Ancient Indian Art
India has a rich and complex history spanning thousands of years. India was the only major Asian
culture known to have been visited by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. As such, they have carried
with them this air of mystery and exoticism throughout time. Many Asian cultures were often seen
this way, as somehow exotic and mysterious. However, this is just because their works have always
been different from what was being made in the rest of the world and as a culture, they function
differently to the West. Their artworks reflect this and are both unique and exuberant.
Indian art as a whole refers to the different artistic expressions created in the historical regions of the Indian subcontinent, including modern-day India, Bangladesh, and areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It covers several art forms, historical periods and influences. Archeologists have found evidence of
prehistoric rock art in India, an early art form consisting of carvings or drawings on cave rocks. Some
of the oldest examples are called the Bhimbetka petroglyphs found in central India and are believed
to be at least 290,000 years old. In very similar ways to Southern African rock art, many of the ancient
Indian rock art examples also feature representations of animals and humans. The oldest examples of
these date from about 7000 BCE.
Traditional Indian art usually had a religious character that was depicted and Buddhism, Hinduism and
later Islam, have been a common theme throughout the centuries. The pieces often feature
mythological, human and animal forms and had elaborate ornaments. Unlike other areas influenced
by Islam, Indian art never abandoned figurative representations. Architecture in ancient India focused
mostly on religious buildings. Many Hindu temples featured very distinctive towers in the form of
truncated pyramids and had elaborate ornamentation with hundreds of sculptures.
Buddhism originated in India at some point during the 6th century and this very much influenced the
art that was being made. Religious artists made sculpture pieces from stone and bronze. They also
produced magnificent examples of Indian cave art, with entire temples being carved in stone and
decorated with Greek-influenced columns and sculptures. By the 5th century CE, sculpture was a
common practice among Indian Buddhists and Hindus. What is unique here is that the general area of
India and surrounds is the home of several of the world’s major religions, so it’s not really surprising
that most of India’s art is centered on religion. Around 300-200 B.C., the Buddhists began to erect
large stone pillars at important places. These pillars were often topped with a figure of a lion. The lion
was a symbol of power for Indian rulers. Other pillars had figures such as lotus’s, bulls and elephants.
Hindus also made carvings of the gods that were shaped like humans but often with many arms or
heads to show that they could take different forms. In northern India, these images were carved into
rocks. In southern India, they were made into bronze statues. When Islamic rulers took over North
India, they forbid the worship of carved figures shaped like humans so many of them were destroyed.
Hinduism continued to be the focus of art creation for centuries, with sculptures of Shiva and other
deities as well as huge stone temples like the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, built in the 11th century.
India became a British colony in the 19th century, which had a big impact on their art. The British
established art schools that promoted European styles in the country but ironically, back in Europe
there was a large demand for Indian art objects. This resulted in local artistic traditions merging with
foreign influences. After India’s independence in 1947, artists have searched for new styles.
Contemporary Indian art has been international in its scope and very experimental and it is deeply
seated in a long and rich history.