Category Archives: Mural paintings of India

Sheshasayi in art : images of Lord Vishnu

  Lord Vishnu is known as Sheshasayi or Anantasayana when he is recumbent on the the king of nagas (serpents), Anantashesha. He is also called anantasayana in this recumbent posture.

      Lord Vishnu is part of the Hindu trinity of gods along with Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. He is a lovable deity, considerate towards his devotees. He is depicted with his wife Goddess Lakshmi at his feet, recumbent on the coils of serpent Shesha. He is dark, blue skinned. A lotus stem shoots up from his navel on which Brahma is seated. His vahana or vehicle  is Garuda, the man-bird. Lord Vishnu has a thousand names,  sahasranama. His abode is Vaikuntha with lotus filled pools. His devotees are called Vaishnavas. He is worshipped in his different avatars; Matsya,Kurma,Varaha,Narasimha,Vamana,Parasurama,Rama,Krishna and Buddha as believed in Hinduism. It is believed that he will be reborn as Kalki, his last avatar according to the Vishnu Purana,.when the world will probably be destroyed and rebuilt.

  Lord Vishnu  is seen in different contexts and moods when he is reclining on Anantasesha.He is called yogasayana when he is meditative and the sages Bhrigu and Markandeya are with him. Brahma is seen emerging from his navel. He is Bhogasayana when he has four arms and is bejewelled. His consorts Sridevi and Bhudevi are seen along with sages Bhrigu and Markandeya. He is Virasayana when he is holding a sankha or conch, a chakra or discus in two of his four hands. The demons Madu and Kaitabha are depicted at his feet.In Abhicharikasayana, he is depicted in a weak and emaciated form with no attendants. The Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram is an important shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu in Kerala. Lord Vishnu as Ranganatha is also a recumbent Vishnu but does not depict Brahma rising on a lotus from his navel.

        The recumbent Lord Vishnu has been depicted both in sculpture and painting as seen in the magnificent images from different centuries.

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Sheshasayi, rock-cut sculpture,5th century,Udayagiri, Madhya Pradesh.

By Zippymarmalade (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Sheshasayi, Mahishasuramardini Cave,7th cenutury, Mahabalipuram,Tamil Nadu.

By Jenith (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons
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Sheshasayi,Ku Phra Kona temple,11th century,Roi Et,Thailand

By Ddalbiez (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Sheshasayi,sculpture,13th century,South India, LACMA,USA.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,LACMA,USA.

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Sheshasayi,painting, Kashmir, 1800.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Sheshasayi,painting,18th century, India.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Sheshsayi enjoying festivities,painting, Chamba,1810, National Museum, New Delhi.

By Yann (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Sheshasayi,painting, late 18th century,Mehrangarh Museum Trust,

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,attributed to the Durga Master.

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M. V. Dhurandhar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Sheshasayi,sculpture, 5th century,Dasavatara Temple, Deogarh,Uttar Pradesh.

By Bob King [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

References :

  • Epics, myths and legends of India/Thomas, P, Bombay : D.B. Taraporevala and Sons.

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

© author


Indra in art : Lord of the heavens

      Indra is a Vedic deity in Hinduism ,a guardian deity in Buddhism and also the king of the first heaven in Jainsim. He has been represented in sculpture and paintings. In Hindu mythology too he is the Lord of swarga or heaven. He has been highly mentioned in the Rigveda. Indra is the destroyer of Vritra who is against human happiness. Indra is not mentioned much in post-Vedic literature as he is known to disturb monks and sages who meditate because he thinks they will develop powers more than him.

   In Buddhism he is referred to as Shakra as someone paying homage to Buddha.He rules over the realm of devas with the samsara doctrine of Buddhism.In Jainism he is the king of Gods and a part of Jain rebirth cosmology. He is seen with his wife Indrani to celbrate auspicious moments with Jain tirthankaras.

  Indra wields the thunderbolt known as Vajra, riding on his white elephant Airavata. The rainbow too is considered the visible symbol of his mighty bow. In Buddhism Airavata has three heads, an in Jainsim he is shown with five heads. His heaven is called Amaravati and pious mortals go there to be reborn again on earth.

