Bagalkot District of Karnataka, contain some of the earliest temples built in stone in the regions of Southern India.  Badami known as Vatapi in the earlier times, founded in 540 AD by Pulikeshin I was the capital of the early Badami Chalukyas from 540 to 757 AD.

The rock-cut cave temples of Badami located in a ravine at the foot of rugged sandstone rock formation were carved and sculpted mostly during the 6th and 8th centuries. However, the history of construction of monuments in stone go back much farther in time, as evidenced by the large number of megalithic monuments that are distributed at several sites in the Malaprabha Valley.

The ceiling designs in the Badami temples are highly intricate; and, are decorated  with  stylized padma-vitāna, lotus-ceiling involving radial symmetry, and concentric borders enclosing lotus motifs.

Badami ceiling designs 2

The four cave temples depict the art of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious inclinations, evidencing the secular outlook and religious tolerance of the ancient Kings of Badami. The rock cut temples at Pattadakal (UNESCO world heritage monument), Badami and Aihole are among the most celebrated monuments of ancient India.


8.2. It is said; the cave temples of Badami influenced the development of the rock-cut structures of Mahabalipuram. Rev H Heras SJ in his ‘Studies in Pallava History’ (SG Paul and Co, 1933) discusses in fair detail the similarities between the two groups of sculptures and traces certain features of  the statues and sculptures at Mahabalipuram to the caves of Badami. According to Rev Heras, soon after his accession to the throne the Pallava king Mahamalla Narasimhavarman I (ruled 630-668 AD), in retaliation, successfully attacked Vatapi (Badami) the capital of the Chalukyas. While at Vatapi, Mahamalla was greatly impressed by its extraordinarily well executed cave-temples; and particularly by cave No.3 the largest and most ornamented of all the Badami caves.

Badami ceiling motiff

Narasimhavarman was struck with admiration at the beauty in the architectural concept and the perfection of its execution in those elaborate cave-temples. Rev Heras asserts it is beyond doubt that the Pallava king studied the Chalukya style of cave building took designs of some of the architectural elements and motifs of ornamentation. He also broadened his views on stone carving and fostered in his mind new ambitious projects to emulate the artistic achievements of his enemies. And he did succeed.

8.3 .Rev Heras points out striking similarities between the pillars the Varaha Mantapa of Mahabalipuram and the pillars in the veranda of Cave No.1 of Badami:” The same prismatic appearance; the same bulbous lotus-like development of the capital; the same interruption of the fluting by a band of filigree work; the same rosary-like garlands “. He also points out that Mahamalla adopted the Badami style of decoratively covering the side-walls with large sculptural panels displaying elaborate figures that resemble the Badami depictions. For instance Varaha, Vamana, Gaja-Lakshmi and Durga in Cave No. 2 and Cave No. 3 of Mahabalipuram closely follow in their depiction the figures of the Badami caves. Rev Heras remarks; the statues and sculptures of Mahabalipuram are plainer than those of Badami; there is neither profusion of ornamentation nor richness of details. But the figures of Mahabalipuram seem richer with their’ naturalness s and freshness of the poses ‘that is   not found in the more conventional panels of Badami.

vishnu badami d1613

8.4. It is remarkable; while the cave temples of Badami influenced the carved structures of Mahabalipuram, about a century later the Pallava temples influenced the style, structure and depiction of the Chalukya temples. Over a period the two rival schools enriched each other giving place to composite styles of sculpture and architecture.  

Paintings

9. Though its exquisite carvings and sculptures are fairly well preserved, the murals in the Badami caves have all but vanished. Only a few fragments of the paintings tucked away in the concave surfaces of the vaulted cornice of the 3rd and 4tn cave have survived. They are perhaps the earliest surviving specimens of the Hindu wall paintings.

578 CE Mangalesha Kannada inscription in Cave temple 3 at Badami

Badami inscription of Mangalesha

An inscription dated 578 AD records, in Kannada language; the caves were completed during the reign of King Mangalishwara (aka Mangalesha) son of Pulikeshin I. The wall paintings might therefore have been executed during that period. Some other paintings in cave 4 might belong to a later period (6-7th century) as they appear related to paintings in Cave 1 of Ajanta, depicting the visit of a Persian emissary to the court of Pulakshin in 625 AD.

10. It is likely that the caves were earlier painted and fully decorated. The fragment remains of the Badami murals still evoke the images of splendour and magi of the bygone eras. The remains of the Shiva and Parvathi murals, and of other characters from the Puranas ( in cave 3) strongly resemble the figures painted in Ajanta .

The mural in cave 4, dedicated to Adinatha Thirthankara, depicts Jain saints relinquishing the world for attainment of knowledge   , is truly uplifting.

Pen-and-ink drawing of two sculptures from Cave I, Badami, depicting Harihara and Ardhanarishvara, by an  unknown Indian draftsman, dated 1853.

badami sketch

Pen-and-ink and wash drawing of two sculptures of Vishnu as Trivikrama and Varaha from Cave II, Badami

badami sketch 2

11.  The secular paintings too closely resemble the Ajanta paintings, thus carrying forward the tradition of the Chitrasutra. Shri SM Sunkad an artist from Hubli (Karnataka) has attempted reproducing a mural each from Ajanta and Badami and illustrating how closely they resemble in style.

http://gallery.passion4art.com/members/sunkad/picture.html

This was the commencement of Chalukya style of architecture and a consolidation of South Indian style.

Next

— Sittanvaasal->

 References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badami_Cave_Temples

http://gallery.passion4art.com/members/sunkad/picture.html

http://www.indiamonuments.org/

http://indiabackpacker.blogspot.com/2008_11_01_archive.html

All pictures are from Internet

 

 

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The Legacy Of Chitrasutra- Two-Pitalkhora

 

[This article and its companion posts may be treated as an extension of the series I posted on the Art of Painting in Ancient India .In the present set of articles , I propose to talk , briefly, about the influence of Chitrasutra – its outlook, its theories and its recommended practices – on the Indian mural paintings. In this process I propose to cover some , not all , of the main mural paints of India that succeeded Ajanta , such as : Pitalkhora (c.6th century), Badami (c, 6th century), Sittannavaasal (c.7th century), Pannamalai (7thcentury), Kailasanatha –Kanchipuram (8th century),Brihadeshwara – Tanjore (11thcentury), Lepakshi (16th century), Mattancheri (c.17th century) and Padmanabhapuram palace (18th century).I propose to round it up the discussion with a note on the sublime paintings of Shri S Rajam , who kept alive the tradition of Chitrasutra in the modern times.

The first article was meant to serve a brief introduction to the subject outlining the characteristics of the Chitrasutra tradition.

The present article attempts to give an account of the murals at Pitalkhora.]

Continued from the Legacy of Chitrasutra- One

The previous post viz. The Legacy of Chitrasutra- One  tried to present, as a backdrop, an outline of the general principles of the Chitrasutra tradition: its outlook, its concepts and theories; and its recommended practices. As mentioned, the school of Chitrasutra wielded enormous influence on the artists of the sub-continent, over about fifteen centuries. We shall now look at some celebrated murals of ancient India, which either belonged to the period of Ajanta or to sometime thereafter.

Pitalkhora

6. The caves

6.1. The Buddhist caves at Pitalkhora are the closest to Ajanta; both in terms of space and time. They too are situated in the Aurangabad region of Maharashtra; about 40km west of the famous rock- cut temples at Ellora. The Pitalkhora caves are cut into the side of a secluded ravineand are located deep inside a valley with a gentle stream running through it.

6.2. The set of fourteen caves of early- Buddhist period are similar to Ajanta; and are dated around second or third century BCE. Some scholars identify Pitalkhora with ‘Petrigala’ mentioned in Ptolemy’s history and with ‘Pitangalya ‘mentioned   in a Buddhist tantric text Mahamayuri of 3-4th century AD. The inscriptions found here (c. second century) indicate that ‘Pitangalya ‘had close connections with Pratishtana (modern Paithan), the capital of the Imperial Shatavahanas. Pitangalya was also an important trade centre along the caravan -route from Surparaka (Sapora) to Nasik, further north.

A unique feature of Pitalkhora is its ingenious arrangement to drain out the seepage that found its way into the cave through cracks in the rocks. Long tunnel like openings were bored into the ceilings and the water was channelled underneath the cave floor, in concealed drains, leading to outside cave entrance.

Pitalkhora caves occupy a significant place among the ancient Buddhist monuments of 2 C B.C. But, sadly the caves are in a poor state of preservation.

 

6.3.  Pitalkhora consisting of 14 Buddhist Caves forms one of the earliest centres of the rock-cut architecture; and are said to belong to about 2nd C BCE. The architectural and sculptural representations are similar to that of the Sanchi stupa; and are approximately of the same period. The sculptural remains at Pitalkhora include some   unusual sculptures; such as those of the wonderful animal motifs, miniature Chaitya windows, the elephants, yaksha (semi divine beings), dwarapala  (door-keepers) and mithuna (twin ) figures.

7. The paintings

7.1. As regards the paintings, only a few fragments of the murals dated around 5-6thcentury AD (of the time of Ajanta murals) can be seen in the Chaitya and Monastery Caves. The best paintings are in Cave 3. These appear on the pillars and side walls. They bear a strong resemblance to Ajanta style of painting; carrying forward the tradition of the Chitrasutra.

7.2. This is evident from the gentle expression and typical soulful eyes (characteristic of the Ajanta) depicted in the figure of a worshipper in a Pitalkhora fragment. The hair- do and colour scheme of the Pitalkhora fragment resembles greatly the Ajanta figures.

7.3. The Buddha figure to with its benign countenance and soulful eyes does resemble the Ajanta.

Next

The rock-cut cave temples of Badami, in North Karnataka, carved and sculpted mostly during the 6th and 8th centuries, depicting the art of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious traditions.

 

References:

http://www.devi.org/pitalkhora.html

http://lavanya-indology.org/pitalkhora.html

http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_ellora_pitalkhora.asp

http://www.indiamonuments.org/Pitalkhora.htm

All pictures are from Internet

 

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The Legacy of Chitrasutra – One- Introduction

[This article and its companion posts may be treated as an extension of the series I posted on the Art of Painting in Ancient India. In the present set of articles, I propose to talk, briefly, about the influence of Chitrasutra – its outlook, its theories and its recommended practices – on the Indian mural paintings.

In this process I propose to cover some , not all , of the main mural paints of India that succeeded Ajanta , such as :  Pitalkhora (c.6th century) , Badami (c, 6th century), Sittannavaasal (c.7th century), Pannamalai (7th century), Kailasanatha-Kanchipuram (8th century), Brihadeshwara -Tanjore (11th century) , Lepakshi (16th century), Mattancheri (c.17th century) and Padmanabhapuram palace (18th century). I propose to round it up the discussion with a note on the sublime creations of Shri S Rajam, the classical painter who kept alive the tradition of Chitrasutra in the modern times.

The present post is a brief introduction to the subject outlining the characteristics of the Chitrasutra tradition. This will be followed by an account of the murals at Pitalkhora and Badami in the next section.]

From  the caves of Newari region on the borders of Nepal and China(8-9th  cent)

1. Indian murals

1.1. Murals in India date back to times beyond the pages of history. India has a rich tradition of mural wealth. The treatises such as Vishnudharmottara, Silpashastra, Manasollasa, Shilparatna, Narada-shilpa-shastra and Kashyapa-shilpa, discuss at length all aspects of painting, including murals. The murals are perhaps the only surviving examples of ancient Indian painting.

1.2. The Chitrasutra of Vishnudharmottara describes itself as a “legacy of the collective wisdom of the finest minds”. That legacy inherited by the Chitrasutra was, in turn, carried forward by the scores of artists, spread across the centuries, who produced priceless works of art. Those were acts of intense devotion and dedication. The earliest surviving of those works of art are the murals at Ajanta, which we have already discussed. The decorative motifs, richly populated compositions, well defined figures, appropriate costumes and adorations are some of the notable features of the Ajanta mural paintings. The tradition of Chitrasutra and Ajanta was nurtured, practiced and kept alive in other parts of the country, during the next fifteen centuries. The widespread acceptance and a sustained propagation of the principles of Chitrasutra in a country of diverse cultures and religions, is one of the marvels of ancient India. Some residuals of those ancient murals have somehow survived to this day.

Sigiriya-Sri Lanka

1.3. The Chitrasutra tradition, in a way of speaking, was the unobtrusive soft silken bond that tied the country together in a common cultural web, by providing idioms of art expressions that all could share and regard it as their own. It put into the hands of the artists a well structured grammar of painting. Chitrasutra was an inclusive and a unified tradition of painting. One of the main characteristic of this tradition was its remarkable unity and consistency. Though there were regional variations and individual styles, the works produced in diverse geographical and cultural regions shared certain common values, concepts and techniques. And, all those varied   manifestations were inspired by the general principles of Chitrasutra. The regional idioms, nevertheless, contributed to the richness of Indian art, and their mutual influences gave birth to multi-faceted development of Indian art.

2. Outlook

2.1. Chitrasutra tradition was at once Hindu, Buddhist and Jain; for its style was a function of time and region; and, not of the religion. It is not, therefore, strictly correct to speak of Hindu or Buddhist art; but, rather of Indian art that happened to render Hindu or Buddhist themes. For example, an image of Vishnu and an image of Buddha of the same period are stylistically the same; the religion having little to do with the mode of artistic expression. Apart from that, the Indian art that rendered the religious themes shared a common pool of symbols, gestures (mudras) and a common set of values that avoided imitation of the physical and ephemeral world of the senses.

Let me try to illustrate this aspect. In all  the Hindu , Jain and Buddhist themes , alike, the Chakra – the revolving wheel of time symbolizes the cyclical rhythms of all existence;  the Padma – or the lotus embodies creation – that springs from the bosom of the earth; the Ananta (represented as a snake) symbolizes  water – the most important life-giving force from which all life emerges, evolves  and then resolves; the Swastika – represents  the four-fold aspects of creation ,motion and a sense of stability ; the Purnakalasha the over -flowing pot symbolized creativity and prosperity; the Kalpalata and Kalpavriksha –  the wish-fulfilling creeper symbolize  imagination and creativity; and Mriga or deer – symbolizes  desire and  fleeting beauty.

Similarly, the gestures (mudra) by positioning of fingers, hands, limbs etc. , making explicit the virtues such as wisdom, strength, generosity, kindness and caring etc. are employed and interpreted commonly by all the persuasions.

3. Concepts

3.1. There is a marked absence of portraitures in the ancient murals. One rarely comes across the physical representations of the monarchs or the patrons who caused the paintings to be done. This could be viewed as one of the strength of Indian art. It strived to move away from the ephemeral towards the long lasting; and from particular to universal. It also meant that the ancient Indian kings were not vain enough to assume their portraits would override the art.

3.2. Even in cases where the figures of kings and queens were depicted, the emphasis was on the ideal person behind the human lineaments rather than on their physical likeness. Most of those kings and queens were celebrated in their idealized forms. Their representations were therefore visualized or abstract rather than “photo-like”.

3.3. That approach seems to have sprung from the concern of the artist not to just reproduce the forms but to look beyond the tangible world of appearances. The Chitrasutra suggested, the artist should try to look beyond the beauty of the form that meets the eye; to lift the veil and look within. It asked him to look beyond “The phenomenal world of separated beings and objects that blind the reality beyond”.

3.4. The art expression was, therefore, not about how the world appears to one and all, but how the artist would experience and visualize it. In other words, the Chitrasutra tradition emphasized that art was more than photographic reproduction of visible objects. It was about the experience of a person and his expression of it through art; and about his unique creative genius, imagination, enterprise and individuality as an artist. Its purpose was to present that which is within us; and to evoke an emotional response (the rasa) in the viewer’s heart.

3.5. The Indian murals are rich in expressive realism. For instance, the Paintings at Ajanta, Bagh and Sittanvasal testify to a love of naturalism – both in the depiction of the human form and in the depiction of nature.  Yet, they always seem to suggest to something beyond the obvious.  They not merely stimulate the senses but also ignite the imagination of the viewer. That experience, according to Chitrasutra, sets the individual free from the confines of place, time and ego (self).

3.6. That aspect brought into the fore the concept of the abstract; and with it a whole set of symbols and symbolisms.  Further, the objects in nature were visualized or personified endowing each with a distinct personality. That enabled rendering the absolute and the undefined, into tangible visual forms. It, in turn, gave rise to a tendency to draw abstractions from nature in a manner that was both aesthetically pleasing and very effective as decorative embellishment.  Painting also developed into a medium for expressing visual fantasies. The elements of natures like rivers, sun, moon etc   were personified bringing out their virtues and powers through eloquent symbolisms.  Birds and flowers, trees and creepers too were depicted with a loving grace and tenderness. In certain cases, idyllic nature scenes were created just to convey a sense of joy and wonder.

3.7. The virtues and powers of the gods and demons too were made explicit by employing varieties of forms, symbols and abstract visualizations. The ancient Indian artist thus enjoyed far greater artistic liberty, freedom and felicity of expression as compared to his peers in the western world. That was made possible mainly because the Chitrasutra encouraged innovation and display of imagination. The text said, “Rules do not make the painting; it is the artist with a soul and vision who creates the art expressions”.

The Indian murals indicate that its artists took full benefit of the license granted by Chitrasutra. Its artists did not strictly adhere to the prescriptions of the texts, but improved upon them and instilled a life, rhythm and vigour of their own in the murals.

3.8. Chitrasutra while discussing the depiction of deities says, those qualities that we admire in a divine being are within us. When we respond to those images brought to us in art, we awaken those finer aspects that are latent in us. When we are filled by that grace, there is no space left for base desires and pain: we have become that deity.

The murals of India have that magical quality, which brings out the essence of life and the grace that permeate the whole of existence

4. Techniques

4.1. Traditional Indian texts have a three-fold classification: bhumikabhitti and prastara — floor, wall and ceiling respectively. Murals in South India, for that matter in India, are not the fresco type of paintings. In the present-day context the wall paintings are usually called murals (derived from the Latin root murus, meaning wall).The other term used to describe wall paintings is fresco , which generally refers to buon fresco, or ‘true fresco’ where colours mixed with water is painted directly on wet plaster. There is also fresco secco, or ‘dry fresco’ where the painting is made on dry surface. Most of the Indian murals, including the Ajanta murals, are painted on dry plaster.

4.2. One of the noticeable features of the Chitrasutra tradition is the deployment of its lines; delineating beautiful figures and their delicate inner feelings through graceful, steady, smooth and free flowing lines that capture the essence of a picture, in least number of lines. Its line-drawings are full of grace and vitality. The delicate touches and intimate details added   enliven the paintings.   The Simplicity of expressions symbolized the maturity of the artists.  Chitrasutra did not favour straight or harsh or angular or uneven lines.

4.3 . There is a natural quality and grace in the ancient murals; they almost seem effortless. The vigour, the strength and the power of a heroic figure are brought to life by the vitality of its lines; not by his fat muscles or his sheer size. Even the demons in the murals are never depicted as muscular or excessively fat. . The outlines are strong and very sure and there is an easy and natural depiction of volume, evidencing a good understanding of the rhythm and the structure of the human body.

4.4. The figures were never rigid and static. Their stances were always suggestive of flowing movements of languid grace and charming rhythm. Their display of the sense of balance is lovely. The painted figures of the “heroes” present a profound sense of peace and joy even while placed amidst activities and contradictions of life.

4.5. The Chitrasutra tradition regarded the eyes as the windows to the soul. And, it said, it is through their expressive eyes the figures in the painting open up their heart and speak eloquently to the viewer. It therefore accorded enormous importance to the delicate painting of the soulful and expressive eyes that pour out the essence of the subject. The lively sets of lustrous pools of eyes continue to influence generations of Indian artists; those eyes are, in fact, a hall mark of Indian art works.

Benoy K Behl  the scholar and art-historian remarks, ”This stylization, increasing linearity and the protrusion of the farther eye, which extends beyond the line of the face, are significant changes that take place in the paintings of Ellora. In later years, these are reflected in paintings over the whole of India”.

4.6. The other was use of proper colours:  soft and subdued, the lines firm and sinuous and the expressions true to life. The colours, at times contrasting and at times matching were artistically employed to create magical effects. That effect was enhanced by the skilful shading of the body-parts,  giving them a three dimensional appearance; and providing depth to the picture.

Next

5.  After this brief introduction let us now turn to some of the celebrated murals of ancient India, which display the characteristics and influences of the Chitrasutra tradition that we so far discussed . To begin with let’s look at the ancient murals at Pitalkhora (Maharashtra –c. 6th century) and Badami (Karnataka –c.6th century) in the next section.

References:

Legacy of Ajanta: by Benoy. K. Behl

http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2021/stories/20031024000107000.htm

Developments in Indian Art and Architecture: http://jigyasa0.tripod.com/art.html

All pictures are from Internet

 

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Ritu Varnana and Barahmasa

From: Venetiaansell 

Dear Mr Rao, I read your post on sharad rtu with great interest.  I am a student of Sanskrit and currently doing some research on the description of each rtu and in particular the flowers associated with each and would be interested to know more. Can you recommend any good books or articles about rtuvarnana in Sanskrit literature? I look forward to hearing from you. Best, Venetia

 

A. Ritu- varnana in Sanskrit Literature

1.1. Dear Venetiaansell , Greetings. The phenomena of the seasons, day and night, birds and beasts and flowers, are often employed  in Sanskrit poetry to frame human emotions, or are personified as counterparts of the human subjects of the poet. And, throughout the literature, a deep love of nature is implicit, especially in  the poems of  Kalidasa; who, for this reason , among others, is regarded very highly.

Kalidasa’s Meghadutam a work of little over 100 verses, has always been one of the most popular of Sanskrit poems. Its theme has been imitated in one form or another by several later poets both in Sanskrit and the vernaculars. More than most Indian poems, this work has unity and balance, and gives a sense of wholeness rarely found elsewhere. In its small compass Kalidasa has crowded so many lovely images and word-pictures that the poem seems to contain the quintessence of the  whole of Indian natural scenery.

As regards the ritu- varnana in its proper natural sequence, the most renowned, of course, is again  that by the Great Kalidasa in his various poetic works, and especially in the Ritu-samharam, the melody of the seasons or the garland of the seasons, running into six cantos describing the six seasons of the year; and how with each change in the season, the mood and behaviour of a young lover too would alter. In his other work, the Meghdootam, the intensity of the lovelorn Yaksha is far deeper. However, he weaves his yearning around the clouds; and thus, the description is confined to the rainy season.

In Kalidasa’s romantic poetry; graceful sensuality, colours and the music of love resonate with the world of blossoms and birds. The urges and pains of his nayaka and nayika are shared by the deer, birds, trees and the sky. It is a world where trees long for the touch of a lovely woman as much as a man longs for her embrace.  There is an unspoken bond between the song of the peacock and the lament of the separated lover. The messages of love are conveyed through clouds; and the changing seasons mirror the changing colours of love.

Kalidasa’s nayika adorns herself with blossoms and sprouts of the forest as ornaments and decorates her lotus-like feet with the red dye from the forest tree. She is decked in various fragrant flowers; apadma in her hands; kunda blossoms in her hair; the pollen of lodhra flowers on her face; the fresh kurbaka flowers in her braid ; the lovely sirisha flowers on her ears; and, the nipa flowers that bloom in the parting of her hair .

The nocturnal path of the lovelorn abhisarika nayika is traced   at dawn by the mandara flowers that have fallen from her hair and the golden lotuses that have slipped off her ears (Ritusamharam 2.11-12). Kalidasa’s nayika is not a mere mortal but a yakshi, the very life and spirit of a tree; and the trees mirror her exuberant ardour.

Kalidasa’s virahini-nayika of the Meghadutam, separated from her lover like a lotus deprived of the sun; like a solitary Chakravaka bird isolated from her mate ; and, crestfallen like a lotus withered by winter, is a chaste lovelorn woman, pining for her lover. She sits with her face resting in the cup of her palms, her locks covering her face as clouds cover the moon. She spends her time alone in  her bed with her ornaments cast off;   counting the days of her separation  by placing flowers on the threshold ; by painting the likeness of her beloved , singing songs reminiscent of her lover  and talking to the Sarika bird (Meghadutam 2.20-2.33).

