India has a rich history of paintings in its culture and tradition. There are quite a lot of types of paintings and art forms that we have. These include Meenakari paintings, Warli paintings, Madhubani Paintings, and Phad Paintings that originated centuries ago. Another such type of painting that we will know about today is Cave Paintings.

These paintings date back to the pre-historic era and are ancient but still kept preserved and well maintained. The paintings on caves and rock-cut structures survive for many centuries. These cave paintings got their inspiration from nature. These paintings mostly depict gods and goddesses, mythological stories and characters, epics, nature, flora and fauna, humans, and religion. Let’s take a look at some of the cave paintings in India.

1. Ajanta Caves

Cave paintings in India

The Ajanta caves are Buddhist caves. These are located at a distance of around 100 km from the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The Ajanta caves contain the oldest Indian paintings which were made around 1 st century BC. Other than that, the caves contain many portraits and illustrations. They depict the Life of Buddha, his rebirth, and his preaching.

There are many frescoes, murals, paintings, and rock-cut sculptures inside the caves. The Ajanta caves have beautiful frescoes painted all over the walls and the ceilings. These frescoes and paintings represent court life, processions, feasts, people working, festivals and events, and scenes from nature like animals, birds, and flowers. They mostly revolve around Lord Buddha and the most common theme is Jataka-the incarnations of Lord Buddha. They also depict yakshas, nagas and Ganga, and the Yamuna- the river goddesses, etc. The artists made the paintings in wet plaster. Then they put a layer of lime plaster over the paintings to protect and preserve them.

The Ajanta cave paintings are also known as the masterpieces of Buddhist art. It is one of the best examples of ancient Indian art. There are a total of 30 caves in Ajanta which have some wonderful, brightly – colored paintings. Some of the famous paintings of the Ajanta caves are the one which shows a procession of elephants, one which shows a dancer and women musicians, the Chhadanta Jataka in Cave 10, and Bodhisattva – an elephant with six tusks. The Ajanta caves have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Ellora Caves

Cave paintings in India

The Ellora caves are situated in the Charandari Hills. It is located at a distance of about 29 km from the city of Aurangabad, Maharashtra, and about 100 km from the Ajanta caves. The place contains over 100 caves out of which 34 caves are open for the public. These caves feature and celebrate Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Out of these caves, 5 caves have these paintings. They contain engraved pre-historic paintings divided into two sections. One section depicts Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. The other section portrays Lord Shiva and his followers and the procession of Apsaras and Shaivas. Caves 32 and 33 are Jain temples that contain remains of some beautiful murals. These caves are from around the 9th century.

Kailasanatha, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, Cave 16 was built around 760 – 860 AD. It contains some of the best-preserved paintings which have been repainted almost three times. This Kailasanatha or Kailash temple, a chariot-shaped monument in Cave 16, is the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. The Hindu caves, built around 600 – 875 AD, contain paintings based on Apsaras, trees, nature, and deities whereas the Buddhist caves, built around 550 – 750 AD, contain paintings based on the Lord Buddha. The Jain caves were built around 800 – 1000 AD and they contain some magnificent murals. Some famous paintings are of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi with clouds as a backdrop and Ravan ki Khai. The Ellora caves are one of the largest rock-cut Hindu temple caves all over the world and they have also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3. Elephanta Caves

Cave Paintings in India

Elephanta Caves, also known as, Gharapuri (city of caves) are located on the Elephanta Island of Mumbai, Maharashtra. These historic caves contain several ancient Hindu temples, paintings, sculptures, carvings, etc. These caves depict Hinduism and Buddhism. These caves consist of five Hindu caves and two Buddhist caves. The paintings here are brightly colored and mostly represent the artist’s culture. Cave 1 is also known as the grand cave or the great cave. There are many sculptures here like Ardhanarishvara, Ravananugraha, Yogishvara, and Hindu deities such as Kartikeya, Ganesha, Dvarapala, Lord Shiva, etc. There is also a Trimurti statue which is around 20 feet high. It is also the most important sculpture of this cave. To reach the cave, one has to climb 120 steps.

The most popular and celebrated carvings of the Elephanta caves are the large monolithic Trimurti Sadashiva, Nataraja, and Yogishvara. These paintings and artworks were made between the 5th and the 9th century. There is also a carving depicting Kalyanasundara, the wedding of Shiva and Parvati, where one can see many gods and goddesses, Brahma, Vishnu, King Parvata, Chandra (moon god), and apsaras witnessing and blessing the wedding. The Elephanta caves were also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

4. Sittanavasal Caves

The Sittanavasal Cave is also known as the Arivar Koil. It is a Jain cave located in the Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu. This cave was created by Jains and is a rock-cut cave temple of the Arihants. This cave was built in the 2nd century. it contains remains of many well-known murals which dated back to the 7th century. The paintings here were done with vegetable and mineral dyes and colors which include black, blue, white, yellow, green, and orange. The paintings were made over a thin wet layer of lime plaster.

The Sittanavasal cave depicts Jainism and to reach the cave, one has to climb around 100 steps. The main themes of paintings are lotus pond, lotus flowers, two dancing figures, lilies, geese, fish, buffaloes, and elephants. Another common theme of paintings was Jain.

Samavasarana, meaning the attainment of nirvana and Khatika bhumi. There are decorative and beautiful paintings of the sanctum and a lotus tank, men, flowers, birds, animals, fishes, and a dancing girl, the king and the queen all over the pillars and the ceilings. These Sittanavasal cave paintings depict the Pandyan period of the 9th century. They also contain inscriptions from the 9th and the 10th century. The paintings and the artwork of the Sittanavasal caves are very similar. It is believed to be connected to the Ajanta caves. The technique which was used in making these paintings is called fresco-secco.

5. Bhimbetka Caves

The Bhimbetka rock shelters situated in Central India is an archaeological site from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods. These rock shelters are located in the Raisen district in the state of Madhya Pradesh. There are traces of the Stone Age at the site. The site also contains seven hills with over 750 rock shelters and caves. There are beautiful, prehistoric cave paintings among which some are even 10,000 years old. Some common themes of these cave paintings were animals, dancing and hunting, elephant, deer, peacock, and snake. The paintings here belong to several different periods like the early historic, the medieval period, and the Chalcolithic age. Some paintings included gatherers, metals, horse riding, and fighting. Some caves here even date back to 100,000 years. The most common colors used in these paintings were red and white.

These rock shelters consist of over 600 caves and even the ceilings of these caves are decorated. These decorative paintings depict religious motifs, tree gods, magical sky chariots, humans, war scenes with kings and soldiers on horses, and people enjoying and living daily life. The place has a well-known rock caked “Zoo Rock”. It has paintings of bison, deer, bear, peacock, snake, and the sun god on it. Bhimbetka is the oldest known rock art in India. This place was named “Bhimbetka” after Bhima, a Pandava from Mahabharata. The name was derived from Bhim Bhatika which means the place where Bheem used to sit. The Bhimbetka rock shelters were also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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