High-relief of Indra, god of the firmament. Wellcome M0009457.jpg

Indra, wood relief, Wellcome images, U.K.

By, CC BY 4.0,

File:Chaitya Window - Indra - Circa 5th Century CE - Bhumara - Madhya Pradesh - Indian Museum - Kolkata 2013-04-10 7797.JPG

Indra, chaitya window, 5th Century, Bhumara, Madhya Pradesh, Indian Museum, Kolkata

Biswarup Ganguly [GFDL (, CC BY 3.0 (, GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Battle between Indra and Lord Krishna,painting,mid-19th century, ,Jaipur,Rajasthan.

By Unknown –, Public Domain,

       This beautiful Jaipur painting above  portrays the grand finale in the fierce battle between Indra the God of heaven and Lord Krishna who was aided by Arjuna. Agni, the god of fire wanted to eat the Khandava forest. But Indra, the God of heaven stopped the process with torrential rain to protect a friend of his. Thus the battle between fire and rain continued. A tired Agni finally approached Krishna and Arjuna for help. A battle ensued between Indra and his supporters on one side and Krishna and Arjuna on the other. In this scene one can see a blue sky with thundering clouds. Indra is seated on Airavata with his allies seated on horses. All of them are seen making a humble retreat. They are surrounded by celestial beings seated in their respective chariots. Manama Daitya, a bare-bodied demon in a short tight lower vestment, stands with folded hands before Krishna and Arjuna. The vast, undulating landscape and the forest on fire add to the beauty.  The chariots also have very fine motifs. The main figures have been identified with inscriptions. On careful observation one can even see the pearl settings on the headgears of the charioteers, peacock feathers adorning Krishna’s crown and hair on the body of the demon, Manama Daitya. This Jaipur painting is one based on themes from the epic, Mahabharata. 

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Indra sculpture  in Indrasabha, cave no 32, Ellora, Maharashtra.

By J. Johnston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Indra,Chennakeshava temple,13th century, Somanathapura, Karnataka.

By Hemanth M Y – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Indra, painting,19th century, South India.

Autor: Unknown –, Voľné dielo,

          The Harivamsa , was a continuation of epic, Mahabharata. The Mughal emperor Akbar ordered it to be translated into Persian so that it could be read by non-Hindus. In this illustration to the text done in about 1590, Krishna sweeps down on the bird Garuda to triumph over Indra,  riding on his white elephant Airavata, watched by gods and other celestial beings. The swirling fabrics, billowing clouds, and the boat in the lower part of the scene, are all the result of the influence on Mughal court artists of European style  of painting. The original manuscript was dispersed and some pages were remounted for later albums, as here. The borders were probably added in Lucknow in the 18th century.

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Indra on Airavata ,Mughal painting, late 16th century.

By Unknown (production) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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 Indra on Airavata, Banteay Srei Temple,10th century,Cambodia.

By Anandajoti (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Indra and Indrani , sculpture, Musée des arts asiatiques, Nice, France.

By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France (Indra et Indrani (Musée des arts asiatiques, Nice)) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Indra and Sachi riding the elephant Airavata, folio from a Panchakalyanaka (Five Auspicious Events in the Life of Jina Rishabhanatha [Adinatha]),17th century,painting, Amber, Rajasthan.

By Unknown, India, Rajasthan, Amber, South Asia (from LACMA [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Indra on Airavata, Banteay Srei temple, 10th century,Cambodia.

By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France (Indra sur Airâvana (Banteay Srei, Angkor)) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Indra paying homage to Krishna, folio from a Bhagavata Purana,1640,Malwa,  Madhya Pradesh.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Indra with Lord Vishnu,illustration,20th century.

By Ramanarayanadatta astri ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Indra on Airavata, his elephant,sculpture,12th century, Halebidu, Karnataka.;Image by Ankur P.

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Indra conveying Jina Rishabhanatha (Adinatha) on Airavata, early 19th century,folio from a Bhaktamara Stotra (Hymn of the Immortal Devotee),LACMA,USA.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



References :

  • Epics, myths and legends of India/Thomas, P, Bombay : D.B. Taraporevala and Sons.

