The art of painting both monochrome and polychrome is very old. The earliest surviving examples in India date from the first and second centuries B.C. and are seen in the caves at Ajanta which however are not frescoes.
The themes of these are dominantly Buddhist. The paintings help us to understand some aspects of the religious and social life of the people.
In South India literary evidences testifying to the extent and excellence of early murals are extensive but our knowledge of them is still meagre since none of the specimens survives. The “cave temples’ of Tjrumayam and Mamandur and the structural temples of Panamalai, Kanchipuram and Mamallapuram contain fragmentary Pallava paintings which may be dated the seventh and eighth centuries.
The paintings in the cave temples at Sittannavasal are attributed by some scholars to the Pallavas. But some consider them to be the Pandya origin. Of the Chola paintings the most significant and representative are those in the circumambulatory passage round the sanctum of the Tanjore temple, first brought to our notice some twenty-five years ago.
This art was continued and given imperial patronage in the Vijayanagar period also; but still some decline in the art was not imperceptible. A few surviving examples of it worth mentioning are found today at Hampi, Somapalle, Lepakshi, Tirupparuttikunram, Aneguudi and Kanchipuram.
The South Indian painting is technically different from the famous paintings of Ajanta, Sigiriya, Bagh, Badami and Ellora. “Here the Ground plaster is of coarser lime mortar below, with a finer coat of lime wash above it on which the pigments have been laid. The absence of any adhesive such as gum or glue in the laying of the pigments is the important feature that distinguishes them from the paintings in the Deccan and Ceylon”.