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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 colours; the concepts, classifications and application of colours. 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 pasteurized. These help enhancing the quality of depiction of the subject and the artistic eloquence of the painting.

22.2. Hours of darkness

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  effect s  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 :

Spring season (vasantha ritu) – by merry men and women, vernal trees in bloom, bees swarming about and cuckoos perched on tree branches.

Summer season (grishma ritu) – by dried pools, languid men, deer seeking tree shades and buffaloes burrowing in the mud and wallowing in shallow ponds;

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

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

Dewy season (hemanta ritu) – by frost on horizon and earth covered by dewdrops; and

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

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 colours?”

The sage explains “The untrue colour of water resembles that of lapis lazuli; that is because of the blue sky reflected in a pool of water. But, the natural colour 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 merchandize 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;

A village by its hedges and sparse gardens.

23. Visualization and personification of objects

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 colour 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 symbolisms. For instance, the sky when painted in its natural and descriptive context should be painted almost without any colour. But, when sky is personified, it should be depicted as noble person, blue-lotus in colour, wearing a garment of that colour; 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 colour of vermillion, 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.

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 lustre and beauty.

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 colour gushes down the mountain slopes. The Yamuna, in contrast, is of dark hue, placid and wide.

Another name for water in Sanskrit is Apah. The term Apah is invested withvarieties 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.

The person of a mountain symbolized as Parvatha –raja (king of mountains) 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.

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.

 

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)

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.”

13.2. Yet, the colours 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)  colour, 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.

14. Colour – symbolism and suggestions

14.1. The colours 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 symbolisms; 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. Chitrasutra, in chapter 27, mentions five primary colours: white (svetha), yellow (pitha)  , black (krshna), green (harita) and red (raktha).  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 colours in the world created by the dexterous mixing of various colours and their derivatives;  the combinations are limited only by ones imagination and logic. The mixing of the colours, in various shades and tones, is a mark of artist’s ingenuity. There is no limit to the numerous finer varieties of tints that can be produced. Colouring should be natural.

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

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).

It is said; in case of all colours 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. 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 colours, with articulate and yet very soft lines, with distinct and well arranged garments; and blessed with beauty of proportions and rhythm.”

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 colours 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.

17.2. The text mentions three methods in this regard: by crossing lines (patraja);   by stumping (airika); and, by dots (vinduja).  The first method of shading is called (patraja) on account of lines being in the shape of leaves. The airika   method is said to be very fine. The vinduja method is restrained (i.e., not flowing) handling of the brush while planting dots patiently.

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.”

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. 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 colour.

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 , thogh washed by water.”

19. How to go about the task?

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 restlessness or sloppiness or bad temper could spoil the picture.

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)

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 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.

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

Shiulparatna, another ancient text, too refers to painting as that which bears resemblance to, and looks like a reflection  in   mirror.

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.

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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. 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 frescos 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.]

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

3. 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.

 

4. 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.

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 .

5. Bards

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

6. 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.

7. Sage

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

8. Priest

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

 

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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. Horsemen

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

 

14. Wrestlers

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

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. Monk

Buddhist monk (Bhikku) with the lower garment tied at the waist and secured by a girdle. The upper garment is thrown across the left shoulder. He could be shown clean-shaven or with hair.

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

 

The following is also by way of  an appendix.

This is about the details provided in Chitrasutrafor 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.”

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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 jewelled floors can be made of variegated mixture in two-fold colours.

Sml. Attr Nainsukh, A Troupe of Trumpeters

 

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)

 

 

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The Art of Painting in Ancient India – Chitrasutra (3)

[This is the third 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 (second) article covered certain concepts and general aspects discussed in Chitrasutra.

The current article deals with the physical features of various classes and types of images, proportions, projections, foreshortening etc.

The next article discusses colours and representation of things seen and unseen; and briefly talks about certain symbolisms mentioned in the text.]

