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.
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.