There is dignity in her poignancy, a certain grace in her sorrow. The colors of her pathos resemble that of the wilted flowers and the movements of her eyes and limbs speak of her pain even when her words do not.

If Kalidasa’s Meghadutam is the epitome of the virahini in early Sanskrit poetry, his Ritusamharam is the poetic testimony of how intimately the loves, pathos and lives of the human are tied with the colours and sounds of the seasons. Of all the seasons’, vasanta or spring is especially important to those in love, for the blossoms of spring are like the arrows of Kama. Red is the colour of the spring season everywhere and it is when:

The mango tree bent with clusters of red sprouts kindle ardent desire in women’s hearts

The ashoka tree that bears blossoms red like coral makes the hearts of women sorrowful

The atimukta creepers whose blossoms are sucked by intoxicated bees excite the lovers

The kurabaka tree whose blossoms are lovely as the faces of women pain the hearts of sensitive men

The kimsuka grove bent with blossoms, waved by winds, appears like a bride with red garments.   — Ritusamhara (15–20)

sugandhikālāgurudhūpitāni dhatte janaḥ kāmamadālasāṅgaḥ // KalRs_6.15 //
puṃskokilaś cūtarasāsavena mattaḥ priyāṃ cumbati rāgahṛṣṭaḥ /
kūjaddvirephāpyayam ambujasthaḥ priyaṃ priyāyāḥ prakaroti cāṭu // KalRs_6.16 //
tāmrapravālastabakāvanamrāś cūtadrumāḥ puṣpitacāruśākhāḥ /
kurvanti kāmaṃ pavanāvadhūtāḥ paryutsukaṃ mānasamaṅganānām // KalRs_6.17 //
āmūlato vidrumarāgatāmraṃ sapallavāḥ puṣpacayaṃ dadhānāḥ /
kurvantyaśokā hṛdayaṃ saśokaṃ nirīkṣyamāṇā navayauvanānām // KalRs_6.18 //
mattadvirephaparicumbitacārupuṣpā mandānilākulitanamramṛdupravālāḥ /
kurvanti kāmimanasāṃ sahasotsukatvaṃ bālātimuktalatikāḥ samavekṣyamāṇāḥ // KalRs_6.19 //
kāntāmukhadyutijuṣāmacirodgatānāṃ śobhāṃ parāṃ kurabakadrumamañjarīṇām /
dṛṣṭvā priye sahṛdayasya bhavenna kasya kandarpabāṇapatanavyathitaṃ hi cetaḥ // KalRs_6.20 //

Vasanta is also the season when cuckoos sing in indistinct notes; the bees hum intoxicating sweet sounds; and, the travelers separated from their lovers lament. Kama the god of love who wages a war, as it were, on those in love,  fashions his arrows from the mango blossom; his bow from the kimsuka flower; the bowstring from a row of bees. His parasol is the moon; and, he wafts the gentle breeze from the Malaya mountain whose bards are the cuckoos (Ritusamharam 28).

1.2. Another poet and playwright , Rajashekhara (Ca.9th century) in his Kavyamimamsha , a treatise on poetry summarized , for the benefit of the aspiring poets essaying to portray seasons in their works , how the seasons were portrayed in the poetic works prior to his time. In addition, he collated the standards as authorized by the texts. Rajashekhara came up with comprehensive season- descriptions, outlining each season’s basic characteristic features, months-wise divisions, individuality of each month, and the imagery that a poet should preferably employ for representing a season. He also deduced the natural human responses to a given season.

1.3. The great poet Dandin (Ca.6-7th century) renowned for his colorful Sanskrit prose, too, in his Kavyadarsha (‘Mirror of Poetry’) the handbook of classical Sanskrit poetics, mandated that a classic work of poetry (maha-kavya) should essentially include eighteen (ahsta-dasha varnana) types of descriptions including that of the city (nagara); ocean (saagara); mountains (shaila) ; seasons (vasantadi ritu); the moon; the sun rise and sunset (chandra-surya udaya –asthamana); parks (udyana); gardens (vana vihara);water-sports (jala krida) ; pleasures of wine and love making (madyapana surata); wedding (vivaha); discussions with the wise (vipralamba) ; pangs of separation (viraha); birth of sons (putrodaya); state-craft (raja-mantra); gambling or sending messengers (dyuta); wars (yuddha);  campaigns (jaitra-yatra);  and, accomplishments of the hero (nayaka abyudaya).

1.4. The description of seasons thus became an integral part of classic poetry . Apart from Kalidasa’s poetry, there are some beautiful heart-warming descriptions of the seasons in the poetic works of other notable poets too; for instance, as in: Bhattikavya by Bhatti; Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi; Shishupala-vadha by Magha; Naishadhacharita by Shriharsha among others.

2.1. The Natya-shashtra too had earlier directed how seasons should be represented in a drama, especially on the stage through an actor’s performance – acts, gestures, facial demeanours and other expressions.

2.2. The Puranas also evinced interest in season-description. The Matsya Purana has a whole chapter dedicated only to the month of spring; while the Samba Purana alludes to different colours of the sun in the six ritus. The Chitra-sutra in the Vishnudharmottarpurana (c.6th century) prescribes certain general rules for the depiction of each of the four seasons.

3.1. According to Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottarpurana, the depiction of each of the four seasons could be symbolically represented in the paintings by employing certain idioms of expression, such as:

Summer: languorous men seeking shade under trees, from the harsh summer sun; buffaloes wallowing in the mire of muddy waters; birds hiding under a thick abundance of leaves; and, lions and tigers seeking cool caves to retire in.

Rain: An overcast sky, with heavy rain filled clouds weighed down with their aquatic excess; flashes of lightning and the beautiful rainbow; animals like tigers and lions taking shelter in caves; and, sarus (cranes) birds flying in a row.

Autumn: Trees laden with ripe fruit; the entire expanse of the earth filled with ripened corn ready for harvest; lakes filled with beautiful aquatic birds like geese; the pleasant sight of blooming and blossoming lotus flowers; and, the moon brightening up the sky with a milky white lustre.

Winter: the earth wet with dew; the sky filled with fog; men shivering from the cold, but crows and elephants seem euphoric.

[A collection of learned essays by the great scholar Dr. V Raghavan ‘Rtu in Sanskrit Literature’ (1972) published by Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha , Delhi, comprehensively deals with all aspects of Rtu varnana  in Sanskrit texts including Rig Veda and , epics and puranas.]

B. the Barahmasa tradition

4.1. With the decline of classic Sanskrit poetry, the ritu-varnana found abundant expression in the Barahmasa tradition. Barahmasa meaning twelve months are based on the lunar calendar comprising months of Chaitra, Vaishakha, Jyestha, Ashadha, Shravana, Bhadrapada, Ashvina, Karttika, Agrahayana, Paushya, Magha and Phalguna. Each two of them are respectively the ritus or seasons of Vasanta, Grishma, Varsha, Sharada, Hemanta and Shishira.

4.2. The glory and characteristic beauty of each season came to be celebrated in a specialized form of poetry, music and art (paintings) as Barahmasa, describing the splendour, aura and magic of nature as it emerges with the change of each season. The expressions of the ritu– theme were rendered highly eloquent with the emotive songs and music; as also by the exquisite miniature paintings depicting the glory and poignant character of each season woven into stories of tender love, separation and reunion.

4.3. The essential theme of the Barahmasa is the passionate yearning of lovelorn hearts, the pangs of separation that each change of season stimulates. Each month bringing a special message to the beloved, every season a special reminder of the joys of love and longing. The nature participates in the world of human emotions and mirrors the lovers’ or singer’s experience of tenderness and pain of love.

4.4. The transformations in nature such as the gentle unfolding of a bud’s petals; or melting of a winter night into dew-drops; or the dark dreadful clouds rending with their roar the sky and the earth and frightening the lovely nayika into the arms of her beloved Nayaka and bursting forth into torrential rains – all become symbolic expressions of the seasons and the state of love of the ardent lovers. The Barahmasa depictions of poetry, music and painting, bind the two confronting worlds, the worlds of man and of nature into one thread.

Barahmasa Poetry

5.1. The Barahmasa Poets over the centuries have used the imagery of the Ritu Varnana or changing seasons to depict different facets of human emotions and moods, varying states of romantic love as they respond and change in accordance with seasons. The songs of the seasons resonate with the heart of the lover and the beloved. Nature as always forms the very companion of the yearning lovers.

5.2.In expressing her lament and relating it to the colours and moods of the seasons , nayika the heroine likens the throbbing of her heart to the pulsating sap of the trees; the trembling longing within her to the drifting movement of the clouds ; and , the agony of her forlorn state to the pain of lonely birds. She is not alone in her anguish; her piquant cry is heard by the deer, the birds and the blossoms that surround her; they too empathize and share her pain. In Barahmasa poetry there is a strong and sympathetic resonance between the heart of the nayika and the world of nature around her, it is a world that shares her romantic urges and longings.

6.1.Let me add; the theme of Barahmasa occurs not merely in regional representations but in classical poetry too. Let’s, for instance, take the case of Kumarasambhava and the Ramayana. Both are epics; but, while the Kumarasambhava is a chaste classic observing all the mandated norms of poetics and other conventions, the Ramayana represents an amalgam of various folk traditions. In Ramayana, the poet attempts exploring the turmoil in the lovelorn heart of Rama the prince of Ayodhya in exile ,after separation from his beloved Sita , by placing his distress in contrast to the glowing beauty of the season; and picturing    how it affects Rama. The poetry here truly transforms into a viraha song.  Rama describes to his brother Lakshmana the sublime beauty of nature that surrounds them; and gives vent to his grief of separation aggravated by the beauty that envelops him. Rama narrates the onset of monsoon in a rather intuitional manner describing the gathering of clouds ; and how they remind him of his brother Bharata and his friend Sugriva are with their wives and in their kingdoms while he is lonely and sad deprived of both. Thus the vein of ritu-varnana in the Ramayana is closer to the Barahmasa convention. In contrast, the descriptions of nature in Kumarasambhava, in the context of Parvathi’s penance, lack such subjective responses.

Oh! Soumitri, Pampa Lake is magnificent , glowing with her emerald green  like waters (vaiduurya vimala udaka ); adorned with  fully bloomed lotuses (phulla padma utpalavatī);  surrounded by many trees  , Pampa looks truly delightful (śobhate pampā).

 saumitre śobhate pampā vaidūrya vimala udakā | phulla padma utpalavatī śobhitā vividhaiḥ drumaiḥ || 4-1-3||

This auspicious Pampa is pleasant  with its delightful forests overspread with many diverse flowers, cool waters, though I am sad 

śokārtasya api me pampā śobhate citra kānanā | vyavakīrṇā bahu vidhaiḥ puṣpaiḥ śītodakā śivā || 4-1-6|| 

The green pasture lands have turned into  colorful pastures covered with  variety of  laden trees… and with flower-fall  covering it like  shining flowery carpet  of varied colors  of red, blue , yellow etc.,

adhikam pravibhāti etat nīla pītam tu śādvalam | drumāṇām vividhaiḥ puṣpaiḥ paristomaiḥ iva arpitam || 4-1-8||

Breeze coming out from those mountain caves along with the high callings of lusty black cuckoos are making the trees to dance, and the air itself is as though singing as an accompaniment to that dancing

matta kokila sannādaiḥ nartayan iva pādapān | śaila kandara niṣkrāntaḥ pragīta iva ca anilaḥ || 4-1-15 ||

At the shore of this Lake Pampa rejoicing are these birds in groups, and these trees loaded with the mating sounds of  birds; and the callings of the male black cuckoos, are  inspiring love in me.

asyāḥ kūle pramuditāḥ sanghaśaḥ śakunāstviha | dātyūharati vikrandaiḥ puṃskokila rutaiḥ api | 4-1-28  | svananti pādapāḥ ca ime mām anaṅga pradīpakāḥ |

***

Radha

7.1. But, the most eloquent and lovely expressions of Barahmasa are through songs and poetry of viraha, music full of pathos of a young woman Nayika deeply engrossed in love. These representations brimming with the finest imagery and most tender emotions, intense longing, lyrical felicity, rhythmic vibrancy and dramatic conflict of the worlds of man and nature, besides their mystic connotations, form the themes of Barahmasa.

7.2. The Barahmasa poetry has gifted the Indian literature with some of its best lyrics forming the heart-touching love-lore inspired by the folk traditions. Pictorially very rich and emotionally most fervent, the Barahmasa poetry, which subsequently had its transforms in art, is a genre of the Indian countryside. These forms of poetry, music and art are uniquely Indian. Its riches , distinctively Indian, are woven into the cyclic changes in nature and into the lives, loves, and woes of the Indian people in a manner that is not known in other literature and art traditions of the world. They are incomparable.

7.3. The Barahmasa themes are mostly entwined with the celestial love of Sri Radha and Krishna. Alberuni (ca.1030) observed that Vasudeva Krishna had a special place in the hearts of the common people who loved to call him by many names. He says; people called out Krishna, out of sheer love, by different names in each of the twelve months; such as: in Margasirsha:  Keshava; Paushya:  Narayana; Magha:  Madhava; Phalguna:  Govinda; Chaitra:  Vishnu; Vaisakha:  Madhusudana; Jyestha:  Trivikrama; Ashadha:  Vamana; Shravana:   Sridhara; Bhadrapada:  Hrishikesa; Ashvayuja:  Padmanabha; and in Karttika:  Damodara.

8.1. The Barahmasa poetry has two basic forms, one, literary, and the other, oral. The oral Barahmasa of the regional dialects later became an important ingredient of the literary poetic tradition. The literary traditions were inspired by the simple songs of the village women pining for the husband or the lover away from her, giving vent to “torments of separation, of estrangement, and feverish waits” ; sung either in the rainy four months from Ashadha to Ashvin or through the twelve months. Literary, Barahmasasare a part of the written literature and are endowed with poetic merit and compositional excellence. Barahmasa, oral or written, as a genre, has five broad types, namely, religious, farming-related, narrative, viraha, and the Barahmasa of chaste woman’s trial.

8.2. Viraha Barahmasa or the seasonal poetry of longing is the most evocative in this genre of romantic poetry. This group of the Barahmasa compositions is inspired by the romantic lore of Sri Radha and Krishna and their beautiful idealized love. The poets charged with Krishna-Radha intoxication recreated the celestial Vrindavana of the Braj country through a class of poetry called ritikavya. Of the many poets in this genre those that stand out are: Bidyapati (1352–1448), Keshavadasa (1555–1617), Bihari (16th century) and Ghanananda (1673–1760).

8.3. Bidyapati the Maithili poet glorifies the sublime love of Sri Radha-Krishna; and charmingly describes the essence of seasons and , in particular , of the lord of the seasons the Basanta the spring : ‘ the rays of the sun in their youthful prime; the golden kesara flower; the fragrant kanchan and Jasmine flower garland; the pollen of flowers floating in the air like a canopy over the patala, tula, kinsuka and clove-vine tendrils;   the koil singing its sweetest note ; tribes of honey-bees arrayed their ranks; the water-lily that has just found life with its new leaves ; and the refreshing and  shining in Brindaban’.

9.1. But, the archetype Barahmasa poetry and the inspiration for all forms of Barahmasa expressions are Keshavadasa’s sublime verses scripted in Brij-basha. The poet Keshavadasa (1555–1617) in his Rasikapriya (a comprehensive compendium of nayakas and nayikas, their moods, meetings and messengers, considered a lakshana grantha, foundational work, in riti kavya tradition), he vividly describes the essential features of the twelve lunar months of the year; and the pain each month evokes in the heart of the nayika at the impending separation from her beloved.

9.2. Starting with the month of Chaitra, Keshavadasa portrays the heroine urging her beloved not to leave her in that month; describing to him the beauty and tenderness of that month. She cajoles him to stay with her; and to enjoy along with her the thrill and ecstasy of living and loving in the paradise on earth created especially for their enjoyment. She convinces him that it is a blessing to be alive amidst that beauty. Such loving requests follow in each of the other months too; as every month has something special that makes separation painful and unbearable.

The following are briefly the suggestive descriptions of Barahmasa according to Rasikapriya.

Chaitra: charming creepers and young trees have blossomed and parrots, sarikas and nightingales make sweet sounds.

Baisakha: the earth and the atmosphere are filled with fragrance and all around there is fragrant beauty, but this fragrance is blinding for the bee and painful for the lover who is away from home.

Jyestha: the sun is scorching and the rivers have run dry and mighty animals like the elephant and the lion do not stir out.

Ashadha: strong winds are blowing, birds do not leave their nest and even the sadhus make only one round.

Shravana: rivers run to the sea, creepers have clung to trees, lightning meets the clouds, and peacocks make happy sounds announcing the meeting of the earth and the sky.

Bhadrapada: dark clouds have gathered, strong winds blow fiercely, there is thunder as rain pours in torrents, tigers and lions roar and elephants break trees.

Ashvina: the sky is clear and lotuses are in bloom, nights are brightly illuminated by the moon, people celebrate the Durga festivities and it is time for paying respects to ones ancestors.

Kartika: woods and gardens, the earth and the sky are clear and bright lights illuminate homes, courtyards are full of colourful paintings, and the universe seems to be pervaded by a celestial light.

Margashirsha: rivers and ponds are full of flowers and joyous notes of hamsas fill the air, this is the month of happiness and salvation of the soul.

Pausha: the earth and the sky are cold. It is the season when people prefer oil, cotton, betel, fire and sun shine.

Magha : forests and gardens echo with the sweet notes of peacocks, pigeons and koel and bees hum as if they have lost their way, all ten directions are scented with musk, camphor and sandal, sounds of mridanga are heard through the night.

Phalguna: the fragrance of scented powders fills the air and young women and men in every home play holi with great abandon.

9.3.The Barahmasa poetry reflects the moods of the lovers in the brilliant spring, sad autumn or monotonous winter; but none is so evocative as of the splendour and awe inspiring beauty of the Indian monsoon. It is uniquely Indian. Further, the Indian attitude to the monsoons is fundamentally different from that of the west. To a common Indian villager, monsoons are a symbol of hope and life; while a westerner might view rain and snow as a sign of gloom and despair.

When the rains come down like blessings from heaven, suddenly the world looks beautiful; the earth smells lovely, and the heart smiles! The bond that India has to rains is much like the colder nations of the North have towards spring. A lot of our happiness and physical well being is associated to raining, raining well and raining in time.

Monsoon poetry

10.1. Whether we are talking about music – classical, folk as well as devotional – dance, painting or sculpture, the rains and their incessant music are a recurring theme in India’s many-splendored art treasure. The diverse dialects of India’s far flung villages are replete with songs welcoming the life giving rains flowing down from heavens like blessings; and their message of bounty. And, they allude that just as all rain water falling from the skies flows to merge with the ocean, all living beings flow finally into the shining pool of divinity.  The divine object of their single-minded devotion is Krishna – the Ghanashyam, dark like the monsoon clouds, the one born on a rain-stormy night in the monsoon month of Shravana. And Krishna the dark one is the icon of the monsoon season and the songs dedicated to him are composed in the soul-soothing monsoon Raga Megh Malhar. The romance of Radha and Krishna, the eternal lovers, is the theme of rain songs. The constant longing of any beloved waiting for her lover to return home is envisioned as an epitome as of Sri Radha.

10.2. As the Krishna-Sri Radha celestial love permeated into folk music and dance as well as into the celebration of festivals, the songs about their love created a treasure-house of KajrisShravan jhoolaschaitis, thumris and other light classical music compositions with an edgy eroticism.

10.3. These soulful songs celebrate various seasons and sometimes the festivals occurring during such seasons, such as Holi in the month of Phalguna. In most cases Sri Radha is the lonely Nayikaconstantly longing and waiting for her beloved Krishna the eternal lover. In other cases it is a Nayikaseparated from her loved one, usually a warrior, in whose context the cycle of the changing seasons is depicted.

Barahmasa Music

11.1. The raga melodies of classical Indian music are in harmony not only with the time of the day or night but also with the seasons of the year. Each raga is personified by a colour, the overall mood bhava, the nature surrounding the hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika).   The raga elucidation as envisioned in Indian music is a delightful amalgam of art, colour, poetry and music.

11. 2. As regards the seasons and the ragas, most of the ragas in the classical music are set in accordance to various seasons. Generally:

Basant (chaitra – vaishakha): the ragas Hindol and Raga Bahar sung early in the dawn are  associated with the festive and invigorating season of spring Basant (chaitra –vaishakha) when kimshuka trees are full with lustrous red flowers; mango trees laden like bejewelled women; pond waters filled with lotuses; breezes loaded with their fragrances blowing pleasantly; the eventides and daytimes enjoyable with the fragrant breezes; air ringing with the passionate cries of male koil birds; and, women brimming with desire sporting in swimming pools like she elephants in heat; and bashful ladies playfully dressed in light silks of reddish hue of kusumbha flowers. The women decked in pearl pendants and in just unfolded whitish flowers of jasmine (mallika) and karnikara; and in red Ashoka flowers.

Grishma (jeshta –ashadha):  raga Deepak sung during the evening of the Grishma (jeshta –ashadha) season of blazing summer light and the grief of separation when men are away from home on work or trade or war. And, the women decked in white pearly ornaments, jasmine garlands, cool silks and dabbed in pure sandalwood paste liquefied with coolant scents like yellow camphor, kastuuri etc laze on rooftops in moonlit nights savoring portions , enjoying music , lustfully   awaiting their   husbands or lovers. Just blossomed bright and fiery safflower kusumabha embrace the tree trunks with tongues of fire. Fragrant lotuses and patala (trumpet flowers) are overlaid on cool waters of the pond,

Varsha (shravana-bhadrapada : Raga Megha or Megh- Malhar or Desh and their derivatives sung during the midday of the rainy season of the Varsha (shravana-bhadrapada); the most romantic of all seasons ; the season of dark clouds rumbling like beats of war drums   , the thunder and  flashes of lightning ,the gentle patter of raindrops and the pageant of rainbows ;  the season that delights the thirsty chataka birds, the lustily cheering peacocks brilliant with fanlike expansive colourful plumage; the season that captures the joy and relief from dry heat, the season that brings life and hope to all existence. The breeze is ruffling the wet treetops of Kadamba, SarjaArjuna and ketaki trees; and the fragrance of their flowers is wafting through the windswept woodlands. The intoxicated women decked in vakula, malalthiKadambaKesara and ketaki flowers and with bunch of Kakuba flowers adorning their ears, are hasting into the bed cambers and into the arms of waiting lovers.

Sharada (ashviyuja-karthika): the serene Raga Bhirav sung in tranquil mornings of the season of bright sun, lustrous moon; glowing blue sky; gentle flowing rivers with clear waters; lakes with abundance of white and blue lotuses and lazy swans floating just after a long flight from Lake Manasa in the Himalayas; trees pleasantly laden, swaging under the weight of flowers and fruits; the transitional phase between rains and winter is blessed with bounty of natureThe green earth is decked with red golden colourful trees; the grand flowers of KadambaSarjaKatuja, Arjunaand Nippa; and of the Shyama creepers as also   flaming red Banduka flowers. The fragrance of those flowers is intoxicating. The joyous women with long, thick, black hair unfurled wearing pendants of pearl and gold   are adorned in white jasmine and colourful lotuses

Hemanta (margashira-pushya) – The season is associated with the lofty raga Shree sung during late autumn twilights.  Winter with the earth wet with dew; the sky filled with fog; men shivering from the cold, but crows and elephants seem euphoric. The lusty women retain body-heat by smearing their bosoms red with Kashmir kumkum and fragrant wood-turmeric (kalliyaka) skincare. And their hair is fumigated with vapours of kaala agaru ( aloe vera resin).

Shishira (magha –phalguna): the transitory season of cool days; the diminishing phase of winter; the season of cool comfort gladdening the hearts of lusty women with Malkoaunsa Raga sung in the chill and silent nights of winter.

11.3. It is said; the Seasonal Ragas can be sung and played any time of the day and night during the season with which they are associated despite the usual rule.