8. Tala-mana

8.1. The Indian artist never took in the world at a sweeping glance. He had an eye for details. Chitrasutra gives an elaborate classification of different types of men and women. They are classified into one of the five standard types called: Hamsa, Bhadra, Malavya, Ruchaka and sasaka. Their respective measures were 108, 106, 104, 100, and 90 angulas. Twelve angulas or digits make one tala, which is the length of the palm from the edge of the wrist to the tip of the middle figure. Usually, the face of the image would measure a length of one tala, which, in other words, would be one-ninth of the body length of a Hamsa category image. The proportions of the various parts of the image –body would be in terms of the tala and its denomination (the angula). Hamsa is the standard measurement of body -length of an image; and the proportions of the other categories of images (Bhadra etc.) are to be worked out by taking Hamsa as bench mark.

[A similar tala-mana system of proportions and measures governs the shilpa iconography. Its iconometry prescribes the proportion of the limbs and other parts of its body in relation to its face -length. The Indian artists are governed by proportions than by actual measurements. Thus a figure might look pigmy or colossal while the principles that govern the proportions would be the same.

These rules specify the various standards to be adopted for ensuring a harmonious creation endowed with well proportioned height, length, width and girth. These rules also govern the relative proportions of various physical features – of each class and each type of images.

In shilpa-sastra, the madhyama navatala(standard height of nine-face lengths) is normally used for images of celestial beings such as Yakshas, Apsaras and Vidhyadharas. Here, the height of the image would be nine talas (with each tala divided in to 12 angulas) or a total height of 108 angulas.The angula (literally ‘finger’) is a finger’s width and measures one quarter of the width of the shilpi’s fist. The value of the angula so derived becomes a fixed length (manangulam), for all practical purposes, for that image. All other measurements of the image are in terms of that unit.

The face – length of the image i.e., from its chin up to the root of its hair on the forehead – would be 12 angulas or one tala. The length from throat to navel would be two tala; from navel to top of knee would be three tala; from the lower knee to ankle would be two tala making a total of eight tala. One tala is distributed equally between the heights of foot, knee, the neck and topknot. The nava tala thus will have a total of nine tala units, in height (108 angulas).

Hamsa of Chitrasutra corresponds to Nava-tala of the Shilpa sastra.

ps59

“In composition the central figure is given importance  over  the other figures. And , that leads to the heightening of the fundamental emotions or fuller expression of the central figure for which alone the others exist.”

Portrait of a Nobelwoman, Mughal c.1740

8.2.The text describes the characteristic features of the five categories of men.

(i). Hamsa (108 angulas) should be strong, with arms resembling the king of serpents, with moon-white complexion, having sweet eyes set in a good-looking face; and with lion-like waist and swan-like majestic gait. The deities are depicted in Hamsa category of style.

(ii).Bhadra (106 angulas) is learned, is of the color of lotus; with full grown tapering round arms, a hairy cheeks and   elephant like step. The rishis, gandharvas, vidhyadharas, ministers and family priests are depicted under this category.

(iii). Malavya (104 angulas) is dark like a mudga –pulse (kidney bean?), good looking ; with a slender waist, arms reaching up to the knees, broad shoulders, broad jawas and a prominent nose like that of an elephant. The kinnaras, nagas, rakshasas and domestic women are depicted under Malavya category.

(iv). Ruchaka (100 angulas) is high souled, truthful and clever. He is of autumn-white complexion and strong with a conch-like neck. Yakshas, vaishyas and prostitutes are depicted under this category. And,

(v). Sasaka (90 angulas) is clever reddish dark and of a slightly spotted colour; with full cheeks and sweet eyes. The tribal chiefs and sudras are depicted as Sasaka.

8.3. As regards the female figures, they too fall under each of the above five categories. The figures of corresponding category (say Hamsa, Bhadra etc.) too should be depicted in proportions that are applicable to that category. But the size of the female figures should be smaller than of the male figures appearing on the same canvass or surface. Her height should be made to reach the shoulder of the man placed near her, in proportion. Her waist should be two angulas thinner than that of a man. On the other hand, her hips should be made wider by four angulas. The breasts should be rendered soft, charming and proportionate to her chest.

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Talking about women, the text mentions elsewhere, “a female figure should be drawn with one foot calmly advanced, and with the part about the hips and loins broad and flurried on account of amorous dalliance”.

