Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 12:56 AM
An inscription of the second century B.C. in the Ramgarh (Jogimara) cave, in early characters, is the earliest to refer to a painter. It mentions a rupataka and his sweetheart an adept in dance. As art permeated life in ancient India, every young man and woman of taste had a knowledge of art, dance and music as essential factors of literary aesthetic education. The non-professional artists, with enough knowledge adequately to appreciate art trends in the country, were in abundance and judged the art of the professionals.
The fine arts were cultivated as a pastime, vinodasthana; and painting, being an easier medium than modelling and sculpture, was probably more readily preferred. The Kamasutra mentions painting as one of the several arts cultivated by a nagaraka, a gentleman of taste. His chamber should have a lute (vina) hanging by a peg on the wall, a painting board (chitraphalaka), a casket full of brushes (vartikasamudgaka), a beautiful illuminated manuscript and sweet-smelling flower garlands. The chitrakara was a professional artist of eminence. Inferior craftsmen were known as dindins. The Uttararamacharita refers to a chitrakara named Arjuna who had painted the murals illustrating the life of Rama in the palace. The architects, artists and painters who had decorated the royal palace on the eve of the marriage of princesss Rajyasri were shown great respect as recorded in the Harshacharita. This shows the high esteem in which they were held. When they were commissioned to do some work, they were honoured before they started on it. From the Kathasaritsagara, we learn that a painter enjoyed ten villages as a gift from the king. The chitrakaras, along with sculptors, jewellers, goldsmiths, wood-carvers, metal crafts-men and others, had an allocation of seats in the assembly of poets and scholars convened in the royal court, as described by Rajasekhara in his Kavyamimamsa.
Distinguished masters were specially honoured and invited to give their opinion on the aesthetic value of works of art. These chitravidyopadhyayas were well-versed in several branches of art. Encyclopedic knowledge of masters in architecture, sculpture and painting and other allied branches is gathered from several inscriptions. One of the best known among these is from Pattadakal, where the silpi from the southern region, specially invited by king Vikramaditya to build the Virupaksha temple, describes himself as an adept in every branch of art. A scribe, who was a contemporary of the Western Chalukya king, Vikramaditya VI, boasts of his skill in arranging beautiful letters in artistic form, entwining into them shapes of birds and animals. The queen who enters the chitrasala, as described in the Malavikagnimitra, intently gazes at the newly-painted pictures, representing the harem with its retinue; and this being the work of a master, and naturally compels her admiration. According to the Vidhasalabhanjika, the queen's nephew, occasionally dressed in feminine attire, is mistaken by painters (chitrakaras) to be a girl and represented thus almost life-like on the palace walls, causing the king to mistake him for a girl. Royal courts were frequented by numerous chitrakaras, as we gather from several references; and an interesting instance is that of a painter who prepared an exceedingly beautiful picture of a princess to demonstrate his skill in the royal court. The Kathasaritsagara mentions one Kumaradatta as a gifted painter at the court of king Prithvirupa of Pratishthana. The same text mentions another famous painter, Roladeva from Vidarbha. Sivasvamin, a respectable chitracharya, and an adept in painting is described as the lover of a courtesan in the Padataditaka. Painters frequently visited Vesavasas and had naive companions in natas, nartakas and vitas, vesyas and kuttanis. This indicates their social position, which was not very high, though their art was appreciated at the highest level. The high ideal of vinodastluma for art amongst the nagarakas was just the opposite in the case of the courtesan, who also learned art, neither as a professional nor as an amateur, but as one to brandish her proficiency in fine arts to attract suitors, and to flourish in her profession, as Damodaragupta portrays in his Kuttanimata. The morals of the silpi class of his time are the subject of Kshemendra's interesting lampoon.
The proficient artist, with hastochchaya or a good hand in producing pictures, still commanded respect for his distinction in his field. The dindins, inferior artists of mediocre taste, were in contrast to the chitracharyas, reputed for their hastochchaya. Usually employed to repair old pictures, carvings and flags, the dindins very nearly ruined them; it is no wonder that the Padataditaka considers them to be not very different from monkeys dindino hi namaite nativiprakrishta vanarebhyah. They are notorious for ruining pictures by touching them up and for darkening the original lustre of colours by dabbing with their brushes, alekhyam atmalipibhir gamayanti nasam saudheshu kurchalcamashimalam arpayanti.