Miniature paintings

12.1. A vast number of schools of miniature paintings such as Bundi, Krishnagarh, Jaipur, Mewar and Marwar giving expression to the Barahmasa concepts and idioms flourished during the mid centuries under the patronage of Pala Kings of Bengal , the Mughals and the Rajputs of Rajasthan. The hill states and even smaller states from Central India too nurtured the paintings of Barahmasa tradition. Datia, one of the schools of painting in Central India, painted a timeless series of Ashtayama, another form of Barahmasa. . These sublime works of art, which gained fame as iconic representations of the seasons and as metaphors for emotions, have inspired generations of artists, poets and lovers. Over the generations, the artists of the diverse schools of miniature paintings have strained to retain the aesthetic values and technical excellence achieved by their pioneers.

2.2. In most of these depictions Krishna is the central figure of love and the embodiment of the magic of the seasons and the melodies specially associated with the season.  Its scenery epitomizes the landscape of the imagination, in Indian painting. The Barahmasa schools lovingly capture the delights, the emotions and the enjoyment of the lovers in each of the six seasons. These pictures do tell a tale; each one narrates an event that illustrates the beauty, love and togetherness in the lives of the lovers. That story is entwined on the splendour of nature that surrounds them, in each season.

C. Ragamala

13.1. During the later periods, say by about the fourteenth century, the music- literature developed a series of short verses, in Sanskrit, called Dhyana slokas meaning verses for contemplation , outlining in brief the characteristics (swaroopa) of the raga expressions (raga –bhava) , treating a raga as a human person (nayaka –nayika) , divine (devatha) or semi-human being (gandharva). It also provided for descriptions of Raga wives, (ragini), their numerous sons (ragaputra) and daughters (ragaputri). This poetry often amorous, illustrates the love of a maiden and her lover.

13.2. This led to the creation of Ragamala (garland of Ragas) School of painting which attempted translating the emotional appeal of a raga into visual representations. Each raga personified by a colour, mood, the nature surrounding the hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika).  It also elucidated the season and the time of day and night in which a particular raga is to be sung. The colours, substance and the mood of the Ragamala personified the overall bhava and context of the Raga. It is a delightful amalgam of art, colour, poetry and music.

The Barahmasa and the Ragamala – series of paintings are the evidence that the native genius in painting had survived the vicissitudes of political history since the days of Ajanta.

13.3. The development of the Ragamala School, however, got rather stunted as its theme lost relevance in the context of the present-day music. Further, the school did not seem to have the flexibility to accommodate and to describe newer raga innovations. The wonderful school therefore has virtually now faded away, sadly

14.1. Yet, the raga-ragini classification is still useful from the historical, academic, artistic and philosophical perspectives; and, could perhaps even help in understanding and performing music.

Ragini BhairaviRagini MeghaRagini Gurjari

[ Dr. Anjan Chakraverty who did his post-graduation in Landscapes in Indian Miniature Painting from the Faculty of Visual Arts, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, explains:

http://vmis.in/upload/Assets/Exhibition/23/ragmala/part2.html

Every raga has its special sequence of ascending notes (aroha) and descending notes (avaroha) that determine its structure or that (lit. an array or setting). A raga experience would change from dawn to dusk, from a sunny afternoon to a moonlit night, from spring to autumn, so on and so forth. On the basis of this, ragas and raginis were associated with particular moods and regions, with particular seasons and, categorically, to the explicit hours of the day and night.

For example Dipaka raga was associated with fire and scorching heat while the recital of Megha raga, in contrast, was ideal for the season of clouds and rains, its flawless rendition promising downpour. Similarly, Vasanta raga is meant to express the joy of life in spring and Nata raga, the heroic martial spirit of the man. Bhairavi ragini is the plaintive melody of the morning and raga Yaman is meant to evoke the somber, explicitly devotional mood in the early hours of the evening. However, a raga is not a song or tune, on the other hand numberless songs can be composed in a certain raga-mould.

With a view to emphasize the divine qualities of music, each raga and ragini was attributed with a particular rupa or psychic form. The psychic form was further divided into the invisible sound form or the nadamaya rupa and tangible or image form referred to as devatamaya rupa. It was required on the part of a performer (kalavanta) to imbibe the presiding spirit or ethos of a melody and please the deified form. Raga-dhyanas or contemplative prayer-formulas were devised for the purpose, passed on from the master (acharya) to the student.

Ragini SehutiRagimi TodikaRagini Bhujanga

In Narada’s Sangita Makaranda, datable between 7th and 11th century C.E., do we come across for the first time a classification system of six ragas as male and six raginis, attached to each raga, as females forming six cohesive families, raga-parivara. However, this system was not followed by the painters.

 It is in the Sangita Makaranda that we find for the first time a classification of ragas according to the proper hour for rendition. Mesakarna or Kshema Karna, a sixteenth-century rhetorician from Rewa (central India), in his treatise Ragamala compiled the elaborate system of six ragas, each with five raginis and eight ragaputras.]

List of books and other references.

Rtu in Sanskrit Literature by Dr. V Raghavan; Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Delhi (1972)

Kavyamimamsa of Rajasekhara: Original Text in Sanskrit and Translation with Explanatory Notes by Sadhana Parashar, D K Print world, (2000)

Vishnudharmottarapurana: English translation by Priyabala Shah, Baroda (1961)
The Seasons in Mahakavya Literature, by Danielle Feller : (1995 )

Barahmasa in Indian Literature, Charlotte Vaudeville; Triloki N. Madan (1986)

Barshmasa (Agam55) by V. P. Dwivedi

Baramasa: The Painted Romance of Indian Seasons (Portfolio) by Daljeet, National Museum, (2009)

The Flute and the Lotus: Romantic Moments in Indian Poetry and Painting by Harsha Dehejia, (2002)

The Loves of Krishna in Indian painting and poetry by WG Archer

Flora and Plant Kingdom in Sanskrit Literature by Shri Jyotsnamoy Chatterjee; Eastern Book Linkers, (2003)

 Ritusamharam: http://www.giirvaani.net/giirvaani/rs/rs_intro.htm

Monsoon Ragas by Vimla Patil : http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Monsoon-Ragas-1.aspxBarahmasa:

Songs of Twelve Months by Prof P. C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet http://groups.google.com/group/mintamil/browse_thread/thread/9b6cabddd8d32161?pli=1

Romantic Moments in Poetry : http://http-server.carleton.ca/~hdehejia/content/RMinPoetry.pdf

Bidyapati’s Description of spring: http://www.indiadivine.org/articles/382/1/Bidyapatis-Description-of-Spring/Page1.html

History of Flowers and Gardening in India By Dr. Jyoti Prakash  :  http://www.cityfarmer.org/indiagarden.html

  All pictures are from internet

 
 

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The Art of Painting in Ancient India – Chitrasutra (6)

[This is the fifth in the series of articles I would be posting on the art of painting in ancient India with particular reference to the Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana

The previous (the fourth) article was about colors; the concepts, classifications and application of colors. It also briefly mentions about shading and how to go about drawing.

The current article covers the concepts about depiction of things seen and unseen in the world around us, or rather how the objects in nature could be visualized and personified as if each aspect of it is a living person with a character and attribute of its own.]

20. The abstract and the realistic depiction

20.1. The Chitrasutra, at several places, discusses how the persons and objects that we see in our day to day life, as also the nature that surrounds us could be depicted in art. It adopts a two-pronged approach. It instructs; while the representations of the objects and persons,   as drawn on the canvas should bear a credible resemblance to their original, the artist , at the same time, should not restrict himself to just  faithful  reproduction of   forms and appearances, but should try to go beyond “the phenomenal world of separated beings and objects that blind the reality beyond”.

20.2. In other words, it was emphasizing that art was more than photographic reproduction of visible objects. It was about the experience of a person and his expression of it through art; and about his unique creative genius, imagination, enterprise and individuality as an artist .It was not about how the world appears to one and all, but how the artist experiences and visualizes it. Its object is to elicit an emotional response, the viewer’s experience, the rasa.

20.3. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive; they exist side by side on a canvas and complement each other. The abstract and the realistic depiction are thus the two sides of Indian art. The latter is outward looking, and derived through observation; while the other is inspired by emotive perception and visualization of its essence. The two together enrich the aesthetic experience provided by an art work.

21. Realistic depiction of objects

21.1. As regards the realistic depiction of the objects, the text considers it essential to lend credibility to their depictions. The text, therefore, reckons   rupa-bheda and sadrushya, among the six essential elements of a painting. Rupa-bheda consists in the knowledge of special characteristics of things – natural or manmade; say, the differences in appearances among many types of men, women or natural objects or other subjects of the painting; while Sadrushya aims to depict, in painting, those distinctions and resemblances.

21.2. The Chitrasutra instructs the resemblances should not merely be general but should extend to details as well. Every part of the object represented should agree with the general treatment of the whole object. It also says that the persons should be painted according to their country; their region, their colour, dress, and general appearances as observed. Having well ascertained the person’s country, region, occupation, age and his status in life; the text says ,  his other details such as his seat, bed, costume, conveyance, stance, and his gestures should be drawn.

[The Chitrasutra explores this subject in great depth, detailing the characteristics of persons hailing from various regions and occupations. The text also describes the characteristics of different tribes and castes as distinguished by their complexion; noticeable physical features, costumes and habits. Since it is rather detailed, I have posted it separately. Please check Part four]

22. Drista & Adrista

22.1. The representation of objects as they are seen or observed normally in life, is termed in the text as Drista, meaning in the way the things appear or as they are visible. In contrast to that, the text speaks of Adrista, meaning objects as visualized or personified by the artist, though they might not actually appear as such.

Having made this distinction, the text suggests that the two should together be employed to harmoniously blend the subject and its illustration; the subject and its effect; and the reality and its symbol, in order to provide the painting an expressive language. For instance, while faithfully depicting the details of the subject (say, the hours of day or night, or the seasons), its effect on the nature around and on the persons are also to be symbolically pictured. These help enhancing the quality of depiction of the subject and the artistic eloquence of the painting.

22.2. Hours of day and  darkness

The time of the day, morning noon and evening with its approaching darkness are suggested by appropriated indicators.

The daybreak is suggested by the opening of the lotus petals in the pond and the bees swarming around; the farmer with his plow proceeding to his fields

Midday is suggested by the Muni-kumaras clasping their hands in yama-pasa-mudra peeping at the sun through the aperture created by the joining of the fingers.

Evening is suggested by the approaching darkness, lighting of the lamps and return-home of the cows at go-dhuli.

The twilight is also suggested by the roaming on highstreets of courtesans and paramour vita-s, cheta-s and raja-vallabhas.

The Chitrasutra suggest that night may be indicated by the moon, the stars and sparse human movement as also by the lurking or prowling of the thieves in the shadows and of men asleep

Sachandragraha-nakshatram tatha darsita-laukikam / asannaatas-taskarm  ratrim darshayet supta-manavam // 3.42.68

In this context, the text, by way of illustrations, enumerates the following suggestions for showing the subject –the hours of darkness:

Evening – by the red glow in the sky, cows and calves retuning home raising a small clouds of dust, Brahmins engaged in their prayers;

Setting in of darkness – by men hurrying back to their homes, the birds flying back to their nest, lamps just beginning to glow;

The first part of the night – by young and eager love struck women walking hurriedly with side glances to meet their lovers;

The night – with moon , planets and stars, thieves lurking in the shadows, men fast asleep; couples amorously engaged;

Moon shine – by kumuda flowers (the type of lotus that bloom at night)  in full bloom while many petals of lotus are closed;

Early dawn ending the darkness – by rising sun, street -lamps looking dim and crowing cocks.

[There is an interesting argument going on, alongside, in the text. It argues that the art of sculpting is far more difficult than painting. It says; it is almost not possible to depict, directly,   in a sculptural panel the time of the day or  night –  darkness, evening , twilight  or bright light etc.. That difficulty also applies to depiction of colours ( colour , in fact , is not a medium directly compatible  with sculpting). And, it is also not easy to bring out the differences between a dead body and a sleeping person, particularly if the two are placed side by side.  The sculptor – artist (shilpi) will have to resort to some other clever suggestions to bring out the differences. That depends on the ingenuity of the artist.  ]

22.3. The seasons

Similarly, the text describes the characteristics of each of the six seasons as are gathered through keen observation of nature. It says that in general, the seasons should be shown according to their character. It also instructs , the  explicit depiction of the  nature of each season could be complimented    by  suggestions  and  effects  of the season on the state, the form  and appearance of the trees, flowers, fruits, birds, animals etc looking delighted or otherwise ; as also on the moods and lives of persons.

It is amazing how sincere was the detailed observation; and how close was the author’s involvement with nature. The text suggests showing the ways of depicting in the painting the six seasons (ritu) of the year . Such descriptions also abound in the classic Kavyas .

:- The advent of  Spring season (Vasantha ritu) is announced by profusion of flowers, fresh shoots, hum of the bees and the notes of the cuckoos. The fresh blossoms of the Asoka trees excite the amorous lovers with budding sprouts decorating their ears.

And, by merry men and women, vernal trees in bloom, bees swarming about and cuckoos perched on tree branches.

Kusumanjanma tata nava-pallava tadanu  shad-pad-kokila-kujitam  iti yatha-kraman avirbhun-madhura druma-vatin avatirya vasanthalim (Raghuvamsha 9.26)

Kusumam eva na kevalam artavam navam Asokataros samaradhipam / Kisalayaprasavo pi vilasam madayita dayitasravanarpitah/ ( Raghuvamsha .9.31)

Meghair medhuram ambaram ( Gitagovinda)

:- Summer season (Grishma ritu) – by dried pools, languid men, deer seeking tree shades and buffaloes burrowing in the mud and wallowing in shallow ponds;, diminished water level in the lotus ponds; the moss exposing the length of lotus stalks; the water level in the ponds reaching up only to the hips of the bathing damsels

The fun-loving young women play in the water (jala-krida) – with the decorations on their faces in disarray; the braid unbound; musk painted patterns on their arms washed away; the pearl earrings loosened, the wet silken garments stuck on the hips, with pearl-white waistlines appearing like stars dimmed by moonlight. – Raghuvamsa 16.67.65

The ladies smear their breasts with sandal paste, stroll along the garden in the shade of thick leafy trees among the waterfowls in the cool water channels

Sarpatsarini varistalate vinyasta-pushpa-potkare nirandhre kadalivane guru-dala-achchhayapahatar –katvishi / karpura-guru-panka-pichchhila-ghana-uttunga stanalingibhih kantakelir-ratrair aho sukritibhir madhya-nadinam niyate (Subhashita-ratna-bhandagara)

shravan

:- Rainy season (Varsha ritu) – by flashes of lightening, heavily laden clouds, lions and tigers sheltered in caves;

The rainy season with its dark clouds, lightening streaks, long rows of  white storks in their picturesque splendor flying low against the backdrop of rain bearing dark clouds is lovingly immortalized in several of Indian poetic works.

The Rainbow on dark clouds stimulate mirth of the peacocks with spread colorful tails dancing as if to celebrate the arrival of cool showers, add luster and grace to beauty of the picture.

In the paintings, the gentle rain is shown by slight vertical dots in white, like scattered pearls, against the darkened sky.

Ghana eva tarala-balike tatid iva pite (Gitagovinda)

Garajabhis satadid-balakas-balair meghais sasalyam manah (Mricchkatika.6.1)

Garbha-dhanakshana-parichayan nunam abaddhamalas sevishyante nayana-subhagam khe bhavantam balakah (Meghaduta .1.10)

Srenibhutah parigananaya nirdisanto balakah (Meghaduta.1.22)

Navambhumattas sikhino nadanit meghame kunda-samana-danti Ghatakarpara/ sukla-apangis sajalanayanais svagataikritya kekah pratyudyatah katham api bhavan gantum asu vyavasayet (Meghaduta.1.23)

:- Autumn (Sharad ritu) – by trees laden with fruits and flowers, earth covered with ripe cornfields, tanks full of water with swans and lotuses;

akampayan phala bhara aanata shaali jaalaan  aanartayan taru varaan kusuma avanamraan utphulla pa.nkaja vanaam naliniim vidhunvan  yuunaa manaH calayati prasabham nabhasvaan (Ritusamhara.3.10)

:- Dewy season (Hemanta ritu) – by frost on horizon and earth covered by dewdrops; and

nava pravaala udgama sasya ramyaH praphulla lodhraH pari pakva shaaliH  viliina padmaH prapatat tuSaaraH hemanta kaalaH samupaagato ayam (Ritusamhara.4.1)

:- Winter season (Shishira ritu) – by horizon shrouded in hoar-frost, shivering men and delighted crows and elephants.

The winter with its blast of cold winds forces one to seek the warmth of the indoors, covering oneself with heavy wraps and enjoying the cheerful company of  youthful damsels  in front of the crackling fire .

Niruddha-vatatayanam-mandirodare hutasano bhanumato gabhastyah , guruni vasamsyabala sayau-vanah prayanti kaletra janasya sevyatam (Ritusamhara.5.2)

There are classic depictions of other figures as well :

Abhisarika, the beautiful girl, going out, in moonlit night  (jyotsni or Shukla), to meet her lover should be in serene white and flowing garments ; and , should be decked in pearls (mukta-abarana-bhushitam) .

Abhisarika nayikaAbhisarika-nayika2

And,  on  other dark nights  (Tamasi)  she  wears blue garments (nilamsu parigraho).  And, in either case, she covers her head ; and, she  does not wear bangles and anklets to avoid twinkling sounds. 

There is even a case of an impetuous young girl , aided by her chamber-maid, eloping with her Lover, riding an elephant (of all the escape vehicles…!!) under the cover of night. She looks anxious and rather scared.

elephant ride

The lovelorn (viraha vyasthaya), lonely maiden in search of lover is to be drawn as pale (vyanjayanti) and emaciated (krisyam) ; her hair in a single braid (eka-veni) is twisted and unkempt .

virahalover seperationpregnancy

The Proshita-bhartrka whose lover is in distant lands , on war or business,  is pining for him. She , in sorrow, has given up applying cosmetics or wearing ornaments and colourful dresses. She has grown lean and pale ; her eyes are constantly searching for her separated lover.

Pregnancy is suggested by pallor in the face, slimness of the body, sparce ornaments and a natural languor.

*

In contrast , Svadhina-bhartrka who enjoys the company of her lover , and loves to dominate him; and, the Vasaka -sajja who  is busy tidying up her room in anticipation of meeting her lover  , are  to be pictured as happy, radiant, light hearted and  sportive , wearing their best and joyous dresses .

svadhina-patika vasaka-sajja

*

The bridal sarees (vadhu dukulam), generally, have a swan design (kalahamsa lakshanam) on their border. It was a popular design. 

Hamsa1Hamsa7Hamsa2

*

The heroic warrior facing his opponent is depicted in the challenging stance of Alidha  is a representation (bhava-chitra) of Vira -rasa. His torso is somewhat thrust out, the hair tied up, the front knee is bent back and retracted; and he is ready to attack.

AlidhaPratyalidha

Pratyalidha is used in relation to Alidha-sthana. The  strung bow with the arrow in position is pulled back up to the ear; the arrow is about to be discharged; and , he is looking heroic and magnificent.

*

The amalgam of subject and its symbols   renders a work of art at once particular and universal. That is the reason the Indian figurative art is not mere portraiture of the specific; but it is a symbol pointing to a larger principle, akin to the finger pointing to the moon.

22.4. Barahmasa

Inspired by the vivid word-pictures portrayed in the Chitrasutra, a school of painting known as Barahmasa (meaning, the twelve-months), flourished during the later periods. Its scenery epitomizes the landscape of the imagination, in Indian painting. This school lovingly captures the delights, the emotions and the enjoyment of the lovers in each of the six seasons. These sublime works of art, which gained fame as iconic representations of the seasons and as metaphors for emotions, have inspired generations of artists, poets and lovers.

The essential theme of the Barahmasa is the passionate yearning of lovelorn hearts, the pangs of separation that each change of season stimulates. Each month bringing a special message to the beloved, every season a special reminder of the joys of love and longing. The nature participates in the world of human emotions and mirrors the lovers’ or singer’s experience of tenderness and pain of love.

The transformations in nature , such as the gentle unfolding of a bud’s petals; or melting of a winter night into dew-drops; or the dark dreadful clouds rending with their roar the sky and the earth and frightening the lovely nayika into the arms of her beloved Nayaka and bursting forth into torrential rains – all become symbolic expressions of the seasons and the state of love of the ardent lovers. The Barahmasa depictions of poetry, music and painting, bind the two confronting worlds, the worlds of man and of nature into one thread.

The Barahmasa pictures do tell a tale; each one narrates an event that illustrates the beauty, love and togetherness in the lives of the lovers. That story is entwined on the splendour of nature that surrounds them, in each season.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple of such picture. The painting associated with rainy season (varsha ritu) ‘the Bhadon’ (Bhardapada masa: August-September) captures the characteristic features and symbols of an evening in Indian monsoon.  The lovers relax in the balcony of a beautiful garden-house, enjoying the company of each other, watching the graceful flight of cranes against the background of dark monsoon clouds. And,  as the peacock dances and jumps on to a window in the courtyard, there is a sudden roll of thunder and flashes of lightening across the dark clouds. The lady-love is frightened and she clings to her lover in delicate embrace. Yet, she cannot take her eyes away from the spectacular and amazing drama of thunder and lightning being enacted in the skies.

The month of Chaitra (March-April) , in spring (vasanta ritu) is depicted by clear blue sky, water-filled streams and lakes, the bushes adorned with flowers just sprouting and singing birds perched on tree branches. The lady love, dressed in her best, is exhorting her lover to stay at home and enjoy with her the intoxicating delights of Chaitra.

The painting that illustrates the month of Agahana (Agrahayana or Margashira: Nov-Dec), in Hemantha ritu, the early winter, depicts clear skies, the swans migrating from the cold mountains and the lovers standing on the terrace overlooking the river with water-birds floating lazily. The day is neither cold nor warm; it is just comfortable. The lovers are wrapped in light-warm clothing.   Peace and tranquillity abounds in nature. The lovers are saying to each other how fortunate we are to be alive and to be together in this lovely evening.

22.5. Ragamala

During the later times, another school , the Ragamala  School of paintings too used the descriptions provided in Chitrasutra , of nature, men, women, birds, animals and plants, in each season and blended them with the musical  mood of the Raga or its queen the Ragini ; as also with the time of day in which the raga is sung  and  with the emotional response associated with that time . All these produced a series of most enchanting pictures. Those paintings are a delightful combination of art, music, poetry and a studied, controlled sophistication.

The Ragamala (garland of Ragas) School of painting attempted to translate the emotional appeal of a raga into visual representations. Each raga personified by a colour, mood, the nature surrounding the hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika).  It also elucidated the season and the time of day and night in which a particular raga is to be sung. The colours, substance and the mood of the Ragamala personified the overall bhava and context of the Raga. It is a delightful amalgam of art, colour, poetry and music. 

One of such pictures is Todi Ragini, a painting associated with Raga Malkauns, as its Ragini. Here, a young woman plays veena as she waits for her lover. But he’s been so long that she gets bored, distracted and a bit apprehensive. As she stops playing the veena and paces restlessly, clutching a flower garland, the deer in the park surround her as if expecting her to continue playing the melody.   She’s growing sad, and fears he might not keep his date this evening.

22.6. Landscapes

Continuing on the Drista, the text explains how the subjects associated with landscape paintings; such as: the sky, the hills, dales, trees, etc could be depicted in a painting. Here again the faithful depiction of the subject is to be juxtaposed with   its suggestions   and its effects, enhancing the artistic expression of the subject.  Its scenery epitomizes the landscape of the imagination.

For instance, along with the bright sun, one could depict the images of creatures suffering from heat; and of the flowers and creepers wilting under the hot sun. The shower of rain could be suggested by a person well covered; or running for shelter under a tree. Similarly, along with the full moon the kumuda flower in full bloom could also to be shown. Such artistic suggestions, symbols and effects add to the depth of a painting.

Some of the pictures lovingly capture the delights, the emotions and the enjoyment of the lovers in each of the six seasons.  The sense of belonging, togetherness and identity with each other is suggested in a rare and a beautiful painting that shows Radha (highly idealized lady love)   and Krishna having exchanged their clothes. It is as if each has entered the other’s soul.