The women of good-family should be made bashful, wearing modest ornaments and not-showy dresses; and she with a slender waist depicted under Malavya characteristics.

The courtesans on the other hand should be painted with vermilion or emerald colour, moon-like complexion or dark like the petals of blue-lotus. Her dress should be unrestrained, designed to excite and evoke erotic feelings. She should be painted as a Ruchaka character.

9. Drista- those things visible

9.1. The text then goes to describe in great detail the characteristic appearances of country folk, the nobility, widows, courtesans, merchants, artisans, soldiers, archers, door-keepers, wrestlers, monks , mendicants , bards , musicians , dancers and others. Vivid descriptions of their dresses, movements, habits, and features peculiar to their class are given in Chitrasutra. They make a very interesting reading.

9.2. The text also describes the characteristics of different tribes and castes as distinguished by their complexion; noticeable physical features, costumes and habits.

9.3. The Chitrasutra instructs things that are usually visible should be well represented; resembling what is ordinarily seen in life. The aim of painting is to produce an exact resemblance; but not to copy. Persons should be painted according to their country; their colour, dress, and general appearance as observed. Having well ascertained the person’s country, region, occupation, age and his status in life; 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 characteristics of persons hailing from various regions and occupations. It is rather too detailed to be posted here. I would be posting a summary of that, along with few other issues, in a separate article.]

10. Features of the Chitra

10.1. General

There is a detailed enumeration of the features of the images of deities, kings and other class. The Chitrasutra also makes some general remarks of such paintings; and says:

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.

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

A painting cleanses and curbs anxiety, augments future good, causes unequalled 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.

10.1. a. Deities

While discussing the image of the deities to be painted, the text says, the painted image should have a pleasing body, a well finished and well proportioned limbs, delicately painted effects of shade and light, facing the viewer. It should be pure and charming adorned by manifold lines and embellishments.

The front view, face, chest and abdomen should remain undiminished; but, it should grow narrow towards the waist from thighs and also from the shoulders. Its shoulders should be broad.  The abdomen should neither be shrunk nor bloated.

torso

The deities should be drawn wearing strings of garlands and ornamented by crowns, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, ornaments of the upper arms, long girdles reaching up to the ornaments on their feet, and sacred threads with ornaments for the head.

The text says, in general, an image possessed of all auspicious and beautiful marks is excellent from every point of view. Its mudras (gestures of hand and fingers) should be benevolent blessing people with welfare, peace and prosperity. Such an image would add to the wealth, crops, fame and the longevity of life of the worshipers. ”  Blessed is the work of art that is endowed with auspicious marks as it is a harbinger of fortune, fame to the country, to the king and to the maker.”

 1_abaya_hasta2_varad_hasta3_katak_hasta4_vyakyana_hasta5_susi_hasta

The text also warns, when an image is devoid of these auspicious marks (lakshanas) it would cause destruction of wealth and crops. And, it instructs that such an image should therefore be made with great care, dedication and devotion.

10.1. b. Others

Vidhyadharas should be shown with garlands and ornaments; and accompanied by their wives on either side. They should be shown either on land or in air, with swords in their hands.

As regards the depiction of great men such as kings and noble persons, the text recommends their images should possess the auspicious lakshanas associated with greatness. Apart from that, it also mentions that their hands should reach up to their knees (aa-janu bahu). The hands and feet of a chakravartin should be webbed (jala). The auspicious mark of small circle of hair (urna or tuft of hair) should be shown between their eyebrows. On the hands near the wrist three delicate auspicious lines slender curving should be drawn; as if scratched by a hare.

The hair should be made thin, wavy, shiny, with natural glossiness and like the dark blue sapphire. They should be properly ornamented.

10.2. Face:

10.2. a. Deities

The gods should be represented according to Hamsa measure. The face beautiful should be well developed, well finished, and benign marked with all the auspicious lakshanas. The face should be youthful radiating peace and joy. The face should not be triangular or crooked; nor should it be oval or round. The face should never look angry, sad or blank and lifeless .If such expressions creep in, the image should be discarded.

All organs of senses like eyes, nose, mouth and ears should be made visible.

