Paintings of Karnataka

Paintings of Karnataka
Karnataka paintings follow a long line of development. The earliest paintings in Karnataka can be traced back to the megalithic people who occupied Karnataka in the 1st millennium B.C. There  primitive paintings adorned the walls of caves etc. They mostly depicted the animal life of the region.

Different types of paintings found in Karnataka can be classified into- Murals, illustrated manuscript and Miniatures. However, these paintings can’t be studied within political boundaries of states today as they grew and developed under the patronage of different kings and various empire which had varied extension.


Murals are paintings which have been done on caves and on the ceilings and walls of temples, palaces and mansions With a distinct style with linear grace and high impact color, the murals of Karnataka has high artistic value.The earliest murals found in Karnataka are seen at Badami.  The third of the celebrated caves of Badami dedicated to Vishnu contained a few paintings modeled on those of Ajantha and Ellora. These were described and analyzed by art critics such as Thomas Munroe, Bird, Wilson and James Burgess in the nineteenth century. These were made in the 6th century under the Chalukya kings and the Rashtrkuta kings who followed them continued the patronage.

The next stage of mural painting in Karnataka encompasses the Vijayanagara period and the reign of the Bahmani and Adilshahi Sultans. The basic feature of these paintings are:

1.The sinuously drawn lines, fluid forms and compact composition exemplify the       roficiency and maturity the artist had achieved in the 6th century CE.

2.The faces are drawn very gracefully.

3.Their eye sockets are large, eyes are half closed, and the lips are protruding.


Ajanta paintings

The themes of most of these paintings revolve around the life and teachings of Lord Buddha. This includes the Jataka stories related to the various lives and incarnations of Buddha.

Ellora Paintings

The rock paintings of Ellora were painted in two different series. The first series, which were done when the caves were carved, revolve around Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. The second series, painted centuries later, illustrate procession of Shaiva holy men, Apsaras, etc.

It also included Jataka tales and Jain text.

 Badami Paintings

Petronised by Chalukyas. It was inspired by Vaishaivism. Paintings in this cave depict palace scenes.

Pandyas paintings

Jains texts, female figures, etc.

Pallavas paintings

Beautiful lotus pond and flowers, dancing figures, lilies, fish, geese, buffaloes and elephants.

Chola paintings

The paintings celebrate Lord Śiva.

 Vijayanagara Paintings

The paintings about the life and times of the Vijayanagara court.

Nayaka Paintings

Depicting the story of Mucukunda, a legendary Chola king.


Illustrated manuscript

An  illustrated  manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented with such decoration as initials, borders  and miniature illustrations. In the strictest definition, the term refers only to manuscripts decorated with gold or silver; but in both common usage and modern scholarship, the term refers to any decorated or illustrated manuscripts. It also include paintings done on handy materials, like palm leaf, wood panels, cloth, paper etc as the earliest manuscripts were written on them.

The use of hand-made paper for books began with the Muslim advent in the Deccan. This style was mostly favoured by the rulers of Bijapur and Ahmednagar. However, this activity remained confined to the royal courts and the use of palm leaf continued among the common people. Though manuscripts do not usually contain illustrations, the Dhavala manuscripts at Mudabidri have remarkable illustrations on them. The manuscripts make up three texts, and two out of three contain beautiful coloured illustrations.


Miniatures Paintings

Miniatures paintings are beautiful handmade paintings, which are quite colorful but small in size. The highlight of these paintings is the intricate and delicate brushwork, which lends them a unique identity. The colors are handmade, from minerals, vegetables, precious stones, indigo, conch shells, pure gold and silver. The most common theme of the Miniature painting of India comprises of the Ragas i.e., the musical codes of Indian classical music. There were a number of miniature schools in the country, including those of Mughals, Rajputs and the Deccan.

Most of the miniatures in Karnataka paintings are of the Muslim rulers of Bijapur. A distinct style of painting developed when Karnataka paintings came into contact with the Mughal influence. Thus most of the miniatures were produced during the rule of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur, in the northern part of Karnataka.


Style of Karnataka Paintings

Karnataka paintings encompasses great variety in style. However, different style was found to overlap in time frame. Based on a general view, three main painting styles emerge in the Karnataka paintings which can be understood with reference to outstanding piece of work made in that particular style.

Dhavala Manuscripts

This style of painting is seen in the Dhavala manuscripts, which are illustrated manuscripts date back to over 750 years.  The illustrations occupy the right and left margins of the palm leaves, and the middle portion contains the text.It was done on ancient Jain texts. The subject of the paintings is Jain tirthankaras, Munis, Yakshas and Yakshinis.


Lepakshi paintingsPaintings of Karnataka

Most significant murals painting is visible in Lepakshi in Karnataka paintings. The murals are seen on the high ceiling of the huge gateway of the Veerabhadra temple.Most of the murals has themes from mythology  which includes the Hindu Gods- Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Arjuna.The background has been made in a light shade which illuminates the figures in front.

Deccani School of Painting

Deccani painting is a Deccan form of miniature painting, evolved in during the Bahmani Sultanate in 1347 AD. The style developed under the patronage of Deccan sultanates namely, Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Berar and lasted until the extinct of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in 1687 AD.

The style of Deccani painting flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries, later in the 18th and 19th centuries after the Mughal conquest of Deccan the style gradually withered away and new form of Hyderabad style painting evolved in the Deccan region particularly in the Nizam territory. Most of the colouring of Deccani paintings are Islamic Turkish and Persian tradition specially the arabesques, but those are surmounted by a pure Deccani piece of foliage

Religious Influence on Karnataka Paintings

Religion has deep impact on themes in all the Karnataka paintings, irrespective of the time or style of its creation. The image of Lord Krishna in child form, and also his love life is quite visible. Depiction of Hindu Gods and Goddesses- Saraswati, Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva- is seen as a persistent theme in all of Karnataka paintings even after advent of Muslim ruler. Arjuna’s archery feat with Draupadi by his side even in the later paintings such as the mansions at Nippani, Athani and the Nargund palace, the religious themes continue.

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