She wears his peacock feather,
He dons her lovely, delicate crown;
She sports his yellow garment,
He wraps himself in her beautiful sari
How charming the very sight of it. . .
The daughter of Vrsabhanu turns Nanda’s son,
And Nanda’s son, Vrsabhanu’s girl.

(Srivasta Goswami, Trans. The Divine Consort, 87)
 

Elaborating on how the nature in a landscape painting could be depicted, the text suggests:

The sky should be shown without any special colours and full of birds;

A hill – by a cluster of rocks, peaks, trees, creepers, waterfalls;

A forest – by various sorts of trees, birds and beasts;

Water – by fish, tortoise, lotuses and other water plants.

While on the subject of water, King Vajra interjects querying “I cannot wait to ask. Please tell me more about representation of water. What are its true and untrue colors?”

The sage explains “The untrue color of water resembles that of lapis lazuli; that is because of the blue sky reflected in a pool of water. But, the natural color of water is seen in the cascades of a water-fall; its colour resembles moonlight.” 

22.7. Cities and village scenes

The text also explains the ways for depicting the atmosphere of a locale.

It suggests showing:

A city by beautiful temples, palaces, shops and royal roads;

Markets- by a variety of merchandise and people busy trading;

Drinking and gambling dens – by men rolling in intoxication; and gamblers without their upper garments-the winners making merry and the losers crestfallen;

Richly caparisoned chariots or carts , be decked  in colorful decorative coverings

bullock cart 1815

And, A village by its hedges and sparse gardens; and , its women folk

village well

VILLAGE SCENE

23. Visualization and personification of deities and objects

lakshminarayana on garuda  vishnu lakshmi on elephant 2

23.1. While Elaborating on Adrista, the text says the objects in nature could also be visualized or personified by the artist, endowing its objects with distinct personality. In this respect, the art of painting, the chitra, enjoys a distinct advantage, and a far greater artistic liberty and freedom of expression, as compared to sculpture, the shilpa. A painting can comfortably handle things that are virtually impossible to be shown in sculpture; those things include the color, space or the darkness of the night etc. Painting enjoys the virtue and facility of rendering the absolute in tangible and visual forms.

23.2. In the traditional Indian painting, the ambiguity of color and appearance in its descriptive and suggestive forms was clearly kept apart. Each form of depiction had a purpose and a place of its own; but they often combined to produce a magical effect, bestowing on the Indian art a unique character and vision.

23.3. We therefore see in the work of the ancient painters, subtle nuances as also the representations of the tangible world, the beauty of its forms, its volume and weight; and yet there is always a suggestion of something which is more and beyond.

23.4. The visualization and personification of objects in nature, as envisaged in the Chitrasutra, employs whole sets of symbolism. For instance, the sky when painted in its natural and descriptive context should be painted almost without any color. But, when sky is personified, it should be depicted as noble person, blue-lotus in color, wearing a garment of that color; and carrying sun and moon in his hands.

23.5. The sun in its natural depiction should be bright and shining, lightening up the canvas. But, when personifying the sun, it should be shown as a person with four hands , very lustrous , in the color of vermilion, with all auspicious marks;, with glowing garments; adorned by flower garlands and rich ornaments. His left and right hands should be shown projecting sunbeams, resembling reins of a chariot.

surya333

The personified Moon should be made with a white body (as composed of water), in white garments, lustrous, with all ornamental and four hands. In his two hands he should be shown holding two kumuda (night-lotuses) flowers in full bloom .He should be endowed with luster and beauty.

chandra2

While visualizing and personifying the rivers, they are to be represented as persons having their own character and personality. They have to be given a human shape, and they should be astride their vahana (mount) on bent knees, and holding in their hands a pitcher.

Each river it is said has a distinct personality and character. For instance, the Ganga turbulent and milky in color gushes down the mountain slopes. The Yamuna, in contrast, is of dark hue, placid and wide.

ganga on crocodile

Another name for water in Sanskrit is Apah. The term Apah is invested with varieties of meanings. Apah, the waters are called the mothers (apah asmin matarah) : ‘The waters are our mother (ambayah), womb of the universe’ (RV.1.23.10).Water is  the nourishing mother who gives birth to the manifest world. She is the Mother of all creation; and, denotes freedom from bondage. Apah, as rivers is the creative energy which is active and moving Since Apah suggests movement (gati), the life-giving (jiva-nadi) , flowing rivers and streams are deemed feminine (Prakrti) ; while the stagnant Samudra the ocean into which all beings go and from which all beings emerge acquired a masculine identity (Purusha).

Samudra (the Sea) is described as the gatherer of waters; the goal of all rivers; and, the eldest of the rivers (samudra jyestha), The sea is personified as the King of Oceans (Samudra –raja); and, is represented by a noble looking Lord holding afloat in his hands jewel-vessel. The halo around his head should be drawn resembling water.

samudra

The person of a mountain symbolized as Parvatha –raja (king of mountains) –  the lordly mountain, a sublime shelter for sages, the greatest treasure trove of minerals , giving birth to and sheltering great rivers,  cascades, cataracts, and caves is usually shown as a semi human mountain peak with a halo around his head.

Kama the amorphous desire (cupidity) that drives us and resides in each one of us, too, is personified. The text (Part Three; chapter: 73; verses 1-15) mentions that Kama as one of unrivalled beauty. He should be riding a parrot; and should be carrying a bow and arrow with five arrow-heads. His eyes half closed as if intoxicated and curled smile on his lips. His beautiful four wives Rathi, Priti, Sakhi and Madasakthi   should be done extraordinarily charming and bewitching.

24. Rasa

24.1. The artistic creation though not real can arouse in the mind of the viewer, the experience of the original object. The objects in art are virtual and not physical. The artistic experience is, therefore, inferential and indirect; rather than direct perception.

A real work of art, in addition to possessing emotive charge carries a strong sense of suggestion and the potential to produce various meanings. It can communicate through suggestions and evoke layers of meanings and emotion.

Rasa is that experience which the viewer derives from an art expression.

Sage Markandeya said (43- 1-39): The Rasa-s, (emotions) represented in painting are said to be nine, viz., Srngara (erotic), Hasya (humor, cheer), Karuna (pathos), Vira (heroic), Raudra (ferocious), Bhayanaka (horror, frightful), Bibhatsa (loathsome), Adbhuta (wonder, exotic and supernatural) and Shanta (tranquil, peaceful).

Pictures to embellish homes should depict Srngara, Hasya and Shanta rasas. The rest of the Rasas should never be used in the house of anyone where women and children dwell; including the residential quarters of the ruler. But, in the assembly halls of kings, palace of a ruler and in the temple of a god all the sentiments may be represented

krishna srngara

 

24.2. The text says, “Anything be it beautiful or ugly, dignified or despicable, dreadful or of a pleasing appearance, deep or deformed, object or non-object, whatever it be, could be transformed in to rasa by an artist’s imagination and skill”

24.3. The great scholar Abhinavagupta (10th-11th century), remarked, a creation in art is the expression of a feeling that is freed from localized distinctions; it is the generalization of a particular feeling. It comes into being through the creative genius (prathibha) of the artist. And, it finds its fulfilment in the heart of the viewer, who derives ananda the joy of aesthetic experience. He is, therefore, central to that art -experience. That pleasure must not, however, bind the viewer but must liberate him from his limited confines.

24.4. A true aesthetic object, Abhinavagupta declares, not merely stimulates the senses but also ignites the imagination of the viewer. That experience sets the individual free from the confines of place, time and ego (self). Thus, art is not mundane; it is alaukika, beyond the ordinary.

It is that magical quality which the Chitrasutra too was talking about.

Hanuman on lotus

25.1 . The Sukraniti Sara remarks: These laws that the Shastras lay down; these fine analysis of what an image should be, are only of limited extent. But, verily, endless are the forms..! No Shastra can ever define, appraise or enumerate all the perfect (Sarvangai sarva-ramyo) works of art.

And , in a similar manner, At the end of Chitrasutra – the treatise  dealing with the Rules of Painting, the Sage Markandeya observes :

Oh King…! In this treatise only suggestions are given; for, this subject can never be described in detail even in as many as hundred years. Whatever has not been said here, should be inferred from the rules of dancing (Nrtya), Oh lord of the earth;

Painting is the best of all arts, conducive to Dharma, and emancipation (moksha). It is very auspicious (mangala-kara) when placed in a house. As Sumeru is the best of mountains; Garuda is the chief of birds; and, a lord of the earth is  the most exalted amongst men, so is painting the best of all arts.

 

 

Sources and References:

I gratefully acknowledge Shri S Rajam’s sublime paintings

And the other paintings from internet

Citrasutra of the Visnudharmottara Purana by Parul Dave Mukherji

Stella Kramrisch: The Vishnudharmottara Part III:  A Treatise on Indian Painting and Image-Making; Second Revised and Enlarged Edition; (Calcutta University Press: 1928)

The Painter in Ancient India by  Dr. C. Sivaramamurti

Technique of painting prescribed in ancient Indian Texts

http://curiosity-the-key-to-knowledge.blogspot.com/2006/12/technique-of-painting-prescribed-in.html

The “Sarvatobhadra” temple of the Vishnu-dharmottara-purana

https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/dspace/bitstream/1887/2668/1/299_022.pdf

http://www.artknowledgenews.com/British_Museum_Masterpieces_Of_Indian.htmlhttp://www.ethnicindiacrafts.com/Indian_paintings/kangra/the_month_of_bhadon_miniature.html

All illustrations are from Internet

 
 

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The Art of Painting in Ancient India – Chitrasutra (5)

[This is the fourth in the series of articles I would be posting on the art of painting in ancient India with particular reference to the Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana

The previous (third) article dealt with the physical features of various classes and types of images, proportions, projections, foreshortening etc. covered certain concepts and general aspects discussed in Chitrasutra.

The current article is about colours; the concepts, classifications and application of colours. It also briefly mentions about shading and how to go about drawing.]

I. COLOR

13. Colours

13.1. Chitrasutra in one of its passages observes that delineation, shading, ornamentation and colouring are the decorative aspects of a painting; suggesting that rekha the lines that articulate the forms are the real substance of a painting.

At another place, the text remarks, “The masters praise the rekhas –lines (delineation and articulation of form), the connoisseurs praise the display of light and shade, women like the display of ornaments,; and , the richness of colours appeals  to common folks.”

Rekham prasamsaniya -acharya; vartanam apare jaguh / striyo Bhushanam ichchhanti; varnadhyam itare janah // 3.41.11

13.2. Yet, the colors are very important and significant aspects of a painting; they enliven a depiction. The text says , ”  when a learned and skilled artist paints with golden( radiant)  color, with articulate and yet very soft lines with distinct and well arranged garments; and graced with beauty, proportion , rhythm and inspiration, then the painting would truly be beautiful.”

13.3. The six limbs (anga) of painting enumerated in the text include Varnika-bhanga, which represents the artistic manner of improvising colour combinations, tones and shades. It provides for infusion of emotion, creation of lustre and irradiance. That involves, among other things, delicate and skilful use of brushes and other aids. It represents the maturity of the artist’s techniques and fruitfulness of his experience

Colour, therefore, is a major medium in painting; the emotions and moods are expressed through manipulating colours, their density, tones, lines, light, shades etc. The ingenuity, imagination and skill of the artist discover their limitations here.

13.3  While the Sutra-pata-rekha is the first line of the outline, the subha-varti-rekha is the finished sketch, ready for taking the colors. Now is the time for mandala – karya, drawing of curves, characterized as manorama (charming) and askhalita (un -erring) is the final stage of subha-varti-rekha. In this stage, the initially blocked rough contours are carefully rounded off at their edges; and, a new grace is added to the figures by more definitive work.

The initial coat of color is to be light (virala vilepana) and only the later depths are suggested by Vartana.

13.4 . The term Varna-krama indicates the general arrangement of color-scheme in a painting, the balancing of the tints to achieve a color-harmony. That term is also said to indicate the laying of tints like green, yellow and the rest (varnakramo harita, pita adi  varna-vinyasah). Another term, varna-sthiti –  is meant to indicate the color laid in its proper place in the picture. Such placement of just the right color in just the right place on the canvas is considered very essential, at least in the preliminary stages of coloring, when the effect of one color over the other, their contrast, the balance, the tone and such other details are to be determined.

The refinements of touching and blending etc. might come in later at proper time and place.

14. Colour – symbolism and suggestions

14.1. The colors in a painting have a descriptive and also a suggestive significance. Colours bestow a personality to a figure and speak eloquently of its character and mood. Colours also carry rich symbolism; they might depict the gunas such as the satva, rajas or tamas; and make explicit the essential character and attributes of an image.

In certain  Vasishnava traditions  , Radha   the personification of love and beauty, is adorned in the colour dearest to her,  the enchanting blue of Krishna, while he  is clad in pitambara  the lustrous golden hue of his beloved Radha, signifying sanidhya ,  the sense of being ever together.

There was, in addition, a class of pictures called rasa-chitra, the pictures of emotions, also called varna-lekhya meaning interpretations through colour. These were different from realistic paintings and sought deliberately to represent various emotions through distinct colours. In this school, idioms of colour visualized a range of emotions; and, each rasa had to be portrayed in its uniquely expressive colour. For instance, Srinagar (erotic) was of shyama hue(light sky blue) ; hasya (that which evokes laughter) in white; karuna (pathos) in gray; raudra , (the furious) in red; vira (the heroic) in yellowish-white; bhayanaka ( the fearsome) in black; adbhuta (supernatural and amazing) in yellow ; and bhibathsa (the repulsive ) in blue colour.

14.2. The colours of our mythological figures represent, symbolize and convey their attributes. For instance, the highest divinities with supreme attributes (gunas) are sky blue signifying their true infinite nature; Shiva, the ascetic the supreme yogi is Gauranga; he is colourless and almost transparent, he is without any attributes; Hanuman and Ganesh are red like the blood;   full of energy, vitality and life; and Kali’s black does not signify absence of colour but is the sum and culmination of all colours and energies in the universe. Her black is endowed with limitless powers of attraction that draws into her the entire existence.

14.3. During the later periods, the Ragamala School of painting attempted translating the emotional appeal of a Raga into visual representations. Each raga was personified by a colour, mood, the nature surrounding the hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika).  It also elucidated the season and the time of day and night in which a particular raga is to be sung. The colours, substance and the mood of the Ragamala personified the overall bhava and context of the Raga. It is a delightful amalgam of art, colour, poetry and music.

II. Colour in Chitrasutra

15. Primary colours and their derivatives

15.1.Talking of colors; Chitrasutra mentions basic colors as five, while the others only four (red, yellow, blue and white); though both agree on white as a primary color.

Chitrasutra, in chapter 27, mentions five primary colours (mulavarna) : white (svetha), yellow (pitha)  , black (krshna), green (harita) and red (raktha).  

sveto raktas tatha pitah krishno harita eva cha, mulavarnas samakhyatah panha parthivasattama, ekadvitrisamayagat bhavakalpanaya tatha, sankhyaivantaravarnanam loke kartum na sakyate.

The idea of four colors with yellow composed of gorochana; white sandal, crimson saffron; and dark musk in the varied hues of gems like turquoise, diamond, ruby and amethyst.

Pita vadata arunanilabhasam deho padehotkiranair maninam / gorochana-chandana-kumkumai-nana-abhivilepanam punruktayantim / /

At another place (ch.40) it mentions white, yellow, black, blue (shyama) and the colour of myrobalan (the dried fruit of a bush that resembles a plum) as the five principal colors.

15.2. The text says , it would be impossible to enumerate the mixed colors in the world created by the dexterous mixing of various colors and their derivatives;  the combinations are limited only by ones imagination and logic. The mixing of two or three colors, in various shades and tones,  and their manipulation is a mark of artist’s ingenuity. There is no limit to the numerous finer varieties of tints that can be produced by the imagination of the artist. Colouring should , however, be natural.

It appears, the range of colors employed by the ancient artists was wide enough to render with subtlety the local colors of the objects.

15.3. Chitrasutra classifies the application of colours into four categories: as those that are employed to depict (i) the faithful representations of nature; (ii) the true proportions but largely exaggerated size of the object; (iii) artificial qualities and perspectives of objects; and, (iv) an admixture of the three.

15.4. The text mentions five kinds of whites of light shade (gaura); and twelve kinds of whites of dark shades (shyama).

The light- whites are the : gold like white (rukma) ; ivory like white (danta-gauri); white like the split sandal( sphuta -candana- gauri); autumn cloud like white( sharada- ghana) ; and autumn moon like white (sharad –candraka-  gauri).

Some other texts, which followed Chitrasutra give a slightly varied versions of the light -whites as: milk, pearl, silver, star or a conch-shell (Kasyapasilpa); Foam-white, champaka and karnikara flowers (Bana); and lime (Manasollasa).

15.5. The twelve types of dark (shyama) shades of white which are derived by the mixtures and manipulations of white with other colors and shades, as mentioned in the text are:

  • the mixtures with dark red (raktha-shyama);
  • with brownish red like the mudga pulse (mudga-shyama);
  • with dark green like durva grass (durvankura-shyama);
  • with pale green (pandu-shyama);
  • with greenish like topaz (harita -shyama);
  • with yellow (pitha-shyama);
  • with brown like priyangu creeper (priyangu- shyama);
  • with reddish brown like monkey’s face (kapi -shyama);
  • with blue like blue lotus (nilothpala -shyama);
  • with slight blue like casa bird (casa- shyama);
  • with purple- lotus – red (raktotpala-shyama) ;
  • and , with grey- dark like a dark cloud (ghana-shyama).

The objects gain a character (vishesha) and a dimension with judicious inter-mixture of colors.

15.6. The text then goes to describe the forms of a few other colours.

Blue
colour is said to be of three kinds: with white predominating, with very little white; or with both in equal parts.

When blue is transformed a great deal it becomes green; and, it could be pure green or an admixture of white; and green with blue predominating. Blue with black and red becomes metallic blue (nila-lohitha) .Blue is transformed variously while   in association with anything applied as an astringent.

Blue tinged with yellow and white gives rise to a variety of colours and shades; and to Blue- lotus colour when shaded dark.

Thus beautiful paintings should be made greenish like durva sprout; Yellowish like wood-apple; and dark like mudga.”

The kinds of red mentioned in Manasollasa and Kasyapasilpa are   : red lead (darada), crimson (sona), juice of lac (alaktarasa), blood red (raktha), soft red (mridu-raktha), and red ochre (lohita).

 “A painting in red and dark like the red-lotus (rakthothpala)
becomes beautiful when combined with white lac, covered by a coating of lac and resin
.”

Four kinds of yellow are mentioned in Kasyapasilpa: golden (svarna), yellow (pita), turmeric (haridra) and like pollen of lotus (pisanga ).

As regards black,  Kasyapasilpa mentions four shades: of clouds (nila), of forest crow (shyam), of a peacock (kala) , and of wing of a black-bee (krshna).To that list Bana adds : light black like that of a buffalo; darker black like the face of a golangula monkey; black of the pitch dark night.

By proper selection and distribution of colours a painting becomes beautiful.”

A painting should be then very beautiful, when a learned artist paints it with golden colours, with articulate and yet very soft lines, with distinct and well arranged garments ; and blessed with beauty of proportions and rhythm.”

16. Colour pigments

The colour pigments were made from mineral and vegetable colouring substances (Rangadravyas) or dyes.

16.1. The text mentions some colouring articles : gold (kanakam ) , silver (rajata), copper (tamra),mica (abrakam ),lapis lazuli’s (rajavarta), red lead (sindhura), lead (tavara),yellow orpiment (haritala- a bright yellow arsenic sulphide mineral), lime (suddhe), lac (lakshya), vermillion (hingulakam) and indigo (nila).

Rangadravyani kanakam rajatam tamram eva cha abhrakam rajavartam cha sinduram trapur eva cha, haritalam sudha laksha tatha hingulakam nripa, nilam cha manujasreshtha tathanye santyanekasah, dese dese mahaaja karyas te stambhanayutah, lohanam patravinyasam bhaved vapi rasakriya- 3. 40. 25-27

It is said; in case of all colors the liquid of sindhura tree is desirable.

16.2. The text further says “In every country, there are many such substances. They should be manufactured with an astringent (stambhanayutah). The irons or metals should be either thinned into leaves (patravinyasa) or they should be made liquid (rasakriya) – by chemical treatment. A mica defile placed in iron should serve as a distiller. In this way, iron becomes suitable for painting”

[There is also a reference to dying the cloth with varied figures. Not only were paintings made of cloth but the cloth itself was dyed so as to be decorated with figures. It is a technique for which, later ,  was made famous by the weavers of coastal Andhra Pradesh.]

16.3. The Gold sheet and powder was used to make the background or details in painting. Gold is of the most malleable and softest of metals. Therefore, it can be made in to a very thin sheet and cover wide surfaces. There were various methods for the preparation of powdered gold.

There is an interesting description of the process of turning gold into gold-paint. The text says:

“Pure gold, which is costly, should be slowly ground on a stone slab with an instrument (tunda) having at its tip the virana grass.

The gold-powder thus prepared should be placed in a bronze vessel and melted over again. Thereafter water should be poured into it and then be stirred up time and again. Now water of the vessel should be so carefully shifted that the stone-dusts remain for their solidarity. In this manner, pure golden pigments, showing the hue of the lustre of a newly risen sun, would be prepared. Thereafter, this gold-pulp should be mixed with a small quantity of vajralepa, should be placed at the tip of the brush and all ornaments, imagined as of gold, should be gilded therewith. When the gold applied in painting becomes dry, it should be slowly rubbed with a boar-tusk as long as necessary to attain a brightness of lightning.”

Sri rama durbar

 

A painting should be then very beautiful, when a learned artist paints it with golden colors, with articulate and yet very soft lines, with distinct and well arranged garments; and blessed with beauty of proportions and rhythm.”

The Shilparatna (1.46.124-132) mentions two systems for application of gold on to the painting: one, with gold powder mixed with vajralepa; and, the other with gold leaves.

The first method requires that before grinding gold, it should be turned into thin and soft leaves; and, those leaves should be very minutely fragmented and mixed up with small quantity of sand and clean water. And, thereafter, it should be mixed with water and poured into a pot, which should then be well shaken, so that the sand will rise above the gold, which is heavier. After removal of dirt and sand, the gold would shine very bright. And, that gold should be pasted along with proportionate glue (vajralepa) ; and , skillfully applied with a suitable brush. When dried up, it should be slowly rubbed with the tip of boar-tusk till the gold glitters.

As per the second method, the spots on the painting meant for gliding should be smeared with glue; and, extremely thin gold leaves should be laid thereon very steadfastly. Again, the gold-spots should be brightened by rubbing.

17. Shading.

17.1. Methods of producing effects of light and shade were considered very important for projecting three dimensional presentation of the image.* Weakness or thickness of delineation, want of articulation, improper juxtaposition of colors are said to be defects of painting.”

One of the endearing features of Ajanta art is shading the different parts of the body to produce three dimensional effects in the images. The other was use of proper colors at times contrasting and at times matching to create magical effects. These were precisely the principles that Chitrasutra emphasized.

The Shilparatna (1.46.113-117) explains that a skilled painter should fill in colors slowly and spotlessly with a flat brush in order to achieve the three-dimensional special effects of depressions and protrusions. Everything should be made to appear pleasing by differentiation of darkness and brightness; and, of hardness and softness. In application of individual colors, the effect of thickness is dark; and, that of thinness is bright. This effect is also achieved by using different colors. Where yellow stands for bright; red would be dark. The borderline should be carefully drawn in lampblack (kajjala-varna) with a fine brush.

17.2. The text mentions three methods of Vartana-krama or delineation of depth on a flat surface by the suggestion of light and shade. Such effects are sought to be achieved by one or more of the techniques: Patraja (cross hatching); Binduja (stipping) and Rekhika (fine lineation).