Gods and gandharvas should be represented without crowns but with crests.

10.2. b. Others

All kings should be endowed with auspicious marks. They should be ornamented suitably.

Daityas and danavas (demons) should be made to have frightened mouths, frowning faces round eyes and gaudy garments but without crowns.

10.3. Eyes:

The text pays enormous importance to the depiction of eyes of a painted figure.

The text informs 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 text describes   some positions of the eyes : looking straight; half of eyes , nose and forehead are seen ;one eye is seen in full and half of the eyebrow is suppressed; one eye, one eyebrow, one temple , one ear , half of chin are seen etc.

In each case it describes how the eyes and eyebrows should be foreshortened, that is delicately reduced in size or suppressed by artistic means such as gentle lines, delicate shading or by dots.

The text describes five basic types of eyes. And, it says the eye could be in the form of a bow (chapakara); or like the abdomen of a fish (matsyodara); or like the petal of blue lotus (utpalaptrabha); or like a white lotus (padmapatranibha) or like a conch (sankhakriti).

   

It is explained that   the eye assumes the shape of a bow when looking at the ground in meditation or when lost in a thought.

The eye in the shape of fish should be painted in the case of women and lovers.

The eye in the shape of blue lotus is said to be ever calm and look charming with red at the corners and with black pupils, smiling, gentle and ending in long eye lashes sloping at its end.

The eye in the shape of white lotus petal befits a damsel frightened and crying.

A  conch like eye suggests angry and woe stricken state.

10.3. a. Deities

The eyes of gods should be wide with black pupils, enhancing the beauty of the divine face, beautiful to look at, charming the mind, smiling and with slight reddish tint at its ends like those of blue-lotus petals, with eyelashes bent at the ends, of equal size, gentle; and fluid and pure like cow’s milk. Such gentle serene eyes and pools of tranquillity  expressing love and compassion bless the viewers with happiness.

The images with white-lotus petal eyes bring wealth and prosperity. Its eyes should also be even, wide, serene and pleasant to look at. It should have eye-lash sloping at the end and black pupil. Its look should be placid,

Unmilana ‘opening of the eyes’ of the figure is described as the final act; a painting would be complete only with that; and after that, ” an auspicious painting in which the figures  will appear to be alive and almost breathe and move’ . Drawing of eyes with delicate lines and giving an expression to the image infuses life into it.

The artist is cautioned to be careful and not to give an upward or downward or sideward look to the deity. An image of god with too small or too wide eyes; or looking depressed, angry or harsh should be discarded.  In case such mistakes happen, the deity should be discarded.

The text warns of the ill effects of making a painting of a deity with bad proportions or unacceptable dispositions.

An image of god should be properly made with great care and devotion; and with all the auspicious marks

10.3. b. Others

Daityas and danavas should be given round eyes wide open in fright. Their mouths should also be open as if about to scream. They should be given gaudy ornaments, but no crown.

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

10.4. Hair

Hair is an important aspect of the image. It provides it with individuality and it also symbolizes its character.

The text specifies six types of hairstyles: Kuntala (loose) hair; Dakshinavarta (curled towards the right); Taranga (wavy); Simha kesara (lion’s –mane); vardhara (parted) and jatatasara (matted).

10.4. a. Deities

Hair should be represented auspicious, fine resembling deep blue sapphire, adorned by its own greasiness and with endearing curls.

In case of gods, the halo should be drawn around their heads, proportionate to the measurement of the head and colour of the hair. The colour of the halo circle should enhance the glow of the deity. Their body should be devoid of hair.  On their faces, they should have hair only on their eyelashes and eye brows.

Gods and gandharvas should be represented without crowns but with crests.

10.4. b .Others

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

The manes of the sages, ancestors and gods should be made to glow like gold and with ornaments consistent with their own colour, outshining all others.

In the case of kings a circle of hair should be drawn auspiciously between their eyebrows. The hair on a king’s body should be drawn one by one.

The respectable people of country and town should be painted with almost grey hair, adorned with ornaments suitable to their status.

Merchants should be represented with their head covered on all sides by turbans.

