Ancient Indian Paintings: The Shadanga & Chitrasutra Traditions

Painting (Alekhyam) occupies the fourth place among the 64 Arts enumerated by Vatsyayana in his Kama Sutra. While concluding, Vatsyayana has written a Shloka which amply indicated that painting was fully developed during that period and the six limbs of Painting (Shadangas) enumerated in the Kama Sutra were already in vogue.

The Shadanga and Chitrasutra traditions are two important frameworks in ancient Indian art that are connected to ancient Indian paintings. They provide guidelines and principles for the creation and appreciation of paintings.

Shadanga Tradition

The Shadanga tradition, also known as the Six Limbs of Indian Painting, is a set of six components or aspects that define the holistic approach to the creation and appreciation of paintings. These components are mentioned in the ancient treatise on Indian painting, the Vishnudharmottara Purana. The Shadanga tradition encompasses the following limbs:

  1. Rupabheda (Iconometry): This refers to the proper proportions and measurements of the human and divine figures in paintings, ensuring their realistic representation.
  2. Pramanam (Perspective): It deals with the proper depiction of space, depth, and distance in a painting, creating a sense of realism and spatial relationships.
  3. Bhava (Expression of Emotions): Bhava emphasizes the depiction of emotions and expressions on the faces of figures in a painting to effectively convey the intended mood or narrative.
  4. Lavanya Yojana (Gracefulness): This aspect focuses on the portrayal of beauty, grace, and elegance in the figures, their gestures, and overall composition.
  5. Sadrisyam (Similitude): Sadrisyam aims to achieve a faithful representation of the physical characteristics, attributes, and costumes of the depicted figures.
  6. Varnikabhanga (Color Application): Varnikabhanga involves the appropriate use of colors, their harmonious combinations, and shading techniques to enhance the visual appeal and convey the desired atmosphere.

Chitrasutra Tradition

The Chitrasutra tradition refers to the principles and guidelines outlined in the Chitrasutra, an ancient Sanskrit text dedicated to the art of painting. The text provides detailed instructions on various aspects of painting, including techniques, materials, pigments, styles, and subject matters. It covers a wide range of themes, from nature and mythology to portraits and narrative scenes.

The Chitrasutra tradition emphasizes the use of natural pigments derived from minerals, plants, and other sources. It also explores different painting techniques, such as line drawings, shading, and the application of various brush strokes. The text emphasizes the importance of meticulous detailing, proper proportions, and the portrayal of expressions to bring life to the painted figures.

The Chitrasutra tradition also highlights the significance of symbolic representations and the use of visual metaphors in conveying deeper meanings and spiritual or philosophical concepts through art.

Both the Shadanga and Chitrasutra traditions provide valuable insights into the principles, techniques, and aesthetic considerations involved in ancient Indian paintings. They reflect the rich artistic heritage and the meticulous approach to painting in ancient India, offering a glimpse into the cultural and artistic sensibilities of the time.

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