Tisrascha Vartanah proktah patra-rekhika-bindujah ( 3.41.5)

The first method of shading (Vartana) is called (Patraja) on account of lines being in the shape of leaves. The Binduja method is restrained (i.e., not flowing) handling of the brush while planting dots patiently. And, the Rekhika method is said to be very fine line-shading

17.3. While stressing the importance of proper shading of an image the text mentions that a painting in which an object is devoid of shading (varttana) is of average class (madhyama). A picture which in some parts are shaded and the rest is un-shaded is below average or is bad (adhama). And, a picture shaded skilfully all over is best (uttama).

A painting in which everything is drawn in an acceptable form in its proper position , in its proper time and age becomes excellent, while in the opposite case it becomes quite different.” 

“A painting drawn with care, pleasing to the eye, thought out with supreme intelligence and remarkable by its execution, beauty, charm, taste and such other qualities, yields desired pleasure.”

Shuiyue Guanyin' (Avalokiteṣvara), the mural in the Fahai monastary Bejing

[The murals at Ajanta, which were rooted in the principles of the Chitrasutra, are said to have influenced the Chinese painting techniques, particularly with regard to  the style of depiction  and shading;  giving a three-dimensional effect to the details in the painting .

“The Indian Painting Technique introduced from India is also called the concave and convex method. The concave and convex method is one of the traditional painting techniques of India. The concave and convex method was widely used in the murals of the Ajanta Caves in India. This method in Indian traditional paintings was also introduced in China across central Asia, which is called “Indian Technique” in Chinese painting history.

The Chinese scholar Xiang Da said, “Both Indian and Chinese paintings give priority to the lines. But Indian painting adds the concave and convex method in the lines to present a three dimensional sense in a flat surface. For the figures painted, such as the arms, contour lines are clean and lively, deep colours are added along the lines, which change gradually to soft and light internally, forming a round shape. This is what is called the concave and convex method. The Ajanta and Sigiriya Caves in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) all used this method to show light and shade. The Indian painting was introduced in China; the most notable and worth praising part of it is also this concave and convex method, going in the same channel of western painting introduced in China in Ming and Qing Dynasties.”

Source: (Civilization of Chang’an and the Western Regions in the Tang Dynasty).]

Dunhuang murals during the northern Wei Period in China. It is preserved in cave number 254 of Mogao caves

18. Brushes and crayons

The text mentions the tools required for drawing and sketching. Vartika was a general term used to denote both a brush and a crayon or a pastel for drawing. The Chitrasutra suggests that brushes could made of hairs collected from the ear of a calf; from the belly of a goat; from the tail of muskrat; or from tips of grasses.

It appears Tindu was a crayon too, of carefully burnt ebony twig; while kitta was black carbon prepared as a roll for sketching.  Tulika was brush prepared, perhaps, out of animal hair like sable, squirrel and hog; and , of bird feathers. It is said; a painter used at least nine brushes for every color.

The text says, “A painting firmly drawn with a tulika , a magnificent hairy brush , on a canvas dipped in juice of the best Durva grass cannot be destroyed ; and it remains intact for many years , though washed by water.”

Eberhard Fischer in his paper The Technique of Indian Painters A short note observes :

It may also be of interest to mention that the fine brushes used by the Indian masters for precise lines are made from squirrel hair. The tied-together hair bushel cut from the tail is pulled through a bird’s feather quill and fixed to a bamboo handle. For each color, a separate brush is usually used. The finest brushes for outlining do not end in a straight tip but are considered best when the hair possesses a natural sickle-like curve ending in a tip. With this peculiar brush, a master can draw a circle with an utmost uniform thin line! One should also not forget that Indian painters traditionally sit on the floor when working and keep the tablet with the picture on their left thigh. (When a low table is used its top is generally slanted at an angle.) The painter’s hand with the brush touches or even rests on the picture, which is covered at that point with a small piece of paper. The regular viewing distance is thus given by the length of the arm. The traditional miniaturist has his pigments mixed with gum Arabic (from the babul or acacia tree) and sometimes with catechu sap or with shellac for an even flow. Mixed pigments are usually stored in small river-mussel shells placed to the right of the painter on the ground.

19. How to go about the task?

The first requisite for a painting , of course, is bhu-labha or bhu-lambha the preparation of a proper, smooth, white surface to paint. It could be a canvas (pata), board (phalaka) or a wall (bhitti).

In the process of preparing the ground and then in fastening colors on that ground, the binding medium plays a very significant role in painting.

In fact, in the characterization of technique of a painting the nature of the medium is always taken into consideration; and accordingly, the universally accepted classification, such as, oil, water, tempera, fresco, etc. is generally formulated on the basis of the medium.

preparation of Bhumi: – preparation of board phalaka or canvas, pata, or ghattana –  phalaka ghattinchi: is the preparation of the board with canvas applied to it; and, – Merungidi is ‘giving brilliance’.

In the case of canvas on a board, Sri Vidyaranya describes that process in his Panchadasi,yatha dhauto ghattitascha lanchhito ranjitah patah “- ‘like the canvas whitened, prepared, marked i.e. sketched out and colored….’

-As regards the preparation of wall: Bhitti- samakara , it is said : The preparation of loam to be applied to the plaster on the wall to make a proper base for painting is as follows: a mixture of powdered brick, gum resin, bees wax, molasses, oil, burnt lime plaster, in definite proportions, pulp of bilva, bark or pinhchhila, sand and lime all to be soaked for a month in water. The surface of the wall to painted on has to be prepared by the application of this loam, the coat neither too thick nor too thin, making it meticulously even in its surface and glossy, smoothened with clayey liquid, juice of sarja and oil and rubbed by repeated sprinkling of milk, so that when it is dry it could last a century.

[ For a detailed note  on the subject of Paint grounds and binders according to ancient Sutras, please refer to the latter half of Part Four of this series.]

**

Sutra-pata-rekha are the very first lines of an outline of a preliminary sketch. The outline sketch is usually drawn a stump of a sort pencil called Vartika.- ( purvam tinduka-lekhyam syad yad va vartikaya budhaih / aakara -matrikam rekham vina likhet punah // ) .  This rough sketch seems to be called as varnaka or hastalekha.

The outline, no doubt, is a quickly drawn rough sketch. Yet, it is a well thought-out , meaningful , studied drawing.

While the Sutra-pata-rekha is the first line of the outline, the subha-varti-rekha is the finished sketch, ready for taking the colors. Now is the time for mandala – karya, drawing of curves, characterized as manorama (charming) and askhalita (un -erring) is the final stage of subha-varti-rekha. In this stage, the initially blocked rough contours are carefully rounded off at their edges; and, a new grace is added to the figures by more definitive work.

The initial coat of color is to be light (virala vilepana) and only the later depths are suggested by Vartana.

**

The text briefly mentions how a painter should go about his task. The outlines ought to be drawn in yellow and red as a rule.”The painter should think of the proportionate size of the thing to be painted, and think of it as having been put on a wall. Then calculating its size in his mind , he should draw the outline marking the limbs. It should be bright in prominent places and dark in depressed places . It may be drawn in a single color , where comparative distinction is required. If depressed places are required to be bright , jet black should be used . “

At another place, the text mentions that outlines should be drawn with un-oozing black and white brushes in due order fix them on the duly measured ground.

Outline has to be filled with the first colour-wash which could either white or green. And, it can later be filled with colour in appropriate places.

Chitrasutra cautions that an inconvenient painting stance or a bad seat or thirst or absentmindedness or sloppiness or bad temper could spoil the picture.

 Durasanam , duranitam , pipasa cha anyachittata / ete chitra-vinasanasya hetavah parikritah / – 3.48.13

**

The text, Samarangana-sutradhara, mentions eight-limbs’ (asta-angani) of painting to which an artist should adhere for achieving success as a painter:

Bhumibandhana (preparation of surface) ; Vartika (crayon work) ; rekha-karma ( outline work ); laksana (features of face) ; varna-karma ( colorings ); vartana-karma (relief by shading ); lekha-karma (correction) and dvika-karma ( final outline)

Eberhard Fischer in his The Technique of Indian Painters A short note explains that  Painting a picture is generally done in eight stages after the paper is burnished to make it compact, smooth and less absorbent:

1 The rough outline of the composition is sketched with charcoal.

2 The first drawing – often in sanguine – is done with the brush.

3 A first thin white wash is applied above this drawing.

4 The drawing is repeated, now in a thin but precise black line.

5 The white priming is laid over the drawing in such a thickness that its black lines remain feebly visible.

6 Before now filling in colors, excess pigments are erased with a sharp knife-blade, and the surface is burnished.

7 The pigments are laid – one by one – in thin layers, the first ones being a rather liquid wash and usually somewhat lighter than the final color. The picture is burnished from the back when dry, followed by a second round of applying pigments and burnishing.

8 When all colors are placed and dried, the outlines are traced,  details incorporated  and shading or volume indications done.  Some wash with yellow or light brown may be given, gold can finally be applied on yellow undercoating, and white drops may be made for pearls from powdered conch shells or zinc oxide mixed with chalk. The gold (or tin for an silver effect) can be powdered foil and applied like other mineral pigments, but also gold leaf could be glued on the picture. In both cases its surface was often pierced with a blunt needle after burnishing it to enhance the glittering effect.

march_of_elephants_wj35

Next:

 Chitrasutra continued

Sources and References:


I gratefully acknowledge Shri S Rajam’s sublime paintings

And other paintings from internet

Chitrasutra of the Visnudharmottara Purana by Parul Dave Mukherji

Stella Kramrisch: The Vishnudharmottara Part III: A Treatise on Indian Painting and Image-Making;

Second Revised and Enlarged Edition; (Calcutta University Press: 1928)

Technique of painting prescribed in ancient Indian Texts

http://curiosity-the-key-to-knowledge.blogspot.com/2006/12/technique-of-painting-prescribed-in.html

The “Sarvatobhadra” temple of the Vishnu-dharmottara-purana

https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/dspace/bitstream/1887/2668/1/299_022.pdf

 
 

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The Art of Painting in Ancient India – Chitrasutra (4)

The Art of Painting in Ancient India – Chitrasutra (Annexure to three)

wallpainting in cave 1 Ajanta

This segment is in the nature of a supplement to The Art of Painting in Ancient IndiaChitrasutra (3) . I mentioned therein: “The Chitrasutra explores in great depth the characteristics of persons hailing from various regions and occupations. Since it is rather too detailed, I would be posting a summary of that, along with few other issues, in a separate article”. Hence, this post.

The Chitrasutra, at several places, discusses the appearances  of  persons and objects that we meet/see in our day to day life. It instructs, the representations of the objects and persons,   as drawn on the canvas should bear a credible resemblance to their original.

The text, therefore, reckons   Rupa-bheda and Sadrushya, among the six essential elements of a painting. Rupa-bheda consists in the knowledge of special characteristics of things – natural or man-made; say, the differences in appearances among many types of men, women or natural objects or other subjects of the painting; while Sadrushya aims to depict, in painting, those distinctions and resemblances.

Things that usually are visible to all should be well represented,  resembling what is  commonly seen in nature.”

Shilpa-ratna, another ancient text, also refers to painting as that which bears resemblance to, and looks like a reflection  in   mirror.

figures in Ajanta cave 10

The Chitrasutra instructs that the resemblances should not merely be in general but should extend to details as well. Every part of the object represented should agree with the general treatment of the whole object. It also says that the persons should be painted according to their country; their region, their colour, dress, and general appearances as observed. Having well ascertained the person’s country, region, occupation, age and his status in life; the text says ,  his other details such as his seat, bed, costume, conveyance, stance, and his gestures should be drawn.

The Chitrasutra explores this subject in great depth, detailing the characteristics of persons hailing from various regions and occupations; the nobility, widows, courtesans, artisans, wrestlers, soldiers etc.  It presents a virtual catalogue.

I am posting some of them, in a summarized form along with some illustrations (wherever available) from the sketches of the figures depicted in paintings of Gupta period.

[ Please also see HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF THE COSTUME IN INDIAN ART, for a scholarly discussion on costumes in ancient art.]

[Bharata in the Chapter Twenty-one of the Natyashastra also gives indications of the costumes to be worn by characters of different class and types. Briefly, according to him:

Such men and women as are devoted to religious practices; and kings , gods as also beings such as Yakshas, Gandharvas, Nagas and Rakshasas ; the maids in the queen’s quarters (Kanchuki), tradesmen, ministers and priests should be dressed in white robes  with, of course, each with their distinctive styles, qualities and richness , depending upon their nature and station in life.

In the case of the Nagarikas, their garments should be of fine texture. The garments of the damsels should be sprinkled with perfumes like musk (Kasturi), saffron (kumkuma) etc; and, cosmetics like laksha, alaktika, gorochana and chandana.

The rouges, the Vita and the vicious ones, intoxicated, should be in dark, gaudy costumes.

Those playing the roles of ascetics, monks and nuns should wear robes in vermilion or yellow or any other colour in keeping with each ones tradition.

As regards the hermits and their celibate disciples, they should be decked in garments made of the bark of the birch tree.

The warriors and soldiers of various class and ranks should be attired in the appropriate military uniforms and turbans, sporting various medals, arms. The Commander-in-chief s should be adorned with coronets and crests.

Gods, divine beings and kings should be presented with crowns, diadems decorated with gems and other precious stones.

brāhmaṇāḥ kṣatriyāścaiva gaurāḥ kāryāstathaiva hi ।
vaiśyāḥ śūdrāstathā caiva śyāmāḥ kāryāstu varṇataḥ ॥ 113॥

evaṃ kṛtvā yathānyāyaṃ mukhāṅgopāṅgavartanām ।
śmaśrukarma prayuñjīta deśakālavayo'nugam ॥114॥

śuddhaṃ vicitraṃ śyāmaṃ ca tathā romaśameva ca ।
bhaveccaturvidhaṃ śmaśru nānāvasthāntarātmakam ॥ 115॥

śuddhaṃ tu liṅgināṃ kāryaṃ tathāmātyapurodhasām ।
madhyasthā ye ca puruṣā ye ca dīkṣāṃ samāśritāḥ ॥ 116॥

divyā ye puruṣāḥ kecitsiddhavidyādharādayaḥ ।
pārthivāśca kumārāśca ye ca rājopajīvinaḥ ॥ 117॥

śṛṅgāriṇaśca ye martyā yauvanonmādinaśca ye ।
teṣāṃ vicitraṃ kartavyaṃ śmaśru nāṭyaprayoktṛbhiḥ ॥ 118॥

anistīrṇapratijñānāṃ duḥkhitānāṃ tapasvinām ।
vyasanābhihatānāṃ ca śyāmaṃ śmaśru  prayojayet ॥ 119॥

ṛṣīṇāṃ tāpasānāṃ ca ye ca dīrghavratā narāḥ ।
tathā ca cīra baddhānāṃ romaśaṃ śmaśru kīrtitam ॥ 120॥ ]

floral design2

1. A king should be drawn as if he were a god

The handsome looking King wears a brown striped silk garment. He is offering flowers to the gods , placed  on a tray painted with designs.

He wears a tiara of floral motif from which hand string of pearls and sapphire. He has on his wrists bracelets of different kinds.

2. Prince

gupta_dynasty_prince

 

The tender looking Prince wears a classy, decorative crown, twisted like turban in stripes; and, bound, at intervals, with braid. The crown is studded with large gems and is encrusted with   brooches at the sides;  and,  has a central ornament on the top.

He wears a simple earrings (Kuntala) ; a single string of pearls (Muktavali).

His flowing hair comes down to his shoulders; is loosely knotted at the nape; and, bound at the back with ribbons.  On his young forehead, play the stylized curls.  

3. Queen

Women of good-families should be made bashful, wearing ornaments and not showy dress.

The beautiful looking queen seated on a decorated chair is dressed in antariya, a sort of lehenga tied to body at her waist. She has an uttariya (duppatta) the upper garment made of fine material.

She is adorned with several pearl neck-laces (mukthavali), ornamental pearl -bracelets on wrists (valaya), on upper arm (keyura).She wear rings (angulya) on her fingers, and anklets (nupura) round her ankles.

Her hairstyle is elaborate and made into a bun at the nape. Her hair is adorned with flowers, jewels and a tiara.

[Note: BTW, the bodice or blouse is a late entry into the Indian notion of dress. The aristocracy, the ladies of position, and queens of vey ancient India did not usually use a bodice or blouse (as you can see from ancient fresco at Ajanta etc). The women in orthodox families,   engaged in religious duties too did not use one such. But , somehow the chambermaids , the  female attendants on the king and the queen,  were required to wear a bodice –  Kanchuka , a  long narrow scarf, which did not require much tailoring. The chambermaids were therefore, generally, designated Kanchuki (कंचुकी) – as in the old Sanskrit dramas of 2nd century BCE.

The Buddhist nuns were, usually, allowed to use three pieces of cloth: samghati (for lower part), antarvasaka (for the upper part) and uttarasanga (covering garment, in cold season). Kanchuka or bodice was allowed to young nuns.

Some say that wearing a blouse or jacket came into vogue after the entry of Scythians, Kushanas and such others who hailed from cold regions. And, it became fashionable during the Muslim period. The northern influences took some time to percolate down to  the orthodox Deep South.

ravi varma

For instance ; even during the 18th and19th centuries , the ladies of the Kerala royalty , portrayed  in their traditional costume,  did not wear ‘blouse’.  ]

4. Chamber maid

courtlady (1)

While her upper body is left uncovered, she wears a skirt (Ghagri )  stretching up to the knees ; there is a draw-string (nada) at the waist ; the border of the woven silk material is  vertically down the center.

She wears graded ivory or conch-shell bangles (Valaya); and a bead necklace (Hara)

Her hair is parted at the center , with chignon on nape decorated with ribbons; a wreath of leaves is worn around the head.

5. Queens’s maids

The queen had several maids, and each had her function. Their dresses, styles and ornaments too varied accordingly.

Court lady or a sort of superintend over queen’s quarters

She is a rather stern looking lady with her hair neatly done and decorated with a tiara (makuta).She has wheel-like large ear–rings (kundala), a strand of pearls across her neck (haravsti) and a twisted wire necklace.

6. Maid servant

She carries a fly-whisk (chauri). She wears a short lower garment tucked in under her belt (mekhala) and perhaps a choli too. She is modestly adorned with a strand of pearls round her neck (haravsti), an armlet (keyura) and a bracelet (valaya).She has simple ear-rings. Her hair is drawn back into one plait with few curls on her fore head.

maidservent_3

7. Another maid  is dressed in a lehnga –type , of striped cloth(Anatriya); and, choli-type blouse (Cholaka) with an apron front and V-neck made of pulakabandha-tie and dye cloth.

On her ears, she has rings (Kundala); and, wears simple bangles (Valaya).

 Her hair is made into a simple bun with flower wreath (mala)

maidservent_4

8. This maid appears to be from the West.

Her hairstyle is simple and is not ornamented.  Her curly hair is held back by a fillet

 For dress, she wears a double jacket (Cholaka), of bandhni (tie-dye cloth) the upper one with shorter sleeves in the angarkha style; the lower one with longer sleeves. The angarkha is shown open;, the left edge of the neckline fastening is curved to fit the inside right edge probably with ties .

She wears two necklaces (Hara), both of beads with the central bead of different shape

9.Another maid servant has a simple skirt with a draw-string (nada) and a breast-band (prathidhi). She has an armlet (valaya) , large ear-rings (kndala) . Her hair is worn loose and long. She carries a palm-leaf fan.

10. There was an Ayah (nanny) type of maid too. She wore a long sleeved tunic and covered her head. She had large ear-ring (kundala) and a simple chain (hara).

Nanny

11.This Nanny was, perhaps, from the North-West region. She is dressed in a tunic (Angarkha) reaching up to her knees; with long sleeves; and, bordered all around the edges. She wears a heavily gathered skirt (Ghagri) tied at the hips with a nada. Her head is covered with a scarf –like long cloth (Uttariya) having a decorative border; and hanging behind the shoulders.

As for her ornaments, she has a tiara-like headgear (Mukuta); a flat, heavy short necklace (Kantha); and, bangle on left wrist (Valaya)

As regards her hair; it is shaped into a thick twisted roll, with a padding fixed at the center parting and held in place by tiny plaits of hair. Her head is covered the head with the veil , which is possibly of Parthian /Scythian origin ,and is seldom seen at Ajanta.

12. Dancing girl

The dancer who entertains the queen has an apron-front dress with long sleeves. Her lehanga (antariya) is short with patterned stripes. She perhaps has a choli too. She is well decorated with strands of pearls (muthavali), bangles and brace-lets (valaya), elaborate ear-rings (kanchana kundala) and a tiara (makuta).

For hair-style, she wears a large bun on her nape; she is adorned with flowers, several strands of pearls and chains, held in position by broaches.

13. Another dancer is clad in a sari-like garment and a full sleeved upper garment. She has a simple twisted sash round her waist. She is adorned with a necklace (hara),a row of bangles (valaya)on her left wrist, ear rings (kundala)and a set of heavy rings(nupura)  round her ankles. Her hair style is a chaplet of leaves.

14. Widows

Widows are to be shown with grey hair, wearing white clothes.

She wears a sari –like garment fully covering. Her ornaments are modest; with a string around her neck, simple brace-let and ear-rings. Her gray hair is drawn back in a knot.

15. Female Guard

The female security guard  in queen’s quarters  was well covered with a knee-length tunic having long sleeves. Below that she wore another garment reaching up to her ankles.

Her hair was drawn back tightly. She wore a simple neck-lace (hara) bracelet (valaya) and a heavy –twisted sash round her waist. She wore heavy anklets (nupura).

She carried along sphere and an embossed shield.. She appeared to be a mixture of indigenous and foreign styles.

16. Musicians

Musicians, dancers and those in their party entertaining the royal couple should wear gorgeous dresses.

The dancer, usually, has a long garment from his waist down to ankles. He is heavily ornamented with rows of neck-laces and jewellery around his arms, wrists and around the waist. He has an ornamented head gear too.

 

17. Heralds

Heralds should be drawn tawny and squint-eyed, carrying staffs in their hands.

A Herald is often shown in calf-length tunic with pointed ends; and with trousers narrow and clinging to legs. He also had a sash round his waist. He is not shown with jewellery; but holds a staff.

18.Attendant

He has an ankle length tunic and a long sleeved upper garment. A round cap with border and a plume sits on his head .

19. Bards

Bards should have a resplendent dress. Their look should be directed upward and the veins on their neck should be shown.

20. The doorkeeper

Door-keepers should be shown with a sword hanging by his side. He holds a staff in his hand; he should not look mild. His dress should not be too conspicuous.

He has a coat made in kachcha (Gujarat) style; and turban with twisted clothing. He holds in his hands a sphere and a shield. There is perhaps a sword hanging by hid waist-band.

21. Sage

Sages, emaciated yet full of splendor should be represented with long stresses of hair clustered on top of their head, with a black antelope –skin as upper garment.

22. Minister

He wears a simple tunic-like garment (Kancuka) with a round neck and long sleeves. It is open at the front. On top of that tunic,  he is wrapped with a long garment  (Uttariya) coming around his waist , and thrown over his left shoulder  like a  upavita ; with  the final end resting on his left arm.

He does not wear many ornaments, except for an earring (Bali), with a pearl suspended. Round his neck, he wears a simple necklace (Haravsti) of large pearls .

His long hair is combed back , smoothly.

23. Priest

Priests should be represented with white garments, and emitting splendor.

A priest was shown wearing a dothi type of garment and an upper garment (uttariya) thrown across his left shoulder. He had a simple string round his neck. His hair was tied in a top-knot.

24. Female worshiper ( or priestess)

female_votary

She perhaps was a counterpart of the priest. She wears an elaborate tiara-like ornament around the head (Ratnajali); and, there is a central ornament at the forehead from which are suspended the strands of pearls.

 She is decorated with garland (Mala) of flowers. And, large flower rests on  top of one of her ears like an ornament (karnavathamsa).And, on the ears she wears a large-sized ring  (Kundala). Further, higher up on her ears are suspended small earrings of pearls (Bali).  On her chest she wears a string of pure pearls (Suddha Ekavali), with a gem hanging from its centre.

Her hair is worn in a large pompadour style on the crown of the head with tiny curls neatly arranged along the forehead. And, strands of pearls form a net over the hair-style.

