Indian art is the mirror of Indian femininity". These words tell the story of Indian art.
art is coupled with Indian philosophy in which man and nature
(purush-prakriti) are entwined. Nature symbolizes the woman.
main theme in Indian art is woman. Perhaps that is why Indian art is
sometimes called "female art". Woman is not just divine
beauty or a fantasy, a spirit, an idea but also creator of new life.
Motherhood, the ultimate desire of any woman was most effectively
used by ancient artists. A full breasted, broad hipped woman
symbolized fertility and was depicted thus in Mauryan art, Sunga art
and Buddhist art. In whatever way she is represented the fertility
aspect is always integrated with the Indian ideal female beauty. As
art historian E.B. Havell wrote, " Indian art knows no Aphrodite
or Diana but the majesty and mystery of divine motherhood, expressed
with wonderful sincerity of feeling and splendid craftsmanship."
art based primarily on the lines of Indian thinking gives equal
importance to woman as to man. The Trimurti (Trinity --Brahma
the Creator, Shiva the Destroyer, Vishnu the Preserver) cannot
perform their duties without their Shaktis (goddesses). The wife of
Brahma is Saraswati, the goddess of learning and wisdom; Parvati, the
goddess of purity is Shiva's consort; Lakshmi, the counterpart of
Vishnu is the goddess of prosperity and good fortune. All these
mother goddesses have an equally important place in Indian art.
these divine goddesses there are yakshis (semi divine beings)
who are equally important. They represent the ideal beauty comprising
sensuousness and fertility. The perfect example is the famous yakshi
of Didarganj (now in Patna museum) of Mauryan art. This massive,
shapely figure is a perfect example of a classic beauty.
sensuous woman is fully exploited in the temples of Khajuraho
(10-12th century). Here woman is shown in various moods and her
consciousness of her beauty and power are in abundance.
the best presentation and attribute to woman is by Ajanta artists in
the caves of Ajanta. The paintings capture the attention of every art
lover. According to art scholars the Ajanta woman is not just a woman
but a phenomenon, "nowhere perhaps have women received such
perfect understanding and homage". The mystical, symbolic,
sensual, idealistic are all aspects of the Ajanta woman. Even in
other Buddhist centres of art like Mathura, Sanchi and Bharhut women
are portrayed elegantly draped in sheer fabrics. Artists felt no
inhibitions in their portrayal.
in Mughal, Rajasthani and Pahari miniature paintings are more
decorative. The medieval period was the court era. Art was under the
patronage of rulers. The "Bharat Natyam Shastra classified women in 3
categories: goddess, heroine and courtesan (devi, nayika, ganika).
The Nayak-nayika theme was popular with artists of the 16th-17th
century. Heroes and heroines were usually taken from popular Sanskrit
poems mainly of Krishna and Radha. These paintings depict the woman
waiting for her lover or going to meet him. The whole scene, her
eyes, attention -- everything -- is focussed on her lover.
Mughal art women were presented simply as beauties -- bathing women
with their attendants were repeatedly painted by this era of artists.
In these paintings the status of women is shown in different ways
like the royal ladies were normally shown hidden behind a veil
(pardha) or within four walls surrounded by attendants. On
the whole Mughal paintings portrayed women trying to please the
lover and ignored the true sentiments of women which are an integral
part of Hindu philosophy.
changing times presentation of ideas changed and is reflected in the
portrayal of women. In modern times the new, realistic and
individualistic woman knows her mind, her actual place in society.
Amrita Shergil, in her realistic portrayal of women became an
inspiration for young future artists. She may have been inspired by
the Ajanta paintings but she knew the plight of Indian women so she
applied her own interpretations. Her "A Group of Three Girls"
with their deeply thoughtful sad faces seem to carry fear of the
unknown future. In another painting "Women on Charpoy" is
the common woman, not the heroine of Mughal or Rajasthani miniatures.
She is in rustic surroundings, not waiting for anybody, but deeply in
her own thoughts.
is not that modern artists do not paint the ideal woman. Raja Ravi
Varma is famous for his paintings of aristocratic bejewelled women.
The perfect woman in the parameters of Indian society is a loving
mother, dutiful wife and obedient daughter. Raja Ravi Varma has
perfectly blended tradition with modernity. On one hand he takes his
theme from India's famous epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana or
from Sanskrit literature in which he reflects the perfect Indian
woman and on the other he takes his inspiration from French
neo-classical paintings with sensuously rounded women draped in
traditional finery. Who can forget his "Malabar Lady" or
the portrait of Shakuntala, Sita and other legendary heroines of
modern painters are Nandlal Bose and N.S. Bendre. During their time
Raja Ram Mohan Roy's crusade against social evils, especially the
practice of sati (burning of a widow on the funeral pyre) made
an impression on 19th century artists. Nandlal Bose's famous painting
`Sati' is the product of that movement. The artist shows the plight
of an Indian widow forced towards self-immolation.
modern artists have sketched women being exploited. Sensitive artists
like Krishna Hebbar, Saroj Gogi Pal, Arpana Caur, Anjolie Ela Menon
express their sentiments on
Ela Menon's paintings portray women "trapped in their own
world". For M.F. Hussain a woman is "... primarily
principle of her life... most powerful and can change the world".
His portraits of women celebrities are well known and in that series,
in his portrait of Mother Teresa, he has captured the inner strength
of the nun. His paintings of various Indian goddesses are in the form
of Shakti -- strong and powerful.
art the different layers of a woman's personality have been revealed
-- the divine mother goddess, the sensuous yakshi, the beautiful
nayika, the courtesan, the exploited, the thoughtful...