Wrestlers should be represented with cropped hair, looking arrogant and impetuous.

Widows are to be shown with grey hair , wearing white dress and devoid of ornaments.

The artist should use his skill and imagination in providing appropriate hair-styles to the figures.

10.5. Arms and hands

In case of gods and kings, arms reaching up to the knees should be strong and tapering resembling the king of serpents or the trunk of an elephant; and should reach up to the knees. Hands should be delicate. The images of the kings should be shown with webbed hands. (I do not know the “why” of this requirement). All kings should be endowed with auspicious marks.

Indian_murti_(statue)arms

The hands of deities should be delicate and expressive. Their mudras, the gestures by hands and fingers, should be auspicious in benediction.

10.6. Feet

There is an elaborate discussion on the feet-positions, which enhance the mood and message of the image. The positions described include, standing straight in traditional position (sampada); standing with a spans apart (vaisakha) ; half straight with left knee advanced and right knee retracted- suggesting movement (pratyalidha); its counterpart that is right knee advanced (alidha) legs in circular motion (mandala).

The knee-bent positions are related to an archer or a javelin thrower or a swords person etc. (as in pratyalidha or alidha). These positions are improvised to show a fat man running or a pitcher- carrier. The bent knees and feet apart positions are also used to depict the broad hips, flurried loins of the amorous dalliance of a woman.

Accordingly, the gods should always be made beautiful, having gaits like: a lion, bull, elephant or a swan.

*****

11. Postures and perspectives

Abhanga etc

Chitrasutra mentions that an image could be presented in any number of positions; but categorizes nine positions as the leading attitudes.

11.1. The nine postures, mentioned under, can perhaps be understood as stylized views, as they are the same figure viewed from different angles. That causes portraying the same figure, with altered body- proportions, because some parts are hidden from view while some others are prominent. The ratio of the head with the other limbs of the body has to be altered in accordance with the different postures and view positions (perspectives). Yet, the image should not look disproportionate. That has to be done by manipulating density of light and shades. These indicate that the Chitrasutra had a sound understanding of the spatial perspective of things.

11.2. The various positions and perspectives are achieved by what the Chitrasutra callas – kshaya and vridhi, decrease and increase, which is the art and skill of foreshortening. The positions are:

(i)*. front view (rivagata);

(ii)*.back view (anrju);

(iii)*.bent position – in profile view (sat-chikrat-sarira);

(Iv)*.face in profile and body in three quarter profile (ardha-vilochana);

(v)*.side view proper (paravagata);

(vi)*.with head and shoulder-belt turned backwards (paravritta);

(vii)*.back view with upper part of the body partly visible in profile (prastagata);

(viii)*.with body turned back from the waist upwards (parivrtta);

And

(ix)*.the back view in squatting position with head bent (samanata).

12. Foreshortening

Foreshortening is achieved, as the text says, by manipulating light and shadows with the aid of colouring, shading with delicate cross lines, stumping and dots; and at the same time maintain the proper proportion (pramana) of the figure and its aspects.

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

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

“Proper position, proportion and spacing; gracefulness and articulation; resemblances; increasing or decreasing (foreshortening) are the eight good qualities of a painting.”

hl66

Next:

Chitrasutra continued

Sources and References:

I gratefully acknowledge  Shri S Rajam’s sublime paintings;  And the other paintings from internet.

Line drawings from Dr. G Gnanananda’s Brahmiya Chitrakarma Sastram

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)

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

I gratefully acknowledge the illustrations from the works of Shri S Rajam

All other pictures are from internet

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Art, Chitrasutra, Natya, Vishnudharmottara

 

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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. 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.

1.3. Chitrasutra is that part of the Vishnudharmottara which deals with the art of painting.  Its compiler described it as “the legacy of the collective wisdom of the finest minds”. Explaining why he took up the compilation; he 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. 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?”. 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. 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 Nritye Tatha Chitre

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

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)”.

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

*.“He who paints waves, flames, smoke and streamers fluttering in the air, according to the movement of the wind, should be considered a great painter”

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

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 appears to be that making a sculpture is infinitely harder than making a painting.