25. Another pristess

votary_figure

She carries an offering. She wears two long strings of pearls crossed at the chest (Vaikaksha); and , a string of pearls (Muktavali ) round her neck. On her ears , she has large disc-type earrings (Kundala). On her upper arms , she wears  armbands (Keyura); and, bracelet, one on each wrist (Valaya). One her legs, she has anklets (Nupura).

As regards her dress, she wears a short blouse (Choli); and, over that, an upper garment (Uttariya) worn over the left shoulder. She is dressed in a striped drawer- a short strip of cloth worn around the waist with an attached strip from the centre of the waist which is drawn up between the legs and tucked in at the back.

 For the head, she has a striped scarf tied around the head and knotted at the back, tassels are visible behind the right shoulder; further back on the head is a decoration of leaves with a central motif probably tied around a chignon-type hairstyle.

26. Commander

The commander of an army should be represented as strong , proud and tall, with big head, powerful chest; fleshy shoulders , hand and neck; firm hips,; prominent nose , broad chin with eyes raised upward towards sky.

27. Soldiers

Soldiers should generally be painted with frowns on their faces. Foot soldiers should be represented with short and showy uniforms, carrying weapons. They should have arrogant looks.

A foot-soldier wore a short jacket (cholaka) with half-sleeves, covering the chest. The lower garment (antariya) was short above the knee –level and had decorative stripes. He wore long hair and no headgear. He often wore domed caps with bands.  He carried a sphere and a shield.

Another soldier carrying a sword and shield is dressed in a calf-length tunic and a girdle at the waist. He has a disc type ear-ring (kundala). His hair is drawn in large top-knot bun.

28. Archer

Good archers are to be shown with bear legs. Their dress should not be very short and they should wear shoes.

He has a tunic with short sleeves and up to the mid-thigh. He has a wide wrap round his waist (kavabandh); an elaborate turban with top-knot; and, has earrings.

29. Elephant riders

Elephant raiders should have swarthy complexion. Their hair should be tied in a knot. They should wear ornaments as well.

It is said the foot soldiers and elephant-riders in the Gupta army wore a similar uniform. They wore sometimes more resplendent in gold-striped antariya and skull caps or fillets on their heads.

30. Horsemen

Horsemen were shown dressed in coat having pointed collar and floating ribbon ties; baggy trousers up to ankles and wearing dome-cap.

 

31. Wrestlers

Wrestlers should be drawn with broad shoulders, fleshy neck and lips; with closely cropped hair; and with arrogant and impetuous looks.

32. Elders

The elders and respected people of town and country -side should be painted looking calm, with almost grey hair, adorned with ornaments suitable to their status, wearing white garments; and stooping slightly forward, ready to help.

An elderly gentleman’s hair is arranged in a large top-knot and with turban in a twisted style. He is decorated with elaborate ear-rings , necklaces and bracelets.

33. Merchants

Merchants should be shown with their heads covered on all sides by turban.

A merchant is usually shown in a calf-length tunic (kanchuka) gathered at the neck, with long sleeves. He has a heavy looking and a long cloth (uttariya) thrown across his chest and shoulders. He has waist band too (kavabandh).His turban has a fan shaped frill. He carries a baton like stick.

34.  Buddhist Monk (Bhikshu)

He wears a long lower-garment (Antaravasa) , folded into layers around the body. At the waist the garment is was secured by a girdle or tucked into the nada (drawstring). He has the upper garments (Uttarasanga) thrown over the shoulder in a loop.

He is clean shaven’; and is usually shown carrying a bowl.

Resources:

Stella Kramrisch: The Vishnudharmottara Part III:  A Treatise on Indian Painting and Image-Making; Second Revised and Enlarged Edition (Calcutta University Press: 1928)

Gupta period [Early Fourth to Mid-Eighth Century AD] –Ancient Indian costume

http://www.4to40.com/discoverIndia/index.asp?article=discoverindia_guptas

http://www.4to40.com/history/print.asp?p=gupta_period_early_fourth_to_mid-eighth_centuary_a.d.

 

 

Sml. Attr Nainsukh, A Troupe of Trumpeters

The following is also by way of  an appendix.

This is about the details provided in Chitrasutra for preparing the wall-surface for  the purpose of painting a mural.

A word of caution ; the instructions detailed here are rather too technical me. And ,  I do not pretend I understand all that is said in the text . That is the reason,  I am posting those details in the form of an appendix.

Preparation of the wall- surface for painting a mural

The text details two methods. It assures that if its recommendations are followed “it (the wall-surface) does not go to ruins even at the end of hundred years.”

*****

A. The wall has to receive a thick coating  of bricks , burnt conches and the like , powdered and mixed with sand; the watery preparation of molasses and drops of the decantation of mudga(phaseolus munga –mung pulse) amounting to a fourth part of the mortar powder.

In to that, smashed ripe banana fruits have to be added, also a fourth part of the amount of the mortar.

After three months, when the mixture is dried, it shall be ground again.

Then it must be mixed once more with molasses-water, until it gets a touch of fresh butter.

In this stage, buffalo-hide has to to be boiled in water, until it becomes soft like butter. The water then has to evaporate and sticks have to be made of the paste and dried in the sunshine.

This hard plaster is called Vajra-lepa (diamond like –paste). If, then boiled in mud vessel with water, it will make any colour fast with which it is mixed. If mixed with white mud, it has to be used as coating for the wall, in three layers, each layer being allowed to dry before the application of the next.

The wall having been cleansed with coconut fibres and having been sprinkled for some time with molasses- water, on this the painting may be applied.

This is the two-fold process by which the wall is made ready for the drawing and application of colours.

*****

B. Brick powder of three kinds has to be mixed with clay, one third part (in amount of the brick powder). Having mixed saffron with oil, one should mix it with gum resin, bees’ wax, liquorices, molasses and mudga preparation in equal parts. One-third part of burnt yellow-inyrobalan should be added therein.

Finally , the astringent made of Bel-tree (Feronica-elephantum) destructive (of all injurious agents) mixed in proportion of two to one should be added and also a portion of sand , proportionate to the amount of the whole.

Then the artist should drench the mixture with moist split pulse dissolved in water. The whole of the moist preparation has to be kept in a safe place for one month. After the moisture has evaporated within a month, one should put this dried, yet still damp, plaster on the wall, having carefully considered everything.

It should be plain, even, well distributed, without ridges or holes, neither too thick nor too thin. Should it look ill-done after having become quite dry , due to shrinkage , then it ought to be carefully smoothened by coatings of plaster made of that clay (as mentioned before) mixed with resin of the sala-tree (shorea-robnsta) and with oil.

It is further made smooth by repeated anointing, constant sprinkling with water and by careful polish. When this wall has promptly dried, it does not go to ruins anywhere even at the end of hundred years.

By this same means various jeweled floors can be made of variegated mixture in two-fold colors.

flower

For a detailed discussion on the subject of Paint grounds and binders according to ancient sutras, please refer to : M. Singh and B.R. Arbad who conducted technological studies on Ajanta painted mortars, write in their in their research paper Ancient Indian painting recipes and mural art technique at Ajanta

 (A) Vishnudharmottara Purana

 For the preparation of paint ground this text prescribes three types of brick dust and three parts of mud mortar to which Guggula (gum or resin), madhu-cchlliioa (bee wax) are added in equal quantity. According to the text all these must be mixed with one third of powdered burnt lime, pulp from bilva (Aegle marmelos) in two to one ratio along with necessary quantity of salt free sand. The text recommends storing this mixture in water mixed with the bark of picchila (a legume, probably Dalbergia sisoo, Bombax heptaphyllum) for one month. An experienced artist removes this mixture from the container and applies it to the wall and allows drying. Particular care has to be observed that this layer is smooth and uniform and neither too thin nor too thick. If the wall that is starting to dry does appear not properly done, then it must be carefully polished to make it uniform with a layer of intonacco (lepna) made up of earth mixed with a juice of oarja (Shorea robusta). The surface is also polished with a fine lamp black (anjana) and repeatedly spread with milk. The text confirms that the wall mortar treated in this way will not deteriorate even after one hundred years. It also says that the same procedures must be followed to prepare various paint grounds.

For the binder, the Vishnudharmottara prescribes the use of decoction of skins (Carmakvatha) which corresponds to famous Vajralepa glue, used in the mixture to cover the surface that act as protective coat. The text provides five different recipes for the preparation of Vajralepa. One of the recipes lists ox or buffalo horns among the ingredients, a buffalo or cow or goat skin mixed with juice of bimbo (Momordica monadelpha) and kapittha (Feronia elephantum).

In Vishnudharmottara the use of binders with vegetable origin is also prescribed. One such recipe is the juice of bakula (Minusops elengi) and sindura (Grislea tomentosa) which are mixed with Carmakvatha.

For protective agent or fixative, the text recommends application of juice of Cynodon dactylon (durva grass) to the finished paintings with the help of cloth soaked in it.

(B) Samaragao Sutradhra

The Samaragao Sutradhara describes very clearly to Vishnudharmottara between the first preparatory layer known as bhumi-bandhana and intonaco, known as Lepkarma. It recommends that juice from various plants, such as Snuhivastuka (Euphoria anti quorum), kuimaoa (a cucurbit, Beninacasa cerifera), kuddali (Bouhina variegata), Opamarga (Achyrantes aspera) and Ikika (Sugarcane sp.) are let to rest for a week and them mixed with the juice of Siaoapa (Dalbergia sisso), Ashoka tree, Nimba (Azadirachta Indica), Triphala (Myrobalan sp.), kuooja (Wrightia antidysenterica) and kaiayaka (Acacia catechu) together with sea salts (about 2%). This mixture is sprayed in previously leveled wall where the painting work has to be undertaken. The juices of these plants are used to wash the wall surface that also probably works as insecticides.

Some of the fine earth is mixed with double quantity of sand, to which juice of kakubha (Terminlia arjuna), Maia (seeds of beans or other legumes), oalmali (Salmalia malabarica) and oriphala (Aegle marmelos, bilva or bel tree) in variable proportions are added. The mortar thus prepared by mixing the ingredients are applied to the wall in sufficient quantity to get what has been described as thickness of elephant skin. When the wall is dry it must be washed with care. Whitish lime stone fine powder is mixed with boiled rice and starch in correct proportions and applied three times to the prepared wall.

After the application of first preparatory layer (bhumi-bandhana), neutral colored, red or brown clay collected from different places (such as bank of lotus pond, side of the wall under the roof of tree or along the bank of the river etc.) is applied on the wall. For the third layer, the text says that earth from anthill (free from stone grains) should be added to the juice of Oalmali (Salmalia malabarica), kakubha (Ferninalia arjuna), triphala (myrobalan), chopped betel nuts (Areca catechu, kramukha), bilva pulp (Aegle marmelos, bel tree), horse hair, ox hair, coconut fiber, a certain quantity of rice husk, and double quantity of mud and sand in one to two ratio in respect to mud is applied on the already prepared wall. A further mixture of mud slip and marble dust, gypsum or sugar dust is applied to the mortared ground with a brush. Finally, the mixture of lime putty and wax is applied.

(C) Shilpratna

Silpratna is the southern Indian traditions of preparing paint ground with lime based materials. The text prescribes that the mixture of first layer is prepared with lime obtained from conch-shells burnt in wood fire and grounded into powder, mixed with a quarter part of mudga juice (Phaseolus mungo), a quarter parts of sand and molasses and a quarter part of paste of banana burnt in fire. After proper mixing, these are stored for three months, after which it is grounded in the form of a mortar with molasses until it has the consistency of fresh butter. In the meantime, the wall is first leveled and polished with coconut coir brush. It is then tampered with molasses water to keep it wet for at least a day. The lime mortar prepared as above slowly applied layer by layer to the wall so that the surface becomes smooth and uniform. While intanaco application is under progress water must be sprayed on to the surface using coconut coir brush. For the preparation of upper preparatory layer, powdered shells or white earth fine powder mixed with kapittha (Feronia elephantum) and nimba (Azardirachta Indica) is applied to the wall. This compound must be applied using the bark of ookooa (Trophis aspera) tree or with a brush made up with the stem of ketaki plant (Pundunus odoratissimus) plant until the wall becomes smooth and polished. The same powdered lime having been moistened with the milk of a tender coconut is again grounded and diluted with hot water and applied again to the intonaco as described above.

***

The authors conclude:

Although ancient Indian painting text were written after Ajanta, it is worthwhile to explore where what is written in the text are in consonance with the technique employed at Ajanta

Analysis of mud mortars and its composition reveals that there are no changes either in composition or technology of preparation of mud mortar and execution technique of murals at Ajanta supporting the short chronology. The investigation showed that the organic binder has invariably been used in the preparation of mud mortar of Ajanta in accordance with ancient text which might have now transformed into calcium oxalate, observed through FTIR images. The mortar is also found mixed with organic additives such as rice husk, plant fibers and seeds for re-enforcement. With minor variations, almost similar technology was used for the preparation of mud mortar and pigment layers were also found mixed with organic binder and sometimes with kaolin as per ancient text. With minor modification, the technique of painting at Ajanta remained almost identical and the pigments used are always natural mineral colors. All the pigments are of local origin except lapis lazuli which was probably imported from Persian countries through trade on silk route. The studies are of great importance in planning future conservation measures of Ajanta murals and understanding of execution technique.

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References and sources

Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara Purana by Parul Dave Mukherji

Stella Kramrisch: The Vishnudharmottara Part III:  A Treatise on Indian Painting and Image-Making; Second Revised and Enlarged Edition; (Calcutta University Press: 1928)

M. Singh and B.R. Arbad who conducted technological studies on Ajanta painted mortars,  in their research paper Ancient Indian painting recipes and mural art technique at Ajanta

 

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The Art of Painting in Ancient India – Chitrasutra (2)

[ This is the second in the series of articles I would be posting on the art of painting in ancient India with particular reference to the Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana.   This article covers certain general aspects discussed in Chitrasutra text. ]

1. The Text

1.1. The Vishnudharmottara Purana or the Vishnudharmottara (as it is usually referred to) is a supplement or an appendix to the Vishnu-purana. It is generally believed to be a later insertion into Vishnu Purana. Some say , it is affiliated to the Pancharatra Agama, associated with the Vyuha doctrine. The   part three of the Vishnudharmottara gives an account, among other things, of the then – known branches, theories, methods, practices and ideals of Indian painting. The text deals not only with its religious aspects but also, and to a far greater extent, with its secular applications. It initiates the aspirant into a world of joy and delights that only the colors, forms and representation of things — seen and unseen — can bring forth.

1.2. The Vishnudharmottara asserts that it is but a compilation ; and , is an attempt to preserve the knowledge that was hidden in older sources. Sadly, all those older texts are lost to us. Vishnudharmottara is thus the earliest exhaustive treatise available to us on the theory and practice of temple construction, painting and image making in ancient India.

[Perhaps no other Indian text on art (except  the Nätyashästra)  received as much scholarly attention from art historians as did the Chitrasütra of the Vishñudharmottara Puräna. The text of Chitrasütra was first published in 1912. And, its earliest translation into English was rendered by Stella Kramrisch (1924). She also provided explanations of its art; the interpretations of the key concepts as given in the third khanda of the Chitrasütra. Kramrisch had, in the process, also discussed, in fair detail, the artistic criteria, as also their pictorial modes and conventions.

Ananda. K.  Coomaraswamy, in 1932, took a broader perspective; and, provided the explanations on the creative processes involved in ancient Indian art, in general. He described the visualization of form of the subject, by the artist, through meditative internalization, as a sort of Yoga.  It was in this light that he explained connotations of the specific idioms employed in the theories of Indian art. And, he then interpreted their  depictions , in the light of the aesthetic and iconometric injunctions  detailed under  the six limbs (shad-anga) of traditional Indian painting , as  given in the Chitrasütrasädåsya (similarity); pramäna (proportion); rüpabhedä (differentiations or typologies of form); vvarnika-bhanga (colour differentiation); bhäva (emotional disposition);and,  lävanya yojanam (gracefulness in composition) .

The efforts of these two pioneers were carried forward by scholars, such as: Priyabala Shah (1958); C. Sivaramamurti (1978); Parul Dave Mukherji (1998); and others, who provided deeper insights,   additional explanations and interpretations.

We owe all these scholars a debt of deep gratitude.  ]

1.3. Chitrasutra is that part of the Vishnudharmottara which deals with the art of painting (citraśikhaṇḍa – Khanda III, Adhyayas 35-43).  This section , which concentrates on the theory and practice  of painting , is named after its first line of Adhyaya 35.1a  : atah param pravakshyami chitrasutram tavanagha. Its compiler described it as “the legacy of the collective wisdom of the finest minds”. 

[As regards the structure of the text :

:- Adhyaya 35 considers the mythic origin of painting and the five types of males together with their differing proportions.

:- Adhyaya 36 discusses measurements and proportions of the different parts of the body and the colours and other distinguishing features of the five male types.

:- Adhyaya 37 deals with the measurements of the five types of females, hair and eye types, and the general characteristics of a Cakravartin, the supreme ruler.

:- Adhyaya 38 gives details on auspicious marks that divine images, both sculpture and painting, should  possess.

: – Adhyaya 39 treats the different postures (sthanas) for figures.

 :- Adhyaya 40 describes how to mix paints, prepare the surface, and apply the paints.

:- Adhyaya 41, of cardinal importance, defines the four types of paintings.

:- Adhyaya 42, equally significant, prescribes the manner in which a large number of beings–royalty, priests, nature and heavenly sprites, demons, wives, courtesans, attendants of vaisnava deities, warriors, merchants, and others should be depicted.

:- And, Adhyaya 43 talks about the nine Rasas in painting, strengths and defects in painting, as well as sculpture in different materials.

In closing, III.43.37, as if to underscore the unity and interdependence of the arts, states that whatever has been left unsaid about painting can be understood from the section on dance, and what is not given there can be supplied from painting.]

Shankardevi-durga-3

Explaining why he took up the compilation; Sage Markandeya said , he was prompted by his concern for the future generations; for their enlightenment, delight and quality of life .

He said it was his firm belief that paintings are the greatest treasures of mankind as they have the aura and power to beneficially influence the minds and lives of the viewers.

1.4. In that context Chitrasutra makes some amazing statements:

*. Great paintings are a balm on the troubled brow of mankind.

*.Of all arts, the best is chitra. It is conducive to attainments in life such as dharma-artha -kama ;  and has the virtue to liberate (emancipate) an individual from his limited confines

Kalanam Pratamam Citrm;  Dharma-Artha- Kama- Mokshadam/ Manglya Pradam Dotad gruhe yatra Pratishtitm

*. Wherever it is established- in home or elsewhere- a painting is harbinger of auspiciousness.

*. Art is the greatest treasure of mankind, far more valuable than gold or jewels.

*. The purpose of art is to show one the grace that underlies all of creation, to help one on the path towards reintegration with that which pervades the universe.

*. A painting cleanses and curbs anxiety, augments future good, causes unequaled and pure delight; banishes the evils of bad dreams and pleases the household -deity. The place decorated by a picture never looks dull or empty.

1.5. The Vishnudharmottara is dated around sixth century AD, following the age of the Guptas, often described as the Golden Age of Indian Arts. It is perhaps the world’s oldest known treatise on art. However, not much is known of its author, as is the case with most Indian texts .

Vishnudharmottara follows the traditional pattern of exploring the various dimensions of a subject through conversations (Samvada) that take place between a learned Master and an ardent seeker eager to learn and understand. Chitrasutra too employs the pretext of a conversation between the sage Markandeya and king Vajra who seeks knowledge about image making (shilpa).

2. Concepts

2.1. The Chitrasutra commences with a request by king Vajra to sage Markandeya seeking knowledge about image-making.

King Vajra questions “How could one make a representation , in painting or image , of   a Supreme being who is devoid of form , smell and emotion ; and destitute of sound and touch?”.

Sage Markandeya explains ”The entire universe should be understood as the modification (vikriti) of the formless (prakriti) . The worship and meditation of the supreme is possible for an ordinary being only  when the formless is endowed with a form; and, when that form is full of significance. The best worship of the Supreme is, of course, contemplation of the formless with eyes closed and all senses subdued  in meditation.”

2.2. With that, the life in its entirety becomes a source of inspiration for artistic expressions. In another passage, Chitrasutra cites the nature that envelops the artist as the source of his inspiration. The text, therefore, mentions that, as in dance so in painting, there has to be a close relation with the world around us; and, reflection of it in as charming a manner as possible

2.3. And, as regards the skill required to express those emotions in a visible form, the text suggests that painter should take the aid of Natya, because an understanding of Natya is essential for a good painter.

Yatha nritte , tatha chitre  trailokya-anukritis smrita / drishtayas cha tatha bhava angopangani sarvasah / karas cha ye maya nritte purvokta nripasattama / ta eva chitre vijneya nrittam chitram param matam // 3.35.5-7 //

The sage then instructs that without the knowledge of music, one cannot understand Natya. And, without the knowledge of Natya , one can scarcely understand the technique of painting. — “He who does not know properly the rules of Chitra (painting)”, declares the sage , “can scarcely discern the essentials of the images (Shilpa)”.

The same teaching is put in another way too.

One who does not know the laws of painting (Chitra) can never understand the laws of image-making (Shilpa); and, it is difficult to understand the laws of painting (Chitra) without any knowledge of the technique of dancing (Nrtya); and, that, in turn, is difficult to understand without a thorough knowledge of the laws of instrumental music (vadya). But, the laws of instrumental music cannot be learnt without a deep knowledge of the art of vocal music (gana).

All these , mean to say that  the arts of  Music -> Dance -> painting -> sculpture are inter related; and, that Music is at the base of all such fine-arts.

3. Chitra and Natya

3.1. That does not mean, the positions of the dancers have to be copied on murals or scrolls. What it meant was that the rhythm, fluidity and grace of the Natya have to be transported to painting . The Chitrasutra says “it (Natya) guides the hand of the artist, who knows how to paint figures, as if breathing, as if  the wind as blowing, as if  the fire as blazing, and,  as if the streamers as fluttering. The moving force, the vital breath, the life-movement (chetana)  are to be explicit in order to make the painting come  alive with rhythm and force of expression . The imagination, observation and the expressive force of rhythm are the essential features of painting”.

[ The Visnudharmottara Purana deals with dance, in its third segment –  chapters twenty to thirty-four. The following is an extract from The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition (1989) by Dr. Mandakranta Bose, Somerville College.

In chapter twenty (the first chapter of the section) , the author follows the Natyasastra in describing the abstract dance form, nrtta; and, in defining its function as one of beautifying a dramatic presentation.

The chapter twenty deals with the appropriate places for the performance of each category, discussing aspects of the stage and the presentation of the preliminaries. The discussion includes the characteristics of actors, the four different types of abhinayas, namely – angika, vacika, sattvika and aharya, and the names of all the complicated movements necessary for the composition of a dance sequence. In addition, the author briefly touches upon the pindibandhas or group dances mentioned by Bharata and goes on to describe vrtti, pravrtti and siddh; that is – the style, the means of application and the nature of competence.

The twenty-first chapter discusses sthanas or postures while lying down, while the twenty-second deals with the sthanas assumed while sitting. The focus of these two chapters seems to be on dramatic presentation.

The twentythird chapter is devoted to postures meant for both men and women.

The twenty-fourth chapter lists the movements of the major limbs, the angas, along with the meaning attached to each of them. The major limbs, according to this text, are the head, the neck, the chest, the sides, the waist, the thighs, the shanks and the feet. In conclusion, the chapter defines the cari and the karana, the two vital and complicated movements required in dancing.

In the twenty-fifth chapter, the movements of the upangas or minor limbs are discussed, including the glances that express rasa and sthayi and vyabhicaribhavas, the movements of the pupils, eyebrows, nose, tongue and lips as well as the application of these movements.

The twenty-sixth chapter describes three types of hand-gestures, those made with one hand, those made with both-along with the meanings they can convey-and hand-gestures meant for dancing, which convey no meaning.

The twenty-seventh chapter is devoted to the explanation of different kinds of abhinaya and the costumes and decorations necessary for a performance.

The twenty-eighth chapter deals with samanyabhinaya, giving general directions for expressing different moods and responses to seeing, touching and smelling objects. Although the author designates this chapter as a discussion of samanyabhinaya, he includes citrabhinaya, that is, special presentations. In fact, this chapter is a conflation of the contents of chapters twenty-two and twenty-five of the Natyasastra and contains extensive quotations from it.

