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History of Indian Art

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Indian art is an extremely rich and ancient heritage which is an important part of our culture. Its history is extensive and deals with empires, kings, and conditions of society. The history of Indian art shows diversity and richness in its various fields, such as sculpture, music, dance, painting, and architecture. In this article, we will learn about various aspects of the history of Indian art, which make us experience the priceless heritage of our cultural heritage.

Timeline of Indian art history

To help you understand the history of Indian art during different periods, we have prepared a comprehensive table listing the different forms found during those times.

Timeline of Indian art history
prehistoric art3rd millennium BC
Indus Valley CivilizationAbout 3300 BC – About 1750 BC
Vedic period2nd millennium BC
maurya artAbout 322 BC – About 185 BC
giant yaksha statue2nd century BC
buddhist artCirca 150 BC – Circa 500 BC
Shunga DynastyAbout 185 BC – 72 BC
Satavahana dynasty1st/3rd century BC – 3rd century BC
Kushan Empire30 CE – 375 CE
secret art320 CE – 550 CE
Medieval Empire and Early Medieval PeriodAround 600 CE – Around 1206 C.E./1526 C.E.
dynasties of south india3rd century CE – 1200 CE
Late medieval period and colonial eraAround 1526 AD – Around 1757 AD
Mughal art of northern IndiaBefore and after 1600 AD
British period1857 AD-1947 AD
contemporary Art1900 AD-present

Brief history of Indian art

Evidence of the origin of Indian art comes from the past of the civilization. It is believed that most Indian art forms originated during the Indus Valley Civilization at its peak. There is evidence of architecture, painting and sculpture from the Indus Valley Civilization in India. Man-made paintings can be seen in the caves of Bhimbetka. The bronze dancer sculpture from Mohenjodaro shows modern advanced modeling. Even in ancient times, humans loved animals and used to make their pictures and statues. Many terracotta figurines of cows, bears, monkeys and dogs have been found which provide evidence of this. During his reign, Ashoka used to create statues of big animals on the pillars. The lion rampart built by Ashoka was adopted as the national symbol of India after independence.

Brief history of Indian art
ancient artIn ancient times, remains of the Indus-Saraswati Civilization (2500–1700 BC), the discovery of Mohenjo-Daro, and temples, stupas, and sculptures famous for various religious and social traditions can be found in North India. The beauty and creativity of the craftsmanship here is admirable.
medieval artIn the medieval period, the arrival of Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic cultures brought further diversity to Indian art. This is a period of creativity and splendor during the Rajput, Gupta, Pallava, Chola, Vijayanagara, Gujarat, and Mughal empires. The rulers of the Mughal Empire had unique significance in the development of creative endeavors, grand celebrations, and architecture.
modern ArtIn modern times, Indian art has continued to develop and has resulted in further expansion in contact with diverse cultures, languages, and tribal communities. Modern art includes many forms of Indian folk art, urban art, painting, and music, each of which has its own important place.

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prehistoric art

Archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric rock art in India. The oldest examples are the Bhimbetka petroglyphs which were found in central India and are thought to be at least 290,000 years old. The oldest cave paintings depicting animals and humans date back to around 7000 BC.

indus valley art

There is evidence of architecture, painting and sculpture from the Indus Valley Civilization in India. From the 2nd century BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization flourished in the north-west region of the country (today's Pakistan). A civilized culture developed during the Harappan period. The history of Indian art during the Indus Valley Civilization is believed to be around 3200-1200, which shows the influence of advances in science and culture. The artistic expression of this period can be traced through rock paintings and temple art. The people of the Indus Valley Civilization produced the earliest known Indian art sculptures, such as small terracotta and bronze figures, between 2500 and 1800 BCE, which depicted animals and humans, such as cows, monkeys, and dancing postures.

Influence of Buddhism and Hinduism on Indian art

Buddhism originated in India in the sixth century BC. Religious artists created sculptures, including stone and bronze. They also produced spectacular examples of Indian cave art, with entire temples carved in stone and decorated with Greek-influenced columns and sculptures. By the 5th century AD, sculpture was a common practice among Indian Buddhists and Hindus. Hinduism remained a center of art creation for centuries, producing statues of Shiva and other deities and huge stone temples such as the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, built in the 11th century in northern India.

Islamic influence on Indian art

In the 12th century, there was a gradual Muslim conquest of India and various Islamic states were established during that period. Islam gradually gained importance in India and under the Mughal Empire established in the 16th century. The rule of the Mughals from the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century changed the entire face of the country. Their influence can be traced from the architecture and monuments built by them during that time such as the Taj Mahal.

