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Rajput Painting

South Indian Style


The presence of a prominent Syriac Orthodox Church in Tribankur, India, can be traced back to the first century AD. According to historical records, Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, visited India and stayed there for some time, spreading the teachings of Christianity. Over time, the Syrian church and Byzantine Greece significantly influenced the region, developing various Christian art styles. Unfortunately, no hereditary examples of these art styles exist today, leaving us with little knowledge of what the original art forms looked like. 


Mural of Swamy Padmanabha Temple
Mural of Swamy Padmanabha Temple

However, one exception is the temple of Swami Padmanava, which features beautiful examples of these art forms on its walls. The wall paintings showcase mesmerizing decorative line drawings that testify to the remarkable artistic skills of the artists who lived in this region. The artwork is unique in that no foreign influence is evident, and the style is entirely indigenous area region. 

Overall, the presence of Christian art styles in this Southern region for such an extended period is a testament to India's rich cultural heritage. The art forms preserved in Swami Padmanava's temple are a treasure trove of information about the artistic traditions of this region and provide insight into the remarkable skills of the artists who lived here.


Painting on the roof of the Sittanavasal Cave
Painting on the roof of the Sittanavasal Cave

Sittanavasal stands as one of South India's significant caves located along the south bank of the Krishna River, far from Pudukkottai- it is actually a Jain temple that once served as a center point during the Pallava Dynasty reigns. The temple is carved into relief work upon a hill, with murals remaining only within its roof and upper side pillars. A large fresco can be observed on the balcony, contenting itself with an enchanting pond full of lotuses-composed of fishes, ducks, and elephants alongside three male figures, each holding lotus flowers - two made up in deep red color while the third shines bright yellow. Those male figures are indeed mesmerizing with the heavenly approach. All the other decorative works are brilliant and versatile. We can find some female figures of heavenly dancers holding lotus on the pillars. The most notable painting of this cave is Ardhanarishvara. Scholars have determined that the paintings of Sittanavasal were most likely composed during the reigns of Pallava kings Mahandrabarman and Narsimhabarman, placing their creation between the 7th and 8th centuries. Remarkably, contemporary with these works were the Ajanta cave paintings in India and Dunhuang cave paintings in China, both of which were created in remote locations.


Painting in Brihadisvara Temple, Thanjavur
Painting in Brihadisvara Temple, Thanjavur

In the 10th century AD, several temples were constructed in Thanjavur, a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. These temples were adorned with frescoes that exhibited a strong influence from the Ajanta paintings, considered the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art. This observation reinforces the belief that the Ajanta style continued to have a significant impact on southern India during this period. It is worth noting that the frescoes in Thanjavur were not the only examples of this influence. The Meenakshi temple in Madurai, another city in Tamil Nadu, also contains similar paintings that bear a resemblance to those in Thanjavur. These paintings include the Tirumala Kundaram roof paintings, which are believed to be precursors to the Bengal pad paintings that emerged in the 19th century. Despite the significance of these paintings, it isn't easy to ascertain their exact age. However, the fact that the Ajanta style influenced them is a testament to the enduring impact of this unique artistic tradition on Indian art and culture.


The display of medieval paintings in northern India has been eradicated, leaving us to presume that the same art culture persisted in the southern region. Taranath, an esteemed art historian, chronicled the artistic traditions of south India and cited three renowned artists: Joy, Vijay, and Parajay. Each of these masters had numerous disciples who followed their techniques. However, Taranath still needs to provide dates for their work, and no surviving examples of their paintings exist today. The Rajput painting eventually branched into two distinct forms - Tanjori and Mahishuri styles - during the latter part of the 1700s and early 1800s.  


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