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 decoration, s on 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 vinoda-sthanas – seats of pleasure or hobbies. The gentleman   of leisure and culture , painted for pleasure or in earnestness; but, of course, not for earning a living.

Vatsayana 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 casually kept on the window sill ( alekhya –varnaka-paatram) ; and, books of verses (kurantaka maala).

The courtesans too were proficient in fine arts such as music, dance, painting poetry as also in body-care techniques.  Even a calculating courtesan would madly love a talented painter, though impoverished. Somadeva’s Katha-sarit-sagara narrates number of delightful stories of such young and impetuous courtesans.

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

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.

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.

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

4.3. While on the subject I may mention that Chitrasutra observes:  the pictures which decorate the homes (including the residential quarters of the king) should display sringara, hasya and shantha rasa. They should exude joy, peace and happiness; and brighten up the homes and lives of its residents. Pictures depicting horror, sorrow and cruelty should never be displayed at homes where children dwell.

For instance; 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 galleries and temples.

photo16Gopalas returning Home

4.4. Icons were generally classified into four categories: painted on the wall, canvass, paper, wall or pot (chitraja) ; molded in clay or any other material like sandal paste or rice flour (lepeja, mrinmayi, or paishti); cast in metal (pakaja, lohaja, dhatuja); and 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.

Hallow figures (sushira) of gods, demons, yakshas, horses, elephants, etc, were placed on the verandas of houses , on 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 frescos (bhitthi); and portrait (bhava chitra).The first two were fixed (achala) and the third was portable

4.5. The patas (poster like paintings) were commonly displayed in public squares. It is mentioned, such paintings were employed as a means and method of communicating with the towns 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 is a suggestion (prathima) of the moon. In other words, a deity is an idea, a conception or his/her mental image of god, translated to a form in lines, color, stone, metal , wood or whatever ; but, it is not the god itself.

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 beauty (ananda) 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.

5.3. Incidentally, one of the criticisms levelled against the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma is that he resorted to photographic reproductions and with that his pictures were stiff and static, bereft of the dynamism and fluidity of the traditional Indian art. More importantly, by reducing the deities to the level of ordinary humans and by rejecting the concepts of abstractions, Ravi Varma denied the viewer the sense of suggestion, imagination and association with the ideal.

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”.

Talking about lines, Chitrasutra favors graceful, steady, smooth and free flowing lines; but not the crooked and uneven lines. Its Masters valued the effects best captured by least number of lines. Simplicity of expression symbolized the maturity of the artist.

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.

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 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 colour, 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 text at various places airs its clear opinions on what it considers auspicious (good) and “bad “pictures. For instance:

*.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.

6.4. Chitrasutra cautions that an inconvenient painting stance or a bad seat , thirst, restlessness, sloppiness and bad temper would spoil the picture.

6.5. Chitrasutra also mentions six limbs (anga) of painting as: rupa-bheda (variety of form); pramana (proportion); Bhava (infusion of emotions); lavanya-yojanam (creation of luster and having rainbow colors that appear to move and change as the angle at which they are seen change); sadreya (portrayal of likeness); and 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.

7. Types of presentations

7.1. 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.

7.3. It is explained in the text ; a painting which bears resemblance (Sadrishya) to the to things on earth with their proper proportions in terms of their  height, their  volume (gatra),  appearance etc. is the “true to life”(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. While 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. The nagara depicts common folks with well developed limbs with scanty garlands and ornaments. And, misra is the compound of the other three.

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.

7.4. 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”.

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

I gratefully acknowledge the illustrations of Shri S Rajam

 

 
 

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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.

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.

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. But, the most well –known of them all is the set of murals on the walls in Ajanta caves, probably of the early 6th and 7th centuries. It followed the golden age of the Guptas. They depict the tales of the Buddha in his previous births on his way to enlightenment. 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 artists of Ajanta   were also inspired and guided by the principles and techniques described in texts such as the Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottarra Purana, which attempted to preserve the ancient and pass it on in its purity to the subsequent generations.

5.1. 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.

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

 

NEXT:
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

Ajanta: An artist’s perspective

All Ilustrations are taken from Internet

 
 

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