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colonial period art

A defining moment in the history of Indian art came with the arrival of Vasco da Gama in the late 15th century, who established direct links with India for trade. During the 17th century, France, the Netherlands and Denmark and England gradually began to facilitate trade with India. With the decline of Maratha rule in the 18th century, European countries started entering India from its various regions. British power expanded with the defeat of Tipu Sultan and by the mid-19th century, the British Empire ruled the country. The Western and European influence on India during that time was something that can be felt in Indian culture and art even today. This resulted in the fusion of local artistic traditions with foreign influences.

independence era art

After decades of British rule, India became independent on 15 August 1947. The country went through a long period of struggle, with fierce world wars, invasions, oppression, conflicts, independence and development of culture and these aspects have influenced the history of Indian art and culture to a great extent.

Indian art styles

Traditional Indian art has depicted religious themes from Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism for centuries. From ancient frescoes and wall paintings to modern canvases, Indian art has undergone remarkable changes. Traditional Indian art includes religious characters (gods and statues) from Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism which have been a common theme for centuries.

Madhubani Painting

Madhubani painting is characterized by its geometric patterns and depictions of deities, fauna and flora. This art is also known as Mithila art, and it originated in Janak's kingdom in Nepal and present-day Bihar. This art form was not known to the rest of the world until the 1930s when it was discovered after an earthquake.

warli painting

This art form dates back to 2500 BC, and was practiced by the Warli tribes of Thane and Nashik in Maharashtra. These paintings mostly depict the nature and social customs of the tribe. It depicts daily activities like farming, prayer, dancing, hunting etc. Warli paintings dating back to 2500 BC depict the daily activities and rituals of the Warli tribe, using distinctive white geometric patterns against colored backgrounds.

miniature painting

16th century miniature painting blends Indian, Islamic and Persian influences. They depict a wide range of subjects, from wars to wildlife. This art form dates back to the 16th century, and the subjects usually focus on battles, court scenes, portraits, wildlife, receptions, hunting scenes, mythological stories, etc.


With strong ties to Persian motifs, this art has been in practice for over 3000 years. The name Kalamkari is derived from kalam or pen, and means 'drawing with a pen'. This organic art of hand and block printing has survived for generations in Andhra Pradesh.

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Tanjore painting

First painted in the 16th century during the Chola rule, this painting originated in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. It is known for its magnificent decorations, vibrant colors and rich surfaces. Whose subjects mainly focus on Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

Indian Art Forms

The history of Indian art forms is vast and full of diversity. Here art is introduced in various fields, such as sculpture, painting, architecture, music, dance, and literature.

  1. The art of the craft: The history of Indian craftsmanship is very ancient. For thousands of years Indian artists have created a variety of sculptures that share religious, cultural, and historical messages.
  2. drawing: The history of Indian painting is also very ancient. Indian painting adopts a variety of colors, techniques, and styles, including Miniature, Madhubani, Rajputana, and Mughal styles.
  3. architecture: The history of Indian architecture is also very vast and it is famous for its rich heritage. The major styles of Indian architecture are Maurya, Gupta, Chola, Vijayanagara, and Mughal art.
  4. music: The history of Indian music begins from the time of the Vedas and includes various popular styles of classical, folk, and classical music.
  5. dance: Indian dance is also full of variety and includes major styles such as Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Odissi, Indian folk dance, and Mohiniyattam.
  6. Literature: Indian literature is also extremely rich and includes many important texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and modern literature.

Artists who contributed to the history of Indian art

Many great artists and institutions have contributed to the history of Indian art. Following are some of the major contributors:

Artists who contributed to the history of Indian art
Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd al-SamadPersian painters were brought to the Mughal Empire by Humayun.
AkbarThe Mughal emperors are known for their patronage of art.
JahangirIndividual artistic styles were emphasized during his reign.
ShahjahanKnown for ceremonial court scenes in Mughal art.
AurangzebPatronage of the arts declined during the reign of the Mughals.
Ruler of VijayanagaraPromoted magnificent architecture especially in Hampi.
Raja Ravi VermaFamous for oil paintings that blend Indian and Western influences
Abanindranath TagoreLeader of the Bengal School of Art and promoter of Indian nationalism
Gaganendranath TagoreLeading role of modernist painting in India
Amrita ShergillFamous for introducing avant-garde Western styles into Indian art
contemporary artistM.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza, Tyeb Mehta and others who explored new directions in Indian art.

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