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

© author

Radha-Krishna is art : splendorous images

      Radha-Krishna is worshipped in Hinduism as the combination of the male and female principles and many temples are dedicated to them. Works of art on this divine couple have been produced in the past and still continue to grip the imagination of artists.  Their coming together is held as the symbol of the individual’s desire for union with the Supreme or Universal soul. Krishna was first mentioned in the Chandogya upanishad. He is a main character in the epic Mahabharata. In the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata purana we further understand his divine nature. The Gita-govinda  in Sanskrit,composed by Jayadeva Goswami in the 12th century, gave the cult worship of Radha-Krishna a mystic and soulful impetus along with the presence of the gopis, the cow-maidens, Radha being the favourite gopi of Krishna. Radha was the wife of Ayanagosha. She is also believed to be the origin of all the gopis who are divine beings who participate in the rasaleela. During the rasaleela it is believed that Krishna took on multiple forms and danced with with each gopi, thus each gopi thought that Krishna loved her the most ! The deseration of the gopis of their husbands and parents signify their liberation from worldly attachments.

       The Radha-Krishna theme has been depicted in Indian art in different schools of art. The images are typical of the school they represent and are vibrant and colourful. The backdrop could be the bank of the Jamuna river at Vrindavan, with gopis and cows. Verdant foliage in idyllic groves are frequently seen. Radha is a doe-eyed beautiful damsel while Krishna is the dark, blue-skinned God with the peacock- feather, garland(vanamala), pearl necklaces and flute.The paintings are akin to visual poetry; depicting scenes from Radha-Krishna episodes by the use of different colours conveying feeling and form. The romantic dalliance of Krishna with Radha and the other gopis including rasaleela is the main subject in the paintings. Gita-govinda is a major inspiration for these paintings. Bhanudatta also composed poetry in Sanskrit on Radha-Krishna. Surdas, Bihari, Keshavdas and Vidyapati’s compositions brought out the romantic persona of Krishna.

      Radha was a shringara rasa nayika, an embodiment of beauty and love. In the Kishangarh paintings Savant Singh (who was a total Krishna bhakt or devotee)and his wife Bani Thani were represented as Radha-Krishna by the court painter Nihal Chand. Bani Thani was an accomplished beautiful dancer and poetess.This influenced the paintings of Nihal Chand though the paintings are not an exact replica of how she looked but more of an idealised form. The nayika has arched eyebrows, elongated nose and a doe-eyed representation. This became the signature style of Kishangarh paintings.

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Radha-Krishna, 18th century,Kishangarh painting, Rajasthan.

By Nihal Chand (Madison Avenue Gallery) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Attributed to Nihal Chand. Savant Singh and Bani Thani as Krishna and Radha. Kishangarh, ca. 1760..jpg

   At Bhim Vilas in Udaipur’s City palace  which was built over 400 years starting in 1559, by different rulers of the Mewar dynasty, a fresco depicts Radha-Krishna. The image  is resplendent with a prominent Krishna and Radha slightly behind him. She is less of a gopi but is seen in a mature lady-like demeanour.

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Radha-Krishna, Fresco, 16th- 20th century, City Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan.

By Pebble101 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Radha-Krishna in a bower,folio from Gita-govinda, Mewar school, Rajasthan17th century.

By Sahibdin (fl. 17th century) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

        The Rasikapriya was composed by Keshavdas which inspired many paintings on the Radha-Krishna theme. The Rasikapriya was a pioneering work of the Ritikaal period of Hindi literature.In these ritikavyas Radha is not depicted as rustic gopi, but a heroine of courtly love. Ritikavyas in Brajbhasha inspired painting in Rajput courts and Himalayan kingdoms.

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Radha- Krishna, page from Rasikapriya, Amber, 1610, Metmuseum, USA.

By anonimus (Metropolitan Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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Radha-Krishna,page from  Rasikapriya, Amber, 1610, Met Museum, New York, USA

By anonimus (Metropolitan Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Radha-Krishna in a Rasikapriya manuscript, 1634.

