Mural Paintings in India

Context

The Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) has reportedly engaged around 150 artists for wall painting and murals which aimed at spreading awareness about Covid-19 and its prevention since April this year. Initiated under state government’s scheme of Urban Wage Employment Initiative, the artists were hired through self-help groups (SHGs) in order to provide livelihood options to the urban poor amidst the pandemic. The scheme coupled with civic authority’s city beautification goals was overseen by 16 engineers for all 67 wards.

The aim of the initiative was to generate maximum employment especially during lockdowns when livelihood of the most was lost. The BMC had hired artists through SHGs who also benefitted from the scheme. About three SHGs were contracted for the work in every ward.

What is Mural Painting?

  • The works on the walls or a solid structure are referred to as Murals. These have existed in India since ancient times and can be dated between 10th century BC and 10th century AD.
  • The evidence of such paintings can be found at several locations in India. The beauty and the exquisiteness of mural paintings can be seen in places like Ajanta, Armamalai Cave, Ravan Chhaya Rock shelter, Bagh caves, Sittanavasal caves and Kailasanatha temple in Ellora.
  • Most of the mural paintings are either in natural caves or in rock-cut chambers. The paintings follow a theme, the most common being Hindu, Buddhist and Jain. Apart from this, such paintings were also made to adorn any mundane premise. An example of such a work can be seen in the ancient theatre room in Jogimara Cave.
  • The Mural paintings are unique because of their sheer size. They cannot be contained on paper and need to be executed on the walls of large structures, usually caves and temple walls. In ancient period, these were utilised by three major religions: Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. Some of the best examples are murals in the Ajanta- Ellora Caves.

Ajanta Cave Paintings

  • One of the oldest surviving murals of Indian subcontinent, Ajanta caves were carved in 4th century AD out of volcanic rocks. It consists of a set of 29 caves, carved in a horse-shoe shape.
  • These caves are quite popular for their exquisite mural paintings that took around four to five centuries to complete under the reign of Mauryan Empire.
  • Murals in cave no. 9 and 10 belong to the Sunga period, while the rest belong to the Gupta period. The paintings in cave no. 1 and 2 are the most recent of the caves in Ajanta.
  • The walls of the caves have both murals and fresco paintings (painted on wet plaster). They use tempera style, i.e. use of pigments. The paintings portray human values and social fabric along with styles, costumes and ornaments of that period. The emotions are expressed through hand gestures.
  • The unique feature of the paintings is that each female figure has a unique hairstyle. Even animals and birds are shown with emotions. The common themes of these paintings range from Jataka stories to life of Buddha to elaborate decorative patterns of flora and fauna. Graceful poses of humans and animals adorn the walls of the caves.
  • The medium of painting was vegetable and mineral dyes. The outline of the figures is red ochre, with contours of brown, black or deep red.

Some important paintings at Ajanta are:

  • Scenes from the Jataka stories of the Buddha’s former lives as a bodhisattva, the life of the Gautama Buddha, etc.
  • Paintings of various Bodhisattvas in tribhanga pose in Cave 1: Vajrapani (protector and guide, a symbol of Buddha’s power), Manjusri (manifestation of Buddha’s wisdom) and Padmapani (Avalokitesvara) (symbol of Buddha’s compassion).
  • The Dying Princess in Cave.no 16.
  • Scene of Shibi Jataka, where King Shibi offered his own flesh to save the pigeon.
  • Scene of Matri-Poshaka Jataka where the ungrateful person saved by an elephant, gives out his whereabouts to the king.

Ellora Cave Paintings

  • The mural paintings in the Ellora caves are found in five caves, mostly limited to Kailasa temple.
  • These murals were done in two phases. The first phase paintings were done during the carving of the caves, while the second phase ones were done several centuries later.
  • The earlier paintings show Vishnu with his consort Lakshmi borne through the clouds by Garuda, the celestial bird. The later paintings, made in Gujrati style, depict procession of Shaiva holy men. The paintings are related to all three religoins (Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism).

Some prominent Ellora cave paintings are:

  • Images of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu
  • Images of Lord Shiva with his followers.
  • Beautiful and gracious Apsaras.

Ravan Chhaya Rock Shelter in Kendujhar Odisha

Located in the Keonjhar district of Odisha, these ancient fresco paintings on a rock shelter are in a shape of half-opened umbrella. It is believed that this shelter acted like the royal hunting lodge. The most noticeable painting is that of a royal procession that dates back to 7th century.

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