The twenty-ninth chapter describes the gatis, that is, gaits, the thirtieth discusses the nine rasas and the thirty-first the bhavas.

A new feature of the treatment of body movements that is added to the discussion of body movements appears in the thirty-second chapter, which deals with what is termed rahasyamudras, that is, hand-gestures meant for mystical and ritualistic purposes.

Continuing the discussion in the thirty-third chapter, the author lists more mudras, all meant for religious purposes, and calls them mudrahastas, and associates them with hymns to the gods and goddesses.

The thirty-fourth and final chapter on dancing is devoted to the legend of the origin of dancing. Since the work is devoted to the worship of Vishnu, it is not surprising that its author should view Vishnu as the originator  of the art of dancing]

*

The Chitrasutra recognized the value and the significance of the spatial perspective.

*.“He who paints rolling waves, darting flames, smokey streaks; fluttering banners and Apsaras floating in the sky , indicating the direction and movement of the wind, should be considered a great painter”

Taranga- Agnisikha- Dhuman ; Vijayantya -Apsara -adhikam vayu-gatya likhed yas tu vijneyas sat u chitrakrit // 3.43.28

*.“He who knows how to show the difference between a sleeping , an unconscious and a dead man ; or who can portray the visual gradations of a highland and a low land is a great artist “

Suptam cha chetanayuktam , mritam , Chaitanya-varjitam / nimnonnata-avibhagam cha yah karoti sa chitravit // 3.43.29

3.2. The Shilpa (sculpture) and Chitra (painting) are closely related to Natya (dance) in other ways  too. The rules of the iconography (prathima lakshana appear to have been derived from the Natya-shastra. The Indian sculptures are often the frozen versions or representations of the gestures and poses of dance (caaris and karanas) described in Natya-shastra. The Shilpa and chitra (just as the Natya) are based on a system of medians (sutras), measures (maanas), postures of symmetry (bhangas)   and asymmetry (abhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga); and on the sthanas (positions of standing, sitting, and reclining). The concept of perfect symmetry is present in Shilpa and chitra as in Nrittya; and that is indicated by the term Sama.

3.3. The Natya and Shilpa shastras developed a remarkable approach to the structure of the human body; and delineated the relation between its central point ( Nabhi, the navel), the verticals and horizontals. It then coordinated them, first with the positions and movements of the principal joints of neck, pelvis, knees and ankles; and, then with the emotive states, the expressions. Based on these principles, Natya-shastra enumerated many standing and sitting positions. These, demonstrated the principles of stasis, balance, repose and perfect symmetry; And, they are of fundamental importance in Indian arts, say, dance, drama, painting or sculpture.

3.4. Another aspect of the issue is that painting as a two-dimensional form, can communicate and articulate space, distance, time and the more complex ideas in way that is easier than in sculpture. That is because , the inconvenient realities of the three dimensional existence restrict the fluidity and eloquence of the sculpture.

The argument here is , making a sculpture is infinitely harder than making a painting.

According to that; it is almost not possible to depict, directly,   in a sculptural panel the time of the day or night – darkness, evening, twilight or bright light etc.. That difficulty also applies to depiction of colours (colour, in fact, is not a medium directly compatible with sculpting). And, it is also not easy to bring out the differences between a dead body and a sleeping person, particularly if the two are placed side by side.  The sculptor – artist (shilpi) will have to resort to some other clever suggestions to bring out the differences. That depends on the ingenuity of the artist

4. Painting in ancient society

4.1. According to Chitrasutra, all works of art including paintings played an important role in the life of its society. The text mentions about the presence of paintings as permanent or temporary decorations on the walls of private houses, palaces and of public places. Apart from wall paintings, the floors of the rich homes and palaces were decorated with attractive patterns and designs inlaid with precious stones.

4.2. Paintings had relevance in the private lives too.The  polite education of a Nagarika  the educated urbane man of town included knowledge and skill of several arts in addition to erudition in literature, rhetoric, grammar, philosophy and allied subjects. Painting was rated high among these Vaiharika-silpas or vinoda-sthanas seats of pleasure or hobbies or arts for one’s own pleasure, enjoyment and amusement (gītaṃ,vādyaṃ, nṛtyaṃ, ālekhyaṃ, viśeṣakacchedyaṃ, KS.1.3.15 ). The gentleman   of leisure and culture , painted for pleasure or in earnestness; but, of course, not for earning a living. Such persons, therefore, considered Alekhya, the art of painting as Vinodasthana – a pleasant diversion from other gnawing concerns and thoughts – Ardhalikitam idam Vinodasthanam asmabhihi .

[Sometimes, a gentleman of leisure who had learnt the art as a leisure pastime  had to use it to earn a livelihood when bad days had fallen upon him . The Samvahaka in Mrichchakatika was one such hapless character who bemoans his lot  forced to earn a living  by practicing an art (kaleti sikshita jivikaya samvritta )… It was therefore said that , in any event, it is safer to learn some art , as it might come in handy in your lean days – who knows…!!! ]

Vatsayana  as also Syamalika , describes the tasteful set up and arrangement in the room of a typical urban gentleman of pleasure who evinces interest in literature, dance, music and painting. The articles  in his room  would include  a vina   hanging from a peg on the wall (naaga-danta vasakta vina);   a painting board (chitra palakam) ; a box-full of colors and brushes (vatika tulika samgraha) ; a cup for holding liquid colors  (meant for painting) casually kept on the window sill (alekhya-varnaka-paatram) ; and, books of verses (kurantaka maala).

nāga-dantāvasaktā vīṇā. citra-phalakam. vartikāsamudgakaḥ. yaḥ kaś cit pustakaḥ. kuraṇṭaka-mālāś caKamasutra 1.4.4 

Tatoham aasannam alekhya -varnaka-paatram  gavakshad aksipya.. Padataditaka of Shyamalika  , a monologue play

The courtesans too were proficient in fine arts such as music, dance, painting poetry as also in body-care techniques. Damodaragupta mentions that a courtesan evinced keen interest in enhancing her array of skills; and, she devoted much time and effort to excel in painting and other fine-arts , to add to her other accomplishments – alekhyadau vyasanam vaidagdhya-akhyataye na tu vinodaya  (Kuttanimala)

Even a calculating courtesan would madly fall in love with a talented painter, though impoverished. Somadeva’s Katha-sarit-sagara narrates number of delightful stories of such young and impetuous courtesans, bordering on recklessness. .

Syamilaka , in his Bana play Padataditaka , provides the instance of Kusumavatika, a courtesan who passionately fell in love (mahan madanon-madah) with a Chitracharya (master painter) Sivasvamin. She was drawn to him mainly by his excellence in his art , though he was utterly poor.

Janita evasmatsvami yathasmatsakhya kusumavatikayah chitracharyam sivasvaminam prati mahan madanonmadah iti- Padataditaka

There were also Shilpini-s the court maidens in the service of the princesses. These talented Shilpini-s were well trained (prauda) painters who excelled in delicate drawing of portraits (viddha-chitra); and, they were often commissioned with the task of carrying the portraits they had drawn of their princess to distant courts to show them to the eligible princes for seeking alliance in marriage. And, sometimes such portraits – of princes and princesses –  were sent round several Royal Courts in search of  suitable alliances . The katha-sarit-sagara carries numerous such tales.

design33

It is said; Nagarakas (city dwellers), connoisseurs of art, accomplished courtesans, painters, and sculptors among others studied standard texts on painting. Such widespread studies naturally brought forth principles of art criticisms as in alankara-sastra.

For the gentlemen of leisure , fine arts like music , dance painting and sculpture were the source of ones’s own pleasure and amusement (vaiharika-silpa or vinodasthana). But , there were several professionals  who practiced these arts and art-forms  as a craft, the main stay of their life.

Kautilya deems it a responsibility of the state to support all such art-masters that spread knowledge among youngsters.

The play Malavikagnimitra mentions that Chitracharyas who combined the theory of the art with proficiency in dance performance were respected  and treated on par with Natyacharyas  in the kings court.

The art of  painting – chitra kala– was recognized as an essential part of the curriculum in the upbringing of children of “good families”.

Education in fine arts like music, dance and painting was considered essential for unmarried maidens of affluent families. The ancient stories are replete with instances of young lovers exchanging paintings as loving gifts.

4.3. While on the subject , I may mention that Chitrasutra  regards the Alekhyas or paintings as mangalya-lekhyas – auspicious in homes; and , it  observes:  the pictures which decorate the homes (including the residential quarters of the king- rajnaam vasagriheshu) should display sringara, hasya and shantha rasa. Only such paintings that depict moods of laughter, fun, playfulness, love and peace should be seen at homes. They should exude joy, peace and happiness; and, should brighten up the homes and lives of its residents.

The pictures that depict  horror; and ,  the ones that evoke fear, rage, disgust , sorrow  and cruelty ; as also those that show battle scenes, death, cremation / burial grounds, heart rendering episodes, wretchedness, glorifying evil and base motives, inauspicious themes etc., should be forbidden and should  never be displayed at homes where children dwell.

Further, the text mentions that the pictures which show a bull with its horns immersed in the sea; men with ugly features or those fighting or inflicted with sorrow due to death or injury; as also the pictures of war, burning grounds as being inauspicious and not suitable for display at homes.

But, the text says, the pictures of all types of depictions and Rasas could be displayed at court-halls, public halls,  galleries and temples.

[ Sringara, hasya, shantakhya lekhaniya griheshu te // parasesha na kartavya kadachid api kasyachit / devavesmani kartavya rasas sarve nripalaye / rajavesmani no karya rajnaam vasagriheshu te , sabhave’smasu kartavya rajnam sarvarasa grihe, varjayitva sabham rajno devavesma tathiva cha / yuddha-smashana-karuna-mrita-dukkha-aarthakutsitan / amangalyamscha na likhet kadachid api vesmasu // ]

photo16Gopalas returning Home

4.4. Icons were generally classified into four categories:

(1) as those painted on the wall, canvass, paper, wall or pot (chitraja) ;

(2) as those molded in clay or any other material like sandal paste or rice flour (lepeja, mrinmayi, or paishti);

(3) as those cast in metal (pakaja, lohaja, dhatuja); and,

(4) as those  carved in stone, wood or precious stones (sastrotkirana, sailaja, daaravi or rathnaja).

Early icons were made in clay or carved wood; and such images were painted over.

[ As regards the images made of clay, sand or lacquer etc., the Sukraniti-sara says : Images that are drawn or painted, or made of sand, clay or paste — it is no offence if such images fail to conform to the prescribed rules. For , these are intended only  for temporary use; and, are usually thrown away, afterwards, as these are generally made for mere  amusement. They need not always strictly adhere to the conventions prescribed by the Shastras.

Lekhya lepya saikati cha mrinmayi paishtiki tatha, Eteshani laksliana-bhave na kaischit dosha iritah ]

Hallow figures (sushira) of gods, demons, Yakshas, horses, elephants, etc., were placed on the verandas of houses , on the stages and in public squares etc., as pieces of decoration . Such hallow images were usually made of clay, cloth, wood or leather .

Paintings were classified  as those drawn on the ground – like Rangoli, floor decorations etc (bhumika); those on the wall-like murals and frescoes (bhitthi); and,  portrait (bhava chitra).The first two were fixed (achala); and, the third was portable

4.5. The Patas (poster or banner like paintings) were commonly displayed in public squares. It is mentioned, such paintings were employed as a means and as a method of communicating with the town’s people. The messages displayed picturesquely on the Patas could be understood by all – lettered and unlettered alike.

The art, thus, entertained , educated and enlivened common people.

5. Art Appreciation

5.1. As regards the deities depicted in art, it is explained; in the Indian tradition a deity is a Bimba the reflection or Prathima , the image of god; but , not the god itself. Bimba is reflection, like the reflection of the distant moon in a tranquil pool. That reflection is not the moon ; but, it is a suggestion (prathima) of the moon. In other words, a deity is a personification of a sublime  idea, a conception or his/her mental image of god, translated to a form in lines, color, stone, metal , wood or whatever .

The Chitrasutra says, those qualities that we admire in a divine being are within us. And,  when we respond to those images brought to us in art, we awaken those finer aspects that are latent in us. When we are filled by that grace, there is no space left for base desires and pain; we have become that deity.

5.2. When we view sunrise or a great work of art, Chitrasutra says, we experience the joy brought to us by its sublime beauty (ananda , ahlada), as we let dissolve our identities and attachments; and, become one with the object of beauty. It is a moment that bestows on us the grace that underlies the whole creation. Art, it said, is a liberating experience.

[ Dr. Harsha V. Dehejia  in his The Advaita of Art writes :

The concept of Artha also appears in the theories of Art-appreciation. There, the understanding of art is said to be through two distinctive processes – Sakshartha, the direct visual appreciation of the art-work; and, Paroksharta, delving into its inner or hidden meaning. The one concerns the appreciation of the appealing form (rupa) of the art object (vastu); and, the other, the enjoyment of the emotion or the essence (rasa) of its aesthetic principle (guna vishesha). Artha, in the context of art, is, thus, essentially the objective and property of art-work; as also the proper, deep subjective aesthetic art-experience.

In the traditions of Indian art, the artist uses artistic forms and techniques to embody an idea, a vision; and, it is the cultured, understanding viewer (sah-hrudaya), aesthete (rasika) that partakes that vision.

It is said; an art-object for a connoisseur is not only a source of beauty; but is also an invitation to explore and enjoy the reason (Artha) of that beauty. Thus, Artha is the dynamic process of art-experience that bridges the art-object and the connoisseur.

A work of art  is not a mere inert object; but, it is so rich in meaning (Artha) that  it is capable of evoking manifold emotions and transforming the aesthete.]

shivapancamukha

6. Elements of painting

6.1. While discussing the elements of a painting, the Chitrasutra says “ The masters praise the rekha‘s –lines (delineation and articulation of form); the connoisseurs praise the display of light and shade; women like the display of ornaments; and , the richness of colors appeals  to common folks. The artists, therefore, should take great care to ensure that the painting is appreciated by everyone”.

Rekham prasamsaniya-acharya; vartanam apare jaguh / striyo Bhushanam ichchhanti;  varnadhyam itare janah // 3.41.11

Talking about lines, Chitrasutra favors graceful, steady, smooth and free flowing lines; but not the crooked and uneven lines. It was said; while the free flowing, continuous, smooth and graceful line are soothing to the eyes (Rekha-nivesotra yad ekadharah), the broken lines offend the eyes. A good painting must be graceful, free of crooked lines.

idam cha paurandram avaimi karma Rekha-nivesstra yad eka-dharah // karma parinata-rekha mamsalair anga-bhangair laghur api likhiteyam drisyate purna-murtih 

The text appears to hold the view; while delineation, shading, ornamentation and coloring are the decorative aspects (visual) of a painting, the rekha, the lines that articulate the forms are its real substance.

Its Masters valued the effects best captured by least number of lines. Simplicity of expression symbolized the maturity of the artist. The artist and the art critics appreciated the best effect in a picture captured by a minimum number of lines composing the figure. In the Viddhasalabhanjika , there occurs a remark of the vidushaka  (court jester) that the painting looks complete with even a minimum of drawing : api laghu likhiteyam drisyate purnamurtih

Incidentally, the main characteristics of the Ajanta paintings are the use of free flowing lines for delineating beautiful figures and their delicate inner feelings; together with use of shading different parts of the body to produce three dimensional effects in the images. The other was the use of proper colors at times contrasting and at times matching to create magical effects. These were precisely the principles that Chitrasutra emphasized.

6.2. The text says  in another context, when a learned and skilled artist paints with golden color, with articulate and yet very soft lines with distinct and well arranged garments; and graced with beauty, proportion , rhythm and inspiration, then the painting would truly be beautiful.

6.3. The elements that contribute to help a picture to attract  a spectator are merits like delicacy  of line , sweetness of execution , symmetry , likeness to the original , foreshortening , suitable background , spirited and life-like deportment of the figure and so forth .

And, as regards the  defects that  repel the viewer , they are generally : coarseness of line work , weak and vague drawing , lack of symmetry , color-muddling , inappropriate pose, lack of emotion, vacant look in the figure , smudgy execution, life-less portrayal , disproportionate limbs , disheveled hair and so on

Durbalyam, sthula rekhatvam , avibhaktatvam  eva cha / varnanam sankaras, chatra chitradoshah , prakirtitah / sthanam pramanam bhulambho madhuratvam vibhaktata / sadrisyam kshayavriddhi cha gunastakam idam smritam / sthanahinam gatarasam sunya drishtimalimasam / chetanarahityam yat syat tad astakam prakirtitam // lasativa cha bhulambo slishyativa tata nripa / hasativa cha madhuryam sajiva iva drisyate//sasvasa iva yachchitram tachchitram subhalakshanam/ hinangamalinam sunyam baddha-vyadhibhayakulaih // vrittam prakirnakesaischa sumangalyair vivarjitam / pratitam cha likhed dhiman napratitam kathanchana // 3.43.17-23

6.4.  The renowned scholar Sri C. Sivaramamurti , quoting another Shilpa text Upamiti-bhava prapancha-katha  mentions : For a critical appraisal of a picture  of excellent drawing composed of fine lines, the brush strokes of which are almost imperceptible under a delicate coat of bright color , it is essential to project an excellent treatment of an illusion of relief on a flat surface , technically styled chiaroscuro , appropriate ornamentation , systematical representation of limbs composing an ideal body , a proper shading of the figures by a mode of stippling and a proper  representation of emotion in the heart by an expression of it in the eyes , are all essential factors that go to make a good picture.

Tatas samarpito bandhulayasam dviputasamvartitas chitrapatah , pravighatya cha nirupito harikumarena /  yavad drishtam alikhitam ekapute suvibhakto ujjvalena varnakramena nimnonnata avibhagena samuchhitena bhushanakalaapena suvibhaktha avayava archanayati vilakshanaya bindu vartinya abhinava Sneha rasotsukatyaya parasparam harshotphulla-abaddha-dristikam samruddha-prema-ati bhanduraikataya-alanghita-chittanivesam vidyadharam -mithunakam iti , //  Upamiti-bhava prapancha-katha

These qualities, while composing a picture, essentially, stress the importance of the virtues of the purity of line-work; arrangement of ornamentation; appropriate manipulation of color; and, clarity in the expression of emotions. It is said; the emotion is the most significant aspect of a painting, the true depiction of which sets apart a Master from the rest

Abhihitam anena aho ranjitoham anena chitrarara-kaushalena , tatha – atra suvishuddha rekha . saghatadi bhushanani , uchitkrama varnavichchhittih pari-sphuto bhava-atishayah – iti / dushkaram cha chitre bhava-aradhanam / tad eva chabhimatam ati-vidagdhanam / tasya chaatra prakashah paripusto drishyate // Upamiti-bhava prapancha-katha 

The master-stroke of the painter, which makes great art distinctive; and which, independent of color and line, adds vitality to the picture is praised by scholars and connoisseurs

6.5. It is said; a great painter tries to represent the ideal. As for the faults that meet his eyes, he ignores them and presents only the good things in life.  Thus, it is in his power to better  the world we live in  , at least in his picture.

Whatever that is not beautiful can be made  to look different in painting ( yad yat sadhu na chitre tat tad anyata syat kriyate )

shivaparvathi

The Guna (merits) and the Dosha (blemishes), the proper portrayal of Rasas, emotions, suggestive imports, styles of execution are all elaborated in  the Chitrasutra, the standard text on the principles of painting in ancient India.

The text at various places airs its clear opinions on what it considers auspicious (good) and “bad “pictures. To put some of these in a summary form :

*.Sweetness, variety, spaciousness of the background (bhulamba) that is proportionate to the position (sthana) of the figure, resemblance to what is seen in nature and minute and delicate execution are the good aspects of a chitra.

*.A painting drawn with care pleasing to the eye, thought out with great intelligence and ingenuity and remarkable by its execution, beauty and charm and refined taste and such other qualities yield great joy and delight.

*.Chitrasutra mentions: proper position, proportion and spacing; gracefulness and articulation; resemblances; increasing or decreasing (foreshortening) as the eight good qualities of a painting.

*.A picture in which all aspects are drawn in acceptable forms in their proper positions, in proper time is excellent.

*.A painting without proper position, devoid of appropriate rasa, blank look, hazy with darkness and devoid of life movements or energy (chetana) is inauspicious.

*.Weakness or thickness of delineation, want of articulation, improper juxtaposition of colors are said to be defects of painting.

*. In a picture one should carefully avoid placing one figure in front of another.

*.A painter who does not know how to show the difference between a sleeping and a dead man or who cannot portray the visual gradations of a highland and a low land is no artist at all.

*. A picture shaded only in some parts and other parts remaining un-shaded is bad (adhama)

*. Representation of human figures with too thick lips, too big eyes and testicles and unrestrained movement are defects.

sharing bhang

[There was even a down-to-earth or rather a harsh discussion on what is ‘good’ and what is ‘beauty’ in a painting.

Nilakanta Dikshita (Ca. 16th-17th century) , known for his wit and quick repartee , in his Vairagya-shataka poses a mute question: ‘What is beauty?’.

And, he replies;  there cannot be a single definitive answer to that question; as it differs from person to person. And, at times, what one appreciates and adores as ‘beautiful’, the others might find it utterly ridiculous. 

At the end, the question remains unresolved.:

‘A dog delights in the curl of the bitch’s tail; the pig finds joy in the rotund belly of the sow; the monkey jumps with glee and great excitement at the sight of his mate’s toothy chuckle; a donkey can hardly restrain itself when drawn by the loud bray of his sweetheart; and, a human male goes agog bursting into song and dance at sight of lumps of flesh on a woman’s chest.

What is called ‘beauty’ is not in the thing; but, is in the feeling that it evokes. Each one rushes after his own sense of beauty – Loko bhinna ruchihi.

[ Svanah pucchanchala-kutilatam; sukurah kukshiposham ; kisa danta-prakatana-vidhim; gardhabha ruksha gosham. . ! ; martyah vakshassvaya -thum api cha strishu dristva  ramante tat saundaryam kim iti phalitam tattadajnanato anyat ..]

There are varied sorts of people who inhabit the earth. Among them are countless who are devoid of education, not to talk of aesthetic sensibilities, who are incapable of appreciating art. Only a few, cultured connoisseurs (sah-hrudaya, rasika) freed from prejudices are blessed with the gift of true art appreciation.

The artists , in general, intensely desire their work to be appreciated.  In their such anxiety, some eagerly offer their creation or handiwork (hastochchyam) to the view of royal connoisseurs  and wealthy patrons with deep humility. But, sadly , mere wealth does not guarantee true appreciation of art.

And, at the same time, the painter too has his own favorite among his creations. Thus, there is a wide range even among art-lovers.

*

Further, the concept of what is beautiful, what is appealing and what is appropriate , also depends on each viewer’s taste; rooted in her/his cultural and intellectual background.

Rudrabhatta, in his Srngaratilaka (3), describes a scene where a group of forest-dwelling hunters, along with their women folk , stray into an abandoned palace, whose king had fled following his defeat. As the hunter-folk wander through the deserted rooms in the building, they come upon murals painted on its walls.

As they gaze at the paintings, they are surprised, amused ; and, break into uncontrollable laughter. Each points out to the other in the group, the details in the painting; and, criticize the dim-witted painters. The women poke fun, ridicule and laugh heartily at the paintings, till their eyes are wet  with tears .

“ I wonder , how could this dumb wit show pearl-strands as jewels on the breasts of these good-looking women, instead of adorning them with Gunja beads; and, why did he put such heavy lotus flowers on their delicate ears, instead of light and colorful  peacock feathers. Strange are the ways of men ….!!!”

tyaktvā guñjaphalāni mauktikamayī bhūṣā staneṣv āhitā strīṇāṃ kaṣṭam idaṃ kṛtaṃ sarasijaṃ karṇe na barhicchadam / itthaṃ nātha tavāridhāmni śavarair ālokya citrasthitiṃ bāspārdrīkṛtalocanaiḥ  sphuṭaravaṃ dāraiḥ samaṃ hasyate // ST_3.3b // ]

matangi

6.6. Chitrasutra cautions against  inconvenient painting stance or a bad seat;  sloppiness and bad temper ; thirst and absentmindedness – as such distractions might affect the quality of the painting.