Colours, prepared by the artist himself, as they occurred to his taste, were carried along with the brushes in boxes, satnudgakas, gourds, alabus, specially prepared for the purpose. Paintings on cloth were carefully preserved in silken covers, in which they were rolled and kept. A beautiful picture is given of the painter at work in the Mrichchhakatika, surrounded by a large number of colour pans, from which he would just take a little from each, to put it on the canvas, yo narnaham tatrabhavatas charudattasya riddhyahoratram prayatnasiddair uddamasurabhigandhibhir modakair eva asitabhyantarachatussalakadvara upavishto mallakasataparivrita chitrakara ivangulibhis sprishtva sprishtvapanayami. The artist was alert to recognise a good picture when he achieved it, and even while painting would nod his head in joyous approbation.
This special trait of the painter has been noted by Valmiki, Harshavardhana, Sriharsha, Kshemendra, Hemachandra and others. Passages like vikshya yam bahu dhuvan siro jaravataki vidhirakalpi silpirat from the Naishadhiyacharita (XIII, 12) or yayau vilolayan maulim rupatisayavismitah in the Brihatkathamanjari (IX, 1121), or siramsi chalitani vismayavasad dhruvam vedhaso vidhyaya lalanam jagattrayalalamabhutainimam from the Ratnavali (Act II, 41) amply illustrate this.
This did not, however, mean any pride or self-appreciation. Painters in ancient India, as we know had the humility to invite and accept criticism. In fact, the Tilakamanjari refers to connoisseurs invited to appraise pictures tadasya kuru kalasastrakusalasya kausalikam and kumara asti kinchid darsanayogyarn atra chitra pate, udbhutotra pate kopi dosho va natimatram pratibhati.
It was always a great joy for the painter to fashion the pictures with his own hand, and he tried and did his best. His experimental sketches were known as hastalekhas. Such preliminary sketches are often mentioned in literature. The term varnaka connotes a final hastalekha, comparable to the determinant sketch mentioned by Ruskin.
Passages in literature help us to understand various stages in painting a picture, such as the preparation of the ground, the drawing of the sketches, technically known as rekhapradana or chitrasutradana, almost measured out on the board, filling with colours, modelling through the three modes of vartanas and so forth. The final addition of touches to make the picture live is the chit ronmilana or the infusing of life into it. A well-known maxim is based on this chitronmilana. Kalidasa compares the charm of Parvati to a picture infused with life by unmilana, unmilotam tulikayeva chitram (Kumarasanibhava, I, 32). This is the final process of painting the eyes of the figure by the painter when all the rest is complete. Even today, this is a living tradition amongst the hereditary craftsmen in India and Ceylon, who observe this in a solemn ceremony.
Several references provide an interesting picture of the habits of artists. Kshemendra calls them kalachoras, thieves of time, since they usually delay their work though anxious to receive their wages in time. The artist, however, was ever aware of the superiority of his art, and when an occasion required it, he could rise equal to it and prove his worth. A special method was in vogue to challenge other painters in royal courts. A renowned painter, approaching the palace gate, would put up a flag aloft, with his challenge painted on it, asking anyone who accepted the challenge to pull it down. This was the prelude to a contest in the court, decision by the ruler, and honour to the victor.
The Indian painter, like the sculptor, usually dedicated himself to his art. He made it an offering to the divine spirit and personally obscured himself. The result has been that most names of artists in India are lost in oblivion. In the Saundaryalahari, Sankara mentions even silpa as pujavidhana or a path of worship. How a picture is to be prepared in the orthodox mode is illustrated in the Vishnudharmottara, that requires the painter to sit devoted, facing east, and offer prayers before commencing his work.
The picture is believed always to reflect the mental and physical state of the chitrakara. The Visimudharmottara mentions anyachittata, or absentmindedness, as one of the causes that ruin the formation of a good picture. A common belief mentioned in the Viddhasalabhanjilca is that a picture generally reflects the merits of the artist even as a literary work does those of the poet in its excellence, evam etat, yato garishthagoshthishvapyevam, kila struyate yadrisas chit rakaras tadrishe chit rakarmaruparekha, yadrishah kavis tadrise kavabandhachchhaya. The same is repeated in the Kavyamimamsa-sa yatsvabhavah kavistadrisarupam kavyam, yadrisakaras chitrakaras tadrisakaram asya chitramiti prayaso vadah.
Writer - C.SIVARAMAMURTI