By Anonymous – V&A Museum [1], Public Domain,

Rajasthani miniature painting centred in Malwa and Bundelkhand in central India flourished in the 17th century; called Malwa miniature painting. The school is typical with its fine brushwork and flat compositions, figures shown against a solid colour patch,the subject painted in vibrant colours.

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Radha-Krishna, Malwa painting, 1620, Rajasthani school.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Krishna and Radha dancing the Rasalila, Jaipur, 19th century.jpg

Radha-Krishna and gopis in Rasaleela, Jaipur, 19th century.

By Anonymous –, Public Domain,

              Kangra painting from Himachal Pradesh belongs to Pahari school of painting. The Pahari schools have Mughal and Rajput influences on their work. Radha-Krishna paintings in the Kangra style express piety and are visually evocative. Krishna’s sweetness is captured as a  romantic hero or nayaka. Joy, longing, separation are all represented deftly using colour, feeling and movement amidst nature in Vrindavan in different seasons.

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Krishna is playing on his flute while a companion persuades Radha , folio from Gita-govinda, Kangra painting, 1825, Himachal Pradesh.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Krishna flirting with other gopis to Radha’s dismay, Kangra, 1760, Himachal Pradesh.

By Attributed to Purkhu [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Radha-Krishna during a thunderstorm, Kangra painting late 17th-mid 18th century.

See page for author [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Collection of Brooklyn Museum.


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Radha-Krishna exchange clothes,Kangra, 1800, Himachal Pradesh.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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Radha-Krishna looking into a mirror, Kangra painting, 1800.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Basohli style of painting is characterised by a vigorous style in which strong primary colours were used. Mostly made in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in the foothills of the Western Himalayas and Punjab. Rasamanjari, a Sanskrit text by Bhanudatta on Indian aesthetics,from the 15th century was an inspiration for Basohli paintings. This poetic work classifies young damsels, the nayikas, in love.


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Radha-Krishna in Rasamanjari by Bhanudatta, Basohli, 1670.

By Anonymous (Victoria Albert Museum [1]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Radha and Krishna in conversation, Basohli painting,  Gita-govinda, 1730.

By Basohli School –, Public Domain,

          Chamba is well-known for its exquisite miniature paintings and murals. The paintings have  a strong Mughal influence. Its main patrons were Raja Udai Singh and Raja Jai Singh. Radha-Krishna,gopis, Shiva Parvati, nature representations with deer, birds were common themes.

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Radha rejecting Krishna, Chamba painting,Himachal Pradesh,1760.

By Image:, Public Domain,

    The Awadh(Oudh) school of painting which flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries at Awadh in Northern India was a combination of Mughal and Rajput styles, with lot of Persian influence, representations are seen in the canopies and shamianas, ground covered with flowers etc. The Rajput influence can be recognised by the stylised nature of the painting. Niddha Mal was a painter of this time and is known for his Radha-Krishna paintings. The later Awadh styles showed major European influence. Meer Chand was a noted artist during this period.

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Radha-Krishna, with gopis, at the Holi festival, Awadh, 19th century.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

       Kalighat painting is a mix of tradition and modern styles. The artists evolved a typical style of paintings in the vicinity of the Kali temple during the nineteenth century at Calcutta (now Kolkata). The paintings are simple yet modern but striking.

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Radha-Krishna,Kalighat painting,late 19th century and early 20th century.

By Unknown – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2000.98.3_IMLS_PS4.jpg, Public Domain,

     Madhubani painting is done on walls or paper mostly by women of Madhuban,part of ancient kingdom of Mithila, now in  Bihar. Mostly done in natural colours, these paintings are a form of visual education and enrichment. The subjects are many including scenes from the epics, the Radha-Krishna theme, flora and fauna etc. The paintings are rustic and vibrant with the use of bold lines and colours.

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Radha-Krishna, Madhubani painting by Sita Devi, 2oth century.

By Sumanjha1991 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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Radha-Krishna, print of painting by Sri Gopal Rao, 1927.

By Gopalarao ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

      Pattachitras are from Odisha and have been traditionally made using natural ingredients like china clay, chalk,conch shell, red stone etc. Lord Krishna is Lord Jagannatha at Puri and there are many pattachitras with Subhadra and Balaram and Lord Krishna. However Radha is not forgotten and Radha-Krishna; inspired by the Chaitanya movement and Gita -govinda too is depicted in pattachitras.