Durasanam , duranitam , pipasa cha anyachittata / ete chitra-vinasanasya hetavah parikritah / – 3.48.13

6.7. Vishnudharmottara regards art creation  (Chitra-yoga) almost as worship of the divine. It asks the artist to approach his task with reverence. While preparing to paint the deities, it advises the artist to be restrained; wear proper apparel; offer salutations to his Guru, to his elders;  to contemplate on their Dhyana-slokas; sit, facing East, in a serene attitude of peace and joy in his heart; and, commence his task with diligence and great devotion.

Chitra-yoga viseshena svetavasa yatatmavan / brahmanam pujayitva tu svati vachya pranamya cha / pramukho devata-adhyayi chitra-karma samacharet – 3.40;11.13

6.8. Chitrasutra also mentions six limbs (Anga) of painting as:

  1. rupa-bheda (variety of form);
  2. pramana (proportion);
  3. Bhava (infusion of emotions);
  4. lavanya-yojanam (creation of luster and having rainbow colors that appear to move and change as the angle at which they are seen change);
  5. Sadrushya (portrayal of likeness); and
  6. varnika-bhanga (color mixing and brushwork to produce the desired effect)

Roopabhedah pramanani bhava-lavanya-yojanam | Sadrishyam varnakabhangam iti chitram shadakam ||

**

(i). Rupa-bheda consists in the knowledge of special characteristics of things – natural or man-made. Say, the differences in appearances among many types of men , women or natural objects or other subject matter of the painting.

(ii). Pramana: correct spatial perception of the objects painted and maintaining a sense of harmony, balance and a sense of proportion within the figure and also in its relation to other figures; and to the painting as a whole. The sense of proportion also extended to the way major figures are depicted by placing at the center and surrounding them with lesser figures in smaller size symbolizing their status Vis a Vis the main figure. The Indian artists were guided more by the proportions than by absolute measurements. The proportions were often symbolic and suggestive.

(iii). Bhava: consists in drawing out the inner world of the subject; to help it express its inner feelings. It takes a combination of many factors to articulate the Bhava of a painting; say , through eyes, facial expression, stance , gestures by hands and limbs, surrounding nature, animals , birds and other human figures. Even the rocks, water places and plants (dead or dying or blooming or laden) are employed to bring out the Bhava. In narrative paintings, the depiction of dramatic effects and reactions of the characters from frame to frame demands special skill.

Since colour is a major medium in painting, the emotions and moods are expressed through manipulating colours, their density, tones, lines, light, shades etc. The ingenuity, imagination and skill of the artist discover their limitations here..

(iv). Lavanya –yojanam: Creation of grace, beauty, charm, tenderness and illuminating the painting and the hearts of the viewer. It aims to uplift and brighten the mood of the figures, the viewers and the surroundings.

(v). Sadrushya: Achieving credible resemblance to objects of the world around and to the persons. The resemblances are not mere general but extend to details too. And ,

(vi). Varnika-bhanga : Artistic manner of improvising color combinations, tones and shades. It also involves delicate and skillful use of brushes and other aids. It represents the maturity of the artist’s techniques and fruitfulness of his experience.

Auchitya, the most appropriate expression of a theme, as either in poetry or in art, is a very relevant aspect of any creative activity. The painters took special care to adhere to the basic principles of that factor. It was said; a thing in its right place is beautiful; and, in a wrong place, it is just ugly. A piece of precious diamond that has fallen into one’s eye is nothing but a speck of dust that has to be hurriedly removed, with due care.

The merit of a painting is enhanced or diminished by arrangement of figures and the background in a picture appropriately; avoiding ill-advised depictions.

7. Types of presentations

7.1. The first requisite for a painting is bhu-labha or bhu-lambha the preparation of a proper, smooth, white surface to paint. It could be a canvas (pata), board (phalaka) or a wall (bhitti).

The paintings were executed on various surfaces: wall paintings (bitthi), pictures on board (phalaka), on canvas (pata), on scrolls (dussa-pata) and on palm leaf- manuscripts (patra). The last mentioned, i.e. the scrolls were often in the shape of lengthy rolls facilitating continuous representations. The Chitrasutra instructed that the surface chosen should suit the purpose of the proposed painting; and, in any case, it should be smooth and well coated (anointed). That would help achieve a better presentation of the painting.

7.2. As regards the shapes of the boards and scrolls, Chitrasutra mentions four types: sathya – realistic pictures in oblong frames; vainika – lyrical or imaginative pictures in square frames; naagara -pictures of citizens in round frames; and misra –  mixed types.

Sage Markandeya says (41.1-5): Painting is said to be of four kinds: (1) true to life (Satya);  (2) of the lute player (Vainika); (3) of the city  or  of common man (Nagara) ; and,  (4) mixed (Misra). I am now, going to speak about their characteristics.

satyam ca Vainikam caiva nagaram misram eva ca / citram caturvidham proktam tasya vaksyami lakshanam//41.1//

:- a painting which bears resemblance (Sadrishya) to the things on earth with their proper proportions in terms of their height, their volume (gatra), appearance etc., is the “true to life or naturalistic” (sathya) category of painting. The resemblance should not be mere general; but, it should extend to details, such as all parts of the tree, creeper, mountains or the animals.[ Dr. Sivaramamurti interprets Satya as : “portraying some object of the world that it intends to represent.”]

:- a painting that is rich in details, in display of postures and maintaining strict proportions; and when placed in a well finished square format   is called Vainika. It obviously is the delight of the connoisseurs. [In certain editions , the term daisikam is inserted in place of Vainikam, to suggest  resembling (sadrsya) provincial or local  characteristics.]

 :-  the Nagara which depicts common folks,  is round , with well developed limbs , with scanty garlands and ornaments. ( It could also mean urban, in contrast to daisikam

:- and, Oh ! The best of men, the Misra derives its name from being composed of the other three categories.

The text again cautions that an artist should not aim to copy.  He may depict the resemblance but, more importantly, he should aim to bring out the essence or the soul of the object.

7.3. The concern of the artist should not be to just faithfully reproduce the forms around him. The Chitrasutra was referring to what is now termed as the “photographic reproduction”. It suggested; the artist should try to look beyond the tangible world, the beauty of form that meets the eye. He should lift that veil and look within. The Chitrasutra suggested to him to look beyond “The phenomenal world of separated beings and objects that blind the reality beyond”.

elepphant carriage

Next:

 Chitrasutra continued

 

Sources and References:

Greatfully acknowledge  Shri S Rajam’s sublime paintings

Citrasutra of the Visnudharmottara Purana by Parul Dave Mukherji

Stella Kramrisch: The Vishnudharmottara Part III: A Treatise On Indian Painting And Image-Making. Second Revised and Enlarged Edition ; (Calcutta University Press: 1928)

https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/dspace/bitstream/1887/2668/1/299_022.pdf

Technique of painting prescribed in ancient Indian Texts

The Painter in Ancient India by  Dr. C. Sivaramamurti

The Theory of Indian Painting: the Citrasutras, their Uses and Interpretations by Isabella Nardi

I gratefully acknowledge the illustrations of Shri S Rajam

Other images are from internet

 

 
 

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The Art of Painting in Ancient India – Chitrasutra (1)

 

[I propose to post a series of articles on the art of painting in ancient India with particular reference to the Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana, a text dated about Sixth Century AD.

The current article, by way of introduction, talks about certain concepts concerning the art of painting in ancient India. It also briefly mentions the influence of Chitrasutra on the paintings of Ajanta.

The next set of articles will discuss, briefly, the text of the Chitrasutra.

The articles to follow thereafter will try to cover different aspects of Indian painting such as the preparation of the surface for painting the murals; the costumes of various persons; and more importantly the proportions (tala-mana) to be observed while drawing various figures etc.

I propose to round up with a note about the legacy of Chitrasutra-Ajanta tradition.]

1.1. Indian art has a very long and an illustrious history. Painting as an art form has flourished in India from very early periods as is evident from various epics and other literary sources; and also from the remnants that have somehow survived the test of time, vagaries of nature and vandalism- wanton or otherwise – caused by humans.

1.2. The main characteristic of Indian art has been its remarkable unity and consistency. Though there were regional variations and individual styles, the works produced in diverse geographical and cultural regions shared certain common values, concepts and techniques. And, all those varied   manifestations were inspired by a common general principle. The regional idioms, nevertheless, contributed to the richness of Indian art, and their mutual influences gave birth to multi-faceted development of Indian art.

1.3. That was true not merely of the classical paintings but also of the art works and paintings created by the village craftsmen and artists. Since there never was a nodal body to preserve and develop art in India, it was the initiative, enterprise and imagination of those dedicated humble artists that kept alive the ancient traditions. Their exquisite themes inspired by life around them, painted in their homemade bright colours employing indigenous styles have enriched the cultural diversity of India.

1.4. Another significant feature of the ancient Indian art was its vision of life and its world view. That inward vision and a sense of peace and tranquillity are its hallmarks. The old paintings serve as a valuable record of the thoughts and aspirations of our ancients. These ancient arts present the world as a great harmony that blends seamlessly into the whole of creation. It recognizes the oneness that exists in all of us, in the animals, the flowers, the trees, the leaves and even in the breeze which moves the leaves. All that is indeed seen as a manifestation of That One.

2.1. Indian art is often classified as religious art, though not all Indian art is purely religious, and some of it is only nominally so. The impression was perhaps grafted by the contemplative imagery presented by the ancient Indian art. But, the art, in general, was inspired by life, by reflecting upon human concerns and aspirations; and celebrating and delighting in the life of this world.

folk art

2.2. Even the religious art is not sectarian. It is at once Hindu, Buddhist and Jain, for its style was a function of time and region and not of religion. Thus, it is not strictly correct to speak of Hindu or Buddhist art, but, rather, of Indian art that happened to render Hindu or Buddhist themes. For example, an image of Vishnu and an image of Buddha of the same period are stylistically the same, religion having little to do with the mode of artistic expression.

Mrs. Fatemeh Taghavi in her research paper writes :  Indian Painting cannot be described in terms of a linear development or chronology unlike the Western art ; but,  it is considered to have evolved in a parallel manner in the course of time and space. The  different styles of paintings  emerged in the due course of time in different geographic locations as a result of  cultural impact. Each style appears  distinct from the other in its  technique;  though, there is a friendly and complex internal relationship by which they can be recognized as uniquely Indian. 

2.3. The Indian art that rendered religious themes shared a common pool of symbols and avoided imitation of the physical and ephemeral world of the senses.For instance ,in all  the Hindu , Jaina and Buddhist themes , alike,   the Chakra – the revolving wheel of time symbolizes the cyclical rhythms of all existence;  the Padma – or the lotus embodies creation – that springs from the bosom of the earth; the Ananta (represented as a snake) symbolizes  water – the most important life-giving force from which all life emerges, evolves  and then resolves; the Swastika – represents  the four-fold aspects of creation ,motion and a sense of stability ; the Purnakalasha the over -flowing pot symbolized creativity and prosperity; the Kalpalata and Kalpavriksha –  the wish-fulfillment creeper symbolize  imagination and creativity; and ,  Mriga – or deer – symbolizes  desire and beauty.

Similarly there were common set of gestures (mudra) by position of  fingers, hands, limbs; and by stance of images in paintings and in sculptures.   These varied mudras made explicit the virtues such as wisdom, strength, generosity, kindness and caring etc.

The objects depicted in Indian art evoked an imagery or represented an idea that sprang from the mind. That might perhaps explain the relative absence of portraiture and even when it was attempted the emphasis was on the ideal person behind the human lineaments rather than on the physical likeness.

Another feature is the absence of the sculptures and other representations of rulers or rich patrons. And, hardly any sculpture or painting bears the signature or the name of its creator. That might again symbolize a move from particular to the universal. But , it surely baffled generations of historians.

3.1. Indian figurative art is therefore not mere portraiture of the specific; but is a symbol pointing to a larger principle. It is akin to the finger pointing to the moon. For instance the image or the painting of the Buddha could be seen as that of the Buddha the historical prince Siddhartha Gotama and Sakyamuni. But, it is more than that. The Buddha –figure is the embodiment of all the compassion, pathos and grace in absolute. Often, certain symbols surrounding the Buddha-image are meant to amplify its message. For instance, the idea of reverence and holiness could be represented sometimes by the surrounding vegetation, flora, fauna, yakshis, gandharvas, and apsaras each playing a specific role in building a totality; or it may be the single austere simple statement of the still centre of peace and enlightenment suggested through the symbols of the Buddha such as the Bodhi tree, seat, umbrella, sandals, footprints etc.

The Buddha –image is , thus, at once particular and universal. The spirit and soul of the Buddha is contained in the body of the particular but impersonalized form; the serene mood of compassion it portrays is everlasting and universal.

4.1. The earliest substantial specimens of Indian painting, that have survived, are the murals found in caves of Ajanta and in Kailashnath temple at Ellora. The Cave temples at Badami, in the Karnataka, and Sittanavasal, in Tamil Nadu too contain paintings of similar style.

Ajanta view from the veranda of cave XVI by J Griffiths

The view from the veranda of cave XVI, Ajunta  by J Griffiths 1880s

But, the most well –known of them all is the set of murals on the walls in Ajanta caves, he oldest of which probably dated from the second century BC  , there on to the early 6th and 7th centuries.

William Dalrymple writes: Sometime, in 1819, a British hunting party in the jungles of the Western Ghats had followed a tiger into a remote river valley and stumbled onto what was soon recognized as one of the great wonders of India: the painted caves of Ajanta. On the walls of a line of thirty-one caves dug into an amphitheatre of solid rock lay the most beautiful and ancient paintings in Buddhist art, the oldest of which dated from the second century BC an otherwise lost golden age of Indian painting. In time it became clear that Ajanta contained probably the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world… Ajanta’s walls represented perhaps the most comprehensive depiction of civilized life to survive from antiquity.

The Art of the Ajanta reflected the glory of the golden age of the Guptas. They depict the tales of the Buddha in his previous births on his way to enlightenment.

Most famous, perhaps, are the two astonishing images of the compassionate Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani, beings of otherworldly beauty, swaying on the threshold of enlightenment, caught in what the great historian of Indian art Stella Kramrisch described, wonderfully, as “a gale of stillness.” Even today, the colors of these murals glow with a brilliant intensity: topaz-dark, lizard-green, lotus-blue.

Bodhisattva Padmapani  avalokitesvara2

Bodhisattva Padmapani, the bearer of the Lotus is painted amidst playful monkeys and joyous musicians. Yet, amid all that activity, the Bodhisattva looks within in tranquil harmony. There is a sense of sublime peace that pervades this figure, which is one of the masterpieces of Indian art. And, on the ceilings of the caves are the illustrations of the teeming life of the world, its flowers and fruit, the animals of the world and mythical creatures. The murals also bring to life an innumerable variety of other persons such as princesses, maids, soldiers, guards, mendicants, merchants etc.

4.2. The artists of Ajanta, who created those valuable treasures of the art world, were the inheritors of an ancient tradition that painted and decorated palaces, temples and caves. The theories, principles and techniques followed by those artists came down to them through oral traditions bequeathed by a long line of artists spread over several generations. The narrative mastery and technical knowledge demonstrated by artists at Ajanta suggest existence of several Schools of arts, where painting technique, procedures and preparatory work to be followed in preparing the mural surface were described.

Ajanta by Robert Gill, oil on canvas, 1850-1854

Copy of painting in the caves of Ajanta by Robert Gill, oil on canvas, 1850-1854,

The artists of Ajanta   , in turn,  inspired and guided  the principles and techniques  for the benefit of future generations of artists . These gave raise to many texts.

Some of the  main texts of such nature that dealt with painting techniques were:

The Vishnudharmottara Purana composed in 6-7th A.D. shortly after the mural works of Ajanta.

– The Samaraga Sutradhara, a text of the Shilpa-shastra attributed to  Raja Bhoja,  king of the Paramara dynasty of 11th century , mainly dealing with pictorial and iconographic art.

– The Manasollasa, an encyclopedic work dealing , among other things, the  Southern India paintings tradition attributed to king Somesvara of early 12th century Chalukya dynasty.

– The Silparatna, written in 16th century, a section of which entitled Pratima -Lakshmana (characteristics of images) which contains lot of information on painting technique.

– The Aparajita Pecha of Bhuvana Deva, probably composed after Silparatna that describe architecture and contains concepts on decorative design and preparation of paint ground.

Among these texts, Vishnudharmottara and Samaraga Sutradhara describe the technique of preparation of paint ground using clays earths. The text Manasollasa and Silparatna represents the preparation of ground under southern traditions of the subcontinent where the basic component is lime or burnt and powdered conch shells or white earth of calcareous nature, available in south of India. Some of the important ancient Indian painting text showing basic ingredients and procedure to be followed in the preparation of paint ground and colors are elaborate

There are also many other texts written in Sanskrit in which instructions on mural paintings techniques are systematically stated. Some of the ancient paintings texts have not yet been translated.

M. Singh and B.R. Arbad who conducted technological studies on Ajanta painted mortars , write in their in their research paper Ancient Indian painting recipes and mural art technique at Ajanta

Although Vishnudharmottara was composed one or two centuries after the execution of Ajanta murals, it may be considered as true reference text for proper understanding of painted procedure and appreciation of the painted murals.

The pigments identified at Ajanta are red ochre, yellow ochre, green earth, lapis lazuli, carbon black and shell/kaolin lime. The outlines of the Ajanta paintings are mostly drawn by carbon black or red ochre. The mud mortar thickness varies from few millimeters to an inch in some cases where basaltic stone is very roughly cut. Organic matters such as rice husks, plant seeds and plant fibers are generally found admixed within the mud mortar.

… The raw materials used for the preparation of clay ground are mostly locally available materials collected from either Waghura river in front of Ajanta caves or nearby places. Except blue, all the pigments are locally available materials including green which is the product of basaltic rock disintegration. It appears that aggregate used as fillers to the mud mortar at Ajanta are also byproduct of weathered basalt collected from ravine of Waghura in front of Ajanta caves or nearby places. Except blue, all the pigments are locally available materials including green which is the product of basaltic rock disintegration. It appears that aggregate used as fillers to the mud mortar at Ajanta are also byproduct of weathered basalt collected from ravine of Waghura. The aggregates mostly identified are quartz, zeolites and celadonites.

It is observed that 8-10% lime with organic additives was mixed in the low swelling clay to prepare the mud mortar at Ajanta. The technique of paintings is purely tempera and animal glue has probably been used as binding agent to the pigments at Ajanta and related sites. Unlike fresco painting, the paintings technique in India is either tempera or Sacco and binding medium identified at Ajanta is animal glue. An understanding of the composition of ancient mortar and technology is necessary for creation of new mortar for restoration at Ajanta and other sites.

5.1. Among the many texts,  the Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara Purana, which attempted to preserve the ancient and pass it on in its purity to the subsequent generations , is considered most significant. That ancient treatise provided the artists a grammar to articulate their art expressions. Apart from describing the basic tenets of painting, Vishnudharmottara, literally, provided hundreds of details on the art and the techniques of painting. The Chitrasutra gave a framework of instructions and suggestions on the ways to prepare the walls and other surfaces that hold the murals; the preparation of colours and paints; appropriate choice of colours; different ways of shading; proportions and ratios to be maintained while painting different kinds of male and female figures according to their position and standing in the social strata and occupations; and the ingenious ways of introducing symbolism through plants , birds, animals, and other symbols; and so on.

Main characteristics of the Ajanta paintings are the use of free flowing lines for delineating beautiful figures and their delicate inner feelings; together with use of shading different parts of the body to produce three dimensional effects in the images. The other was use of proper colors at times contrasting and at times matching to create magical effects. These were precisely the principles that Chitrasutra emphasized repeatedly.(explained in the next post).

5.2. Benoy K. Behl an art-historian, filmmaker and photographer who has written extensively on Ajanta art  explains the basic preparation of the surface for painting the mural was guided by the methods recommended in the Chitrasutra. He also explains that “The mural paintings of Ajanta are not frescoes, as they are sometimes mistakenly described, for they were not painted on wet lime plaster. These murals were executed with the use of a binding medium of glue applied to a thin coat of dried lime wash. Below this surface wash were two layers of plaster covering the stone walls. The first was a rough, thick layer of mud, mixed with rock-grit, vegetable fibres, grass and other materials; the second was a finer coat consisting of mud, rock dust or sand and finer vegetable fibres, which provided a smooth surface for the lime wash on which the paintings were made.

The artist got his colours from the simple materials that were available in these hills. For his yellow and red he used ochre, for black he used lamp soot, for his white he used lime. Only for his blue he used lapis lazuli, which came from Afghanistan. These simple colours were blended to provide the numerous colours and subtle hues, which are seen in the Ajanta paintings. “

The Academy of Archaeology & Sciences of Ancient India (A.A.S.A.I) observes “The technique adopted in preparing the ground and pigments were sound and in many places they have stood the test of time. But, in large number of cases, they are fast disappearing not due to the fault of the painter or his technique but due to external conditions like the structural problems, location problems and above all foolish and senseless vandalism.”

6.1. Chitrasutra paid enormous importance to the delicate painting of the soulful and expressive eyes that poured out the essence of the subject. It describes five basic types of eyes. The artist was told that the eyes are the windows to the soul; and it is through their eyes the figures in the painting open up their heart and speak eloquently to the viewer. The painting of the eyes called the “opening of the eyes” was therefore the final and most important detail to be painted. It was usually done in the guiding presence of the Master or was completed by the Master himself. It is not therefore surprising that the expressive set of eyes of the Ajanta tradition continue to influence generations of Indian artists.

7.1. The text clearly mentions that rules do not make the painting; but it is the artist with a soul and vision who creates the art expressions. The Chitrasutra aptly concludes with sagely observation: “In this treatise only the suggestions are given, oh king, for this subject can never be described in detail even in a hundred years. Whatever has not been said here should be inferred by other means…Painting is the best of all arts.”

7.2. The artists appeared to have taken full benefit of the liberty provided by the text. Shakti Maira a noted artist writes “I did not see the figures as having been rendered in a particularly formal way. Their proportions were usually off — head and upper torsos too long for the rest of the body, arms out of proportion with lower limbs, there was hardly any evidence that the strict rules of drawing in the Vishnudharmottara had been followed! What I saw was a powerful freedom and looseness in drawing, what we artists hope to achieve after we have learned all the rules of drawing. These illustrative images were free from formalism, and that is the strength of the expressed emotions and lavanya in this work.

For me, the reason why the Ajanta paintings are so great is that they did not get bogged down in the formalism of art making.

As an artist, I would urge you to experience the mysteries beyond cognitive intellect. Don’t just try and understand the work, try also to experience it directly. That is where the real rasa is. “

Shri S Rajam’s rendering of  Ramayana theme in Ajanta style

As I mentioned earlier , such  artistic freedom was  encouraged  by Chitrasutra of Vishnudharmottara,  which said, valuable as these various instructions are , they are derived from and  subservient to practice . He(artist) has the freedom to work according to his own intellect.

rajput-bridal-procession-BL42_l

 

8. Let’s talk about the Chitrasutra of Vishnudharmottara, in a little more detail, in the next post.

 

NEXT:

Continued in 

Part Two

Chitrasutra of Vishnudharmottara

 

Sources & References

http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2120/stories/20041008000106400.htm

Ajanta, the fountainhead

 http://www.4to40.com/discoverIndia/index.asp?article=discoverindia_guptas#Military%20Costume

Ancient Indian Costume

 http://conserveheritage.org/paintingpreservation.html

A.A.S.A.I: Paintings Preservation

 http://www.hinduonnet.com/mag/2002/08/04/stories/2002080400430200.htm

ANCIENT INDIAN PAINTING RECIPES AND MURAL ART TECHNIQUE AT AJANTA

http://www.ijcs.uaic.ro/public/IJCS-14-04-Singh.pdf

Ajanta: An artist’s perspective

All Ilustrations are taken from Internet

 
 

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