Influences on Indian art took place since time immemorial and at various levels like religious, social and cultural. India being a country which has witnessed an assimilation of different races, religions, culture and languages at various points of times, thus a diverse nature of art forms, paintings, architecture, and folk traditions are noticeably evident. The journey of an Indian artist is an inevitable procession from archaic to Renaissance to Baroque, or from linear to plastic to pictorial expressions.
Influence of different religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity is profoundly evident in Indian art. Buddhism is one of the ancient religions to bestow its influence on Indian art as seen in the stupas and chaityas. The temple architecture of the Chola and Chera dynasty and the Rajasthani School of Painting of the Rajput period reflect the influence of Hinduism. India has always been the abode of multiple religions and cultures and thus it has as well experienced the impact of Islam during the Mughals. Christianity also has a significant role in the moulding of Indian art.
Indian art originated about five thousand years ago, sometime during the peak of the Indus Valley civilization. Largely influenced by a civilization that came into existence in the 3rd millennium BCE, it blends the spiritual and the sensual, making it rather distinctive in form and appearance. However, as time passed, Indian art has undergone several transformations and has been influenced by various cultures, making it more diverse, yet more inclusive of its people as well.
Indian art is significantly influenced by the various invasions that took place in the history of India. The first invaders were the Aryans in northern India after they demolished the Indus valley civilisation. They imposed their social and philosophical ideas on India and the art forms of India became a mixture of Aryan and Dravidian cultures. The Mughal influence was another significant milestone in the evolution of Indian art forms. They were an imperial power and induced considerable indo-Islamic-Persian influence on the various styles of Indian art. The Taj Mahal and the city of Fatehpur Sikriare the magnificent examples of the Mughal architecture. Finally it is the British invasion that affected Indian art form. It was marked by construction of colossal stone and wooden structures in the 17th century.
Society too had contributed in shaping art in India. However, social influence is comparatively a recent phenomenon. Primarily the influence on Indian art has been religious. It depended on the various kingdoms that came into being at different times. The rulers of the empires that dominated India moulded the art forms according to their taste and preference. But later during the independence struggle, there was a social upheaval and it was then that the various art forms depicted the society in real sense of terms in order to infuse the spirit of patriotism among the citizens.
Besides these factors, Indian tribal art plays a significant role in influencing modern art. The tradition of painting in the cave shelters or against mottled rocks with black or earth colours have revived in the 20th century due to western influence as wall paintings with pastel colours.
Thus, it is to be noted that religion, foreign invasions, change in society and folk traditions have influenced Indian art at various point of time and altogether contributed in the evolution of Indian art.
There are four main periods of Indian history which influenced art and reflect certain cultural, religious and political developments.
Ancient era: There is evidence that India’s history began about 75,000 years ago. From c. 3300 to 1300 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization flourished in the northwest of the country, extending to present day Pakistan. A technologically advanced and sophisticated urban culture came about with the Harappan period, which was subsequently followed by The Bronze Age and later, The Iron Age Vedic Civilization. Rock paintings and temple art can be traced back to the artistic expressions of ancient India. The 13th century saw the beginning of Muslim rule in India, which went on for two centuries before several powerful Hindu kingdoms emerged in the 15th century.
Islamic ascendency: With the establishment of many Islamic states in the 12th century, there was a gradual Muslim conquest in India. It resulted in the emergence of the Mughal Empire which ruled majority of India from mid 16th to mid 19th century. However, the Mughal rule gradually declined as the Marathas came into power and the end of its dominance and is marked by the Indian Rebellion in 1857 and the start of the British rule. During Islamic rule, the imperial, provincial and mughal style of architecture flourished.
Colonial era: This era marks the time when European powers, through conquest and trade, were at their peak in India. It began with Alexander the Great, whose rule was brief, lasting only from 327-326 BC. Towards the end of the 15th century, India saw its next major European influence, Vasco da Gama, who established direct trade links with India. Sometime during the 17th century, Netherlands, France, England and Denmark began to trade with India and by the 18th century, the Maratha rule declined, leaving the country open to European exploitation. The defeat of Tipu Sultan led to rapid expansion of British power and by mid 19th century British India was born under the governance of the British Empire. During this time, the Bengal School of Art was formed. Also, a select group of artists introduced many avant garde western styles into Indian art.
Independence and post colonial era: After decades of rule under the British Raj, India finally became independent on 15 August 1947. However, during this time ancient India was separated by “The Partition of India”, resulting in the formation of the Dominion of Pakistan and today’s India. A new constitution was established in 1950, which made India a democratic and secular state.
These various periods have greatly influenced Indian art over the centuries. They have impacted sculpture and temple art, painting and even jewelry. The post colonial period saw the rise of many Indian artists who pushed artistic boundaries, resulting in what we call contemporary art today. Artists like Jitish Kallat, Subodh Gupta, Nalini Malani and many others found radical new directions for their art work.