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Radha-Krishna, pattachitra, by artist Shakti.

By Shakti (Own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0 ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Radha-Krishna, modern depiction, drawing by artist Subhash.

By Subhash – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

References :

  • Thomas, P/Epics, myths and legends of India, Bombay : D. B. Taraporevala and Sons.
  • Dehejia, Harsha.V/Radha: Gopi to Goddess,New Delhi :Niyogi Books,2014.
  • Aryan, Subhashini/Kala Chintan New Delhi : Rekha Prakashan,2008.



Posted by:

Soma Ghosh

© author

Paintings in Indian art : art from Ajanta caves

In a serene valley and a vibrant natural atmosphere in the district of Aurangabad, in present day Maharashtra, near a village called Ajanta, are present 29 rock cut Buddhist shrines and monasteries. These are the famous Ajanta caves which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The shrines were built over 700 years, maybe the earliest around 2000 years ago. They were forgotten and happened to be discovered by officers of the Madras Army in 1819. The temples which are rock-cut have been laboriously cut and chiselled from the crust of the steep rocks over centuries by the Buddhist monks. The art is in various states of preservation at Ajanta. Accounts of the caves have been given by  Sir James Fergusson, Lady Herringham, Ghulam Yazdani, Burgess et al.image001

Panoramic view of Ajanta caves

By Freakyyash – photo taken by Freakyyash, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The caves of the Ajanta are associated with the Vakataka dynasty, allies of the Gupta dynasty (320 A.D. to approximately 495 A. D.) Art and sculpture flourished under the Gupta dynasty in the fifth century. The Ajanta paintings were made between 2nd century and end of sixth century A.D. Cave no. IX,X,XII and XIII are the earliest caves. The caves are of two types; Vihara, monastery for living, which are four sided having acentral hall with cells along three sides with stone bed.The other type is the Chaitya, which were the assembly caves,having a rectangular portico and side aisles, in the form of an apse at the end.


An early chaitya, Ajanta caves

By Shaikh Munir – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As per art scholars the art of Ajanta was thousand years ahead of its time. The artistic expression combined with technical excellence and choice of subjects, perfection of lines, forms, colours is an inspiration for all artists and art lovers. The figures and scenes in the various caves of Ajanta is a living world of human beings, foliage and flowers, birds and animals and refelct the very essence and soul of the period they were painted in.


Scenes from everyday life, Ajanta painting

By Woudloper – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

“……the appeal of Ajanta is not merely to the artist or the expert but to every sensitive human being………’’   said India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The theme of Ajanta paintings revolves around the jataka stories, the legends of Buddha’s reincarnations. Various facets of human life happiness, love, yearning, suffering are beautifully captured. Buddhas and bodhisattvas, palace scenes, plants, flowers animals are all seen.


A king with his queen, Ajanta caves

By Vu2sga – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The colours used include terra verde, red and yellow ochre,lamp black and lapis lazuli. The surfaces were prepared with a base layer of clay mixed with rice husk and gum, upon which a coat of lime was applied.

Women are portrayed in the Ajanta paintings in different moods and roles. She is a queen, attendant, apsara (celestial nymph), dancing girl, maid etc. Women are seen wearing  jewellery and have elaborate hairstyles. Her feminine features have been reproduced very lovingly by the artists. The slanting eyes, gestures of hands, roundness of breasts, curves of her hips,turn of her head etc.The central character is usually semi-nude, while others are fully clothed. Many women are dark complexioned.image014

Dancing girl along with musicians, Ajanta painting

From a poster


Apsara, Ajanta painting

From a poster


Attendants, Ajanta paintings

From a poster

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Entrance of cave 17,part of the ceiling before entrance, Ajanta.

By Londenp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Scene from a Jataka tale, Ajanta painting

By Meister des Mahâjanaka Jâtaka – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,


References :

Guide to Ajanta frescoes, Hyderabad : Government of Hyderabad, 1953

Ajanta paintings, New Delhi : Lalit Kala Akademi,1956


Posted by : Soma Ghosh