The Best Pieces of Artwork in India
From the ancient cave embossments to the highly efficient stone-sculptures; from the caves of Ajanta to the abstract arts sold at multi-million dollars- Indian art has an incredible legacy rich in diversities and amalgamations of cultural multifariousness. Indian art could be divided by two major parts based on the artistic mediums used. Sculpture or the stone-craving found in India has a stunning history dating back at the time of Maurya dynasty. And the walls and ceilings of Ajanta were probably the first and the foremost examples of vivid-painting which gradually transcended on to the canvasses, glasses etc. Here are our picks for the best works of art in India from the ancient period to the modern age till date.
Famous Sculptures in India
1. Khajuraho Temple carvings, Madhya Pradesh
One of the most widely famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India
and famous for a grand Nagara-style architecture and symbolized erotic sculptures, Khajuraho Temples
hold some of the best yet some of the most controversial art forms. Built by the Chandela dynasty between 950 CE to 1050 CE, the architectural style of the Khajuraho Temples had the immense influence of both Hinduism and Jainism suggesting a religious harmony of that period.
The temples showcase a varied art work where 90% of them were reflected by the daily life and other symbolism and a mere 10% of them belong to the erotic art genre. These stunning yet controversial sculptures have long been evoking both strong criticism and acclamation worldwide.
2. The Halebidu Temple Sculpture, Karnataka
Almost every royal dynasty in India had helped flourishing arts and culture at least across the region they ruled. Hoysala dynasty ruled some parts of South India from 1000 CE to 1346 CE and they patronized architectural and sculptural styles which were discrete from the styles existed at that time. Their signature establishment, Hoysaleshwara Temple at Halebidu, Karnataka is a living example of great Indian artwork.
The temple sculptures were done with an extensive and very sensitive feminine quality with sheer delicacy. The sculptures were made of the soapstone, a delicate yet precious sculpting stone and the motifs were mostly entwined animals, mythical characters, court dancers, and many other Hindu gods and goddesses.
3. Konark Sun Temple Sculpture, Odisha
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site in India, Konark Sun Temple
is itself one of the best artistic works taken birth in India. This 13th century temple by the Eastern Ganga Dynasty dedicated to the Sun god has a shape of a huge chariot with intricately sculpted stone wheels, walls and pillars. The walls of the temple were decorated with elaborate sculptures on several different motifs. Some of these sculptures were of the erotic art genre and have encouraged a rave admiration owing to their absolute artistic genius
4. Lion Capital from Ashoka Stambha, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh
The official Emblem of India, the Lion Capital of Ashoka is another great example of the finest sculptural art-work from India. The capital holds the carvings of four Indian lions, a wheel, four differently carved animals (a horse, a bull, a lion and an elephant) and a bell-shaped lotus flower. The Lion Capital of Ashoka was originally placed at the top of the Asoka Pillar at the Buddhist Stupa of Sarnath by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka in around 250 BCE. The capital is sculpted on a single block of sandstone and is considered among the ‘first important group of Indian stone sculptures’. The style was influenced by Achaemenid Persian and Sargonid sculptural style.
5. Rampurva Bull Capital, Bihar
The Rampurva Bull Capital is an 8’9 capital found on the Pillars of Ashoka discovered from Gandak River. It is a highly refined intricate sculpting work done on the polished sandstone block carrying the carvings of an Indian Bull standing firmly on the bell-shaped lotus platform alike the Lion Capital. The great measure of the art-work can be found on the careful attention given on the realistic anatomy, proportion and the symmetrical precision. Like many other sculpting work from the Ashoka-era, this Bull Capital has also its share of influence from the Achaemenid Persian style.
6. Didarganj Chauri-Bearer (Yakshi), Bihar
Another stunning example of Mauryan art is a 64” tall Yakshi carving done on a single piece of sandstone and popularly known as the Didaraganj Chauri-Bearer. The sculptures are well-proportioned, realistically done with the precise details given to the woman figure and dressing pattern and is highly acclaimed sculptural work in India.
7. Vishnu Ananta Sheshashayi, Vishnu Temple, Deogarh, UP
A gem of the great Indian art-works from the Gupta period, the Vishnu Ananta Sheshashayi is a grand part of the massively sculpted figures on the walls of the Vishnu Temple at Deogarh. Ananta Sheshashayi Vishnu is an illustrated sculptural work of reclining Vishnu on the serpent named Shesha. The beautiful sculpture has some stunningly intricate cravings those are considered the most artistic embossing done in that era.
8. Descent of Ganga, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
Ganges or Ganga, the holiest river considered in India from millennia was personified as a beautiful goddess in almost every Hindu sacred text starting from the Rig-Veda. And ever since the Hindu artists started commemorating the gods, goddess and their legends on the temple walls, monolithic structures and where ever they found appropriate, Ganga or Ganges was always a grand important theme. Descent of Ganga is a giant 29m X 13m relief sculpture done on two monolithic rock boulders. The carvings depicted the legend of the descent of the holy Ganges to the earth from the heaven carried by Bhagiratha. This beautiful sculpture stands out as one-of-a-kind open-air bas-relief sculpture.
9. Trimurti, Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra
‘A masterpiece of Gupta-Chalukyan art’, Trimuti is the most important sculpting art placed at the back of the Elephanta Caves
, Maharashtra. The 20 ft three-headed Shiva sculpture represents the three vital facets of the lord as Creator, Protector and Destructor. The most stunning things about the piece of art are the precise details given on every different faces of Shiva with their individual characteristics.
10. Nataraja, Brihadeshvara Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
The sculptural works on the walls of Brihadeshwara Temple (original name is Peruvudaiyar Temple) are some of the best known examples of the finest art-works of the Chola dynasty. This 1010 CE temple at Thanjavur
, Tamil Nadu is known as the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’. The best among the sculptural works done on the temple-walls is the Nataraja. The legend of the dancing Shiva intending to destroy the universe in order to re-create it was depicted beautifully on the granite structure. This is considered one of the best known stone-carved Nataraja found in South India.
11. Triumph of Labour by D. P. Roy Chowdhury, Chennai
Installed on the Republic Day in 1959 at the Marina Beach
, Chennai, the Triumph of Labour is one of the most admired sculpture art-works of the modern age in India. The statue was created by artist Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhury. Four men drudging to move a rock was themed on the sheer hard work of the laboring-class. The statue still remains the chief element to commemorate the May Day every year.
12. Santhaal Family by Ramkinkar Baij, Shantiniketan, West Bengal
The first public modernist sculpture, Santhaal Family is the most renowned work of Ramkinkar Baij, a distinguished figure of Contextual Modernism. The statue is a remarkable work of a Santhaal family consisting of a father, a mother, a child and their god carrying their mere possessions with them to move on to a new life. This beautiful and sensible work of artistic marvel is located at the Kala Bhavan of the Vishwabharati University, Shantiniketan.
Famous Paintings in India
1. Ajanta Cave Paintings
Ajanta cave paintings are the finest examples of early medieval cave-paintings and are considered some of the greatest art-works in India. These frescos were dated back to the 8th century and found at the Ajanta caves
near Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The slightly degraded frescos were done on wet plaster with coloured paints and are still gloriously beautiful notwithstanding their age. The paintings were highly influenced by Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism.
2. Bagh Cave Paintings, Madhya Pradesh
Another marvelous series of art-works were found in the man made rock-cut caves in Bagh town, Madhya Pradesh. Alike the Ajanta paintings, the beautiful frