Monday, September 29, 2008




Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Kalamkari Paintings


Kalamkari falls in the category of one of the oldest art forms of south India. A place called kalahasti in the state of Andhra Pradesh witnessed the birth of this visually stimulating art. kalamkari was born more than 3000 years ago. Sri kalahasti is located in the vicinity of the holy city of Tirupathi. Literally, the word traces its origin from the to words-kalam(pen) and kari(to work). In other words kalamkari means "pen work". Located in the vicinity of temple, this art form was patronized by the temples. These paintings were made on cloth depicting murals. Their theme was provided by the Hindu mythology. The temple walls are ornate with kalamkari wall hangings depicting stories from the Hindu Puranas and epics. They were so visually articulate that they even served the purpose of helping learned men in narrating stories. The distinctive feature of these paintings is that the artists made large murals which were filled in with a lot of detailed fine work.


Initially, the themes were based on religion. But these were not duly appreciated by art connoisseurs especially those who resided abroad. Traditional artists then started including contemporary themes like trees, birds and animals. One immensely popular piece is the "tree of life." Evidence also suggests that kalamkari artists also created murals based on Christian themes.

Process involved

The base of Kalmkari is formed by cotton cloth. A lot of attention is paid to fineness which makes the process of making kalamkari very laborious.

How the cloth is prepared?
Clean flowing river water is used for washing the cloth and removing the starch. The cloth is then dried. tannin containing pod of young unripe myrobalan fruits are soaked in water for a few hours to be made into a paste. The paste is then dissolved in cow's milk which is kept in a vessel. The cloth is soaked in it and dried. This procedure makes the colour of the cloth to turn into pale yellow.


First the artist decides what is to be drawn on the cloth. Then he makes a sketch with the help of burnt tamarind tree twigs. The next step involves the preparation of an iron solution. This is prepared by keeping some some rusted iron pieces in a solution of water and cooking jaggry and palm jaggery which is kept in an earthen pot for 15 days. This solution though clear takes a black colour on coming into contact with the myrobalan treated cloth. The drawing tool is a bamboo stick sharpened at one end with a knife. A thread is wound round this stick. The thread absorbs the ink and lets it penetrate down while drawing on the cloth. The line drawing is very immaculately done, replete with all the key and sub elements of the work.


On the completion of the line drawing,colours are added. Generally, red(maroon), yellow and blue are used.

For obtaining red(maroon)colour

Red(maroon)colour is obtained by painting an alum solution which is then dried for a day. this is done in the areas forming the background. Any excess mordant is washed away in flowing river water. Another laborious process of this art form is the boiling of cloth with a mixture of madder and "saveli koddi"the saveli koddi (in the stick form)and madder is dried and then turned into a powder. Only those areas which had been earlier treated with alum allow red colour to penetrate. Despite all the precautions, colour might smudge to other areas. To remedy this, the cloth is soaked overnight in a vessel containing cow dung dissolved in water. It is then cleansed in flowing water and dried. at frequent intervals water is sprinkled. At the end of this procedure the cloth is again dipped in cow's milk and dried.

For obtaininmg yellow colour

Myrobalan flower is dried, powdered and dissolved in clean drinking water. Its then boiled and continuously stirred which makes the solution turn yellow. After the application of yellow colour, the cloth is dried, cleansed in flowing river water and once again dried.
Natural vegetable dyes are used to make the rest of the colours, for example-katha for body colour (ie brown); seveli is used for rose; indigo for blue; yellow and blue are used to get the green colour. At the end of colour application the cloth is again washed with river water and dried.

Finally, the prepared pieces of kalamkari are stretched and framed. They are then ready to aesthetically beautify the interiors with their resplendent and vibrant colours replete with intricacy.

As an art form, kalamkari is traditionally practised as a profession by many families. it involves the entire family in the various stages of preparation. The head of the family also happens to be the master craftsmen under whose guidance the painting is executed.

The importance of kalamkari is highlighted by the fact that it is an extremely environment friendly traditional art form requiring natural products as the basic drawing material. In the present day when the dangers of global warming and acid rain are confronting mankind, an even greater need is being felt to promote such an art form.

Miniature Paintings

Miniature paintings were those paintings that were made on perishable material. Perhaps this the reason due to which there is no definite proof of their birth & development. Miniature paintings have been painted in different parts of India with regional variations.
Miniature paintings are characterized by delicate brushwork and existed in the forms of ‘illuminations' or normal paintings. Miniature Painters used different substances for coloring their drawings, for instance minerals, vegetables, precious stones, indigo, conch shells, pure gold and silver.

The miniature paintings of Bengal, Bihar & Orissa, resemble the Ajantha style. Buddhist manuscripts were illustrated, mostly paintings of Buddha on palm leaves.

In Gujarat, miniature paintings, Jaina manuscripts can be seen. The style of the Jaina caves at Ellora were followed. In the later stages the fine application of colour diminished from the Gujrat miniature paintings. Gujrat miniature styles also have the influence of Persian style.
The miniature paintings of Mughals are known for their distinctive finishes and delicacy.

The Mughal miniature paintings have lot of Persian influence. Court scenes were depicted in grandeur. For the background hilly landscape were mainly used. The painters also depicted flowers & animals but applied their own skill to develop on the Persian ideas.

The Rajput miniature paintings can be further subdivided into the Rajasthani style & the Pahari style. The subject matter of the paintings were mostly religious & love subjects, based on Lord Rama & Lord Krishna. Court scenes were depicted as also royal portraits. Bold outlines & brilliant colours are characteristic of Rajasthani paintings.

Jadupatua Paintings

Jadupatua paintings are scroll paintings that are executed initially on cloth and later on paper. These paintings belong to the region of Murshidabad, Birbhum, Bankura, Hooghly, Burdwan, and Midnapore districts of West Bengal and Santal Parganas of Bihar. The scroll painters are called as Jadupatuas or Duari Patuas, which literally meant magical painters. These artists or painters belong to the community of potters, barbers, blacksmiths, sweetmeat makers. These artists traveled from village to village and gave their performances for which they were paid in cash or kind.

Scrolls though appeared in minor idioms, they embodied common attitudes to form and style. All scrolls depicted figures in a single flat plane and showed a mild indifference to naturalism. The stories are depicted in a series of simple clear-cut images in panels divided by horizontal bands. Simple diagrammatic forms depict trees, flowers or rocks. The figures are depicted usually in a standard corrugated line linking forehead, nose, lips and chin and eyes were vastly enlarged.

Themes of the Paintings
Most unique theme painted by the Jadupatua artists, is the funeral theme. If any member of the village dies these artist visit their house and analyze the resource of the family and on that basis they paint the pictures of the deceased person which shows him wandering in the other world without a sight and they could restore the vision in return of the payment. Once they received the payment, the Jadupatuas would perform the 'Chakshudana' i.e. restoration of the eyes by filling in the iris of the eyes on the painting.

The Santals also followed a tradition where the charred bones of the dead were immersed in river Damodar. Most of the Santals found it a difficult preposition so they often requested the Jadupatuas to go to Damodar and make a symbolic immersion by consigning the drawing in the water. In return, the Jadupatuas received fees for it.

Other themes apart from the funeral theme are:
The story of the creation of the Santals as preserved in Santal tradition
  • Bahajatras – the festival of Santal
  • Santhals dancing in the mass meeting
  • Santhal clans personification
  • Human riding on a tiger or leopard
  • The adventures of Krishna with the milkmaid

Scroll were made by waste papers. Paper sheets are either glued together or sewn together to make the scrolls. In order to protect the paper from damaging, piece of old cloth or calico was sewn to the end of the scroll. The two ends of the cloth were sewn round pieces of bamboo, one of which acted as a roller around which the scroll could be wound. Finally a string was attached to one end to secure the wound-up scroll. Some scrolls were short and consisted of only two or three panels; others could contain fourteen or more. In the present collection one scroll has been kept intact and the remainder cut into sections and were separately mounted.

The brushes of the painters are made up of goat hair. Earlier the paintings were done with natural colors made from vegetable matter or minerals. Colors popularly used are black, red, reddish brown, blue and yellow.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Thangka Paintings

What is Thangka?
Thangka symbolizes iconographic information in a pictorial manner. It is a rather complicated three-dimensional object consisting of a picture panel, known by many names-Tangka", "Thanka" or "Tanka". Originally Thangka served as a painted or embroidered Buddhist banner displayed in a monastery or at a family altar. It was also carried by monks in a ceremonial procession.

Thangka is derived from the Tibetan word 'than' which means flat and 'ka' means painting. Hence, this is a painting done on a flat surface which can also be rolled up like a scroll when it is not on display. This quality also gives it the name of scroll painting. The most common shape of a Thangka is the upright rectangular.

How it came into prominence
Thangka could be easily rolled and transported from one monastery to another. Travelling Buddhist monks found it easy to carry these paintings. As the paintings depicted the life of Buddha, they served as invaluable teaching tools. One very popular theme is “The Wheel of Life” symbolizing the enlightenment.

Relevance of Thangka Paintings
In the Buddhist realm, these are not just colorful wall hangings but epitomize the divine beauty. Apart from being visually stimulating, Thangka also performs many functions. When depicting the lives of Buddha or historical events in the lives of lamas or visually narrating the myths associated with other deities, it becomes an important teaching tool. It functions as the centerpiece during a Buddhist religious ceremony. Thangka is used as a medium to offer prayers to the almighty. Most importantly it is used as a tool of meditation in an individual's endeavor to attain enlightenment.

Main features of a Thangka Paintings
The artists does not convey his personal vision in these paintings. Majority of these painters follow the traditional and well established scientific arrangement of content, color and proportion according to a predefined set of rules. There might be slight regional variations. The paintings are left under the care of a conservator. These religious objects do not display the name of the artist, technique employed or the date of their creation. Their importance lies in displaying a vast variety of iconographic information. Different colours portray different emotions. For instance,green indicates some activity,white conveys peacefulness and compassion. Same figure in a different color can convey a different mood.

Painting Technique
There are regional variations in the technique. This was owing to the training given to the artist, fund available to purchase the basic material and the number of assistants employed by the master painter. Even the technique of paint application varies from one region to another. Mountings, surrounding the painting were prepared by tailors as these were made of silk brocade. These may be frequently replaced owing to damage which may have been caused due to frequent scrolling and unscrolling.

Classification of Thangka
The material used and the technique employed can be used to categorize these paintings as follows:

  • Those which are painted

  • Those made of silk either by appliqué or with embroidery

They may be further classified as follows:

  • Painted in color(they form the most common type)

  • Applique

  • Those with a gold line on a black background

  • Block printed painting

  • Embroidered paintings

  • Gold background. This is an auspicious form and is employed for fully enlightened Buddhas

  • Paintings in red background.
Material used
Thangka artists employ various fabrics. The most widely used is loosely woven cotton fabric. Its width varies from 40-58 cms.

Method used
Basic materials employed are cotton canvas or silk .Mineral and organic water soluble pigments which are mixed with herb and glue solution are then used to paint. This process requires immaculate skills in drawing perfect figures and an immense understanding of the iconometric principles. Like its other Buddhist counterpart, Thangka painting is also highly goemetric. Symmetrical grid of angels and intersecting lines are used to depict arms, legs, eyes, nostrils, ears, and various ritual implements. This art form is so intrinsically religious that it is executed in accordance with the guidelines laid down in the Buddhist scriptures.

Thangka portrays the physical attributes and qualities of Buddha. They are composite and complicated art pieces used not just for decoration but also to convey icnographic ideas. It is final product of an arduous and impeccable effort of many tailors and artists who have been trained under different masters.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Patachitra, or painting on cloth, represents the vibrant folk art of Orissa. This art form has been extremely popular since the very ancient past. The best work is found in and around Puri, especially in the village s of Raghurajpur and Dandasahi. However, when temples were erected in other places in the state of Orissa, the artists spread in other areas also, like- Bolangir, Sambalpur, and Ganjam.

Distinctive features of the Patachitras
Bold lines and brilliant play of colors is what differentiates this hereditary art form from other styles of painting.

The vibrant themes are provided by religious and mythological stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata Gita. The painters articulate the pictures of Radha- Krishna, Shakti, Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra with immense bhakti. Figures like a dancing girl or mother and child also formed popular themes. Lord krishna seems to form an inexhaustible supply of themes to the painter for eg.- Krishna dancing with gopis and Krishna playing various pranks on his playmates ,popular legends about Radha and Krishna, set in a riot of exhilarating colours.

Colors used
For the background, red, orange, yellow is used; lapis lazuli for the sky, trees are represented by dark green and parrot green is used for grass. This visually vibrant background is then used to display the blue figure of Krishna. Whereas, silver pink purple, wheat and brown and a whole gamut of shades are used to portray Krishna’s playmates. These figures are then touched off by gold and silver brushing.

The preparation of Patachitra canvas
This is initiated by preparing a double coarse white cloth pasted together with an adhesive made in tamarind seeds. To provide a sticky consistency, the tamarind seed powder is soaked in water overnight and then boiled to give a stiffer feel to the canvas. Sometimes, rice powder is also added.

The next step is application of a coat of tamarind on both the sides of the cloth, which is then left to dry. This is followed by the application of a coat of soap stone powder mixed with tamarind paste. Final step is the polishing of canvas by rubbing coarse grain and polished stones.

Once the canvas is ready, the next step is to mark the border area and outline the central composition. It is followed by painting the background in red, also known as pahili ranga bhara or first coloring. Subsequently, figures are colored and red ornaments and black details are applied. Border decoration is then completed. The central colors used in Patachitra are red, brick red. yellow, white and lamp black.

Pottery forms a very common article on which painting is done. For this purpose,. a mixture of clay and powder from a stone rich in iron oxide is used. Another method is to incise and cut a pattern on the raw pottery using comb - like and knife like tools.

On the completion of the painting, a protective lacquer glaze 'jausala' is finally applied. However, earlier resin powder was sprinkled on the pata on which a bag of hot sand was put. This technique has now become outdated, as nowadays most of the artists apply synthetic varnish, thereby giving a brownish tint to the Patachitras.

Basic materials required: Cloth, tamarind seeds, mixture of chalk and gum, brush

Colors: Earthen colors, stone colors

Brushes/tools: comb-like and knife-like tools

Various kinds of brushes are used. An interesting feature is that painters do not use the squirrel hairbrushes but the fine brushes made from the hairs of a mongoose or rat, or the coarser brushes made from the hair of a buffalo neck. Kiya plants were also used in the past to draw thick lines.

Importance of Patachitras
Patachitras play an important role in the temples of Orissa. Painted wooden images of jagganath, balabhadra and subhadra are ritually given the holy bath. This forms an important annual ritual. The images are thus, discolored; hence they are removed from the garbhagriha for repainting. While repainting is underway, the temple images are substituted for three patachitras representing the divine trio.

Not everyone shares the privilege of painting patachitas, as this honour is bestowed only upon three families,reffered to as hakimas. For this purpose, a cloth measuring 120cmx90cms is used. The entire figure ,with the exception of the eyes ,is completed by the artist. Which is then given to the priest who in turn performs a ritual, 'netrotsva' which induces life to the painting.

Tourists visiting orissa, treasure these patachitras as an important souvenir item. These mementos ,represent the indelible images of the utsava and the central sanctuary of the puri temple. In today's context, the patachitrs have gained immense fame for thier richness of colors are are widely treasured as a collector's item.

Mysore Paintings

Mysore Paintings, a rich traditional art form of South India enables one to understand the rich cultural values of India. As the name suggests, this art flourished and developed in Mysore (Karnataka). Historically, Mysore was ruled by many rulers who had a strong passion for visual arts.
Among many rulers, the name of Raja Woodeyar(1578-1617 AD) stands to forefront for contributing significantly for the cause of artists in the different parts of the erstwhile state of Mysore. The art and crafts of Mysore received major fillip during the reign of Mummadi Krishnaraja Woodeyar. The paintings during his period had a variety - murals depicting several scenes of Hindu mythology, portraits of heroes and kings, icons of Hindu mythology, strictly adhering to the iconography principles.

How Mysore Paintings are Made?
Mysore painting making, involves many steps. As a part of first step the artist makes a preliminary sketch of the image on the base, comprising a cartridge paper pasted on a wooden base. Thereafter, he makes a paste of zinc oxide and Arabic gum, known as 'gesso paste'. The paste allows to lend raising effect of carving to those parts of the painting that require embellishments and is allowed to dry. Then, gold foil is pasted onto the surface. The rest of the painting is prepared with the help of watercolors. After the painting is fully dried, it is covered with a thin paper and rubbed lightly with a smooth soft stone.

In the traditional Mysore paintings, all the inputs were made by the artists, including brushes, paints, board, gold foil, etc. The colors used were natural derived from vegetable and minerals. For the base, paper, wood, wall and cloth, were used. The sketches were made with the help of charcoal, which was prepared by burning tamarind twigs in an iron tube. The brushes were made of different materials, like squirrel hair, camel hair, goat hair, etc.

Design is mainly carried out on the mandapams, the jewelleries, the attire etc., with a specially prepared compound and a brush. Once the compound is dried, gold foils are placed over them and stuck firmly. Painting is subsequently done. After the painting is completed and it dries, a thin paper is placed on top of it and rubbed softly with a smooth soft stone to bring the richness in the relief work done with gold foil. In order to give a sharp edged effect to the painting grass blades were used.

The main theme of the painting is mythological and religious. The figures mainly depicted by the artists are divine figures like Goddess Saraswati playing the Veena or Goddess Laxmi bestowing an abundance of wealth on her devotees. The colors used incorporate enhance the overall effect. Paintings are made lively with the use of high up light and shade effect. Some of the characteristic themes in these paintings are Dashavatar, Laxmi, Saraswati, Rajarageshwari, Sri Rama, Kodanada Rama, Tandavashwera and Vishvarupadarsha.