As in architecture, the cultural heritage of India in the field of painting is also very rich. Period from the first to the seventh centuries AD is considered to be the most productive period of ancient Indian Art. Although there are evidences of painting even during the pre-Vedic period. The Ajanta paintings, of course is the richest heritage.
The Ajanta Paintings:
The walls of the Ajanta caves are decorated with Ajanta paintings, depicting the pomp and splendour of the royal courts, the romance of love, singing and dancing. Some of them depict the world of nature—vegetation and flowers, animals and birds. Many themes depicted are from the Buddha’s life and Jataka stories. The scenes are full of vitality. Figures are drawn with admirable skill. The intense human appeal gives the message of unity of life depicted through the panorama of all forms of life. The paintings give a fuller picture of real life. The medium used to draw is line. What was achieved in the West with could was achieved in India with line. This style in ancient time spread to central Asia and is evident in wall paintings and in paintings on wooden panels.
The tradition of painting continued for sometime in other parts of India like Badami, Kanchi and Ellora. Later, it spread to Sri Lanka. Gradually, the art of wall painting faded, though the art of book illumination continued, particularly in Jain texts.
The Mughal Paintings:
The next phase in the art of painting was ushered in by Mughals. They brought with them the traditions of Persian painting. The synthesis of the two distinct styles was encouraged by Akbar. He gathered a number of painters from Persia, Kashmir and Gujarat such as Abdus Samad, Miskin, Basawan, Mukand and many others. They illustrated manuscripts like the Dastan-i-Amir Hamza and Babar Nama. Individual pieces were also painted. An independent Mughal style of painting was developed by the end of Akbar’s reign.
Jahangir was a great patron of painting. Mughal School of painting developed under him and made remarkable progress. The painting was no longer confined to book illumination. Portrait painting and depiction of subjects drawn from life and nature became popular. There were many fine painters in Jahangir’s court. Their competence and skill were great. They made several copies of a painting which Sir Thomas Roe had presented to Jahangir, on the same day. These were so perfect that Sir Roe found it most difficult to spot the original painting. The development of painting continued under Shah Jahan. Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan was a great patron of painting. However, art declined under Aurangzeb. He withdraws the court patronage. The artists were forced to move to different parts of the country. They developed new schools of painting. Two of the most important schools of painting those emerged were the Rajasthani and the Pahari. The subjects of the painting of these schools were drawn from the epics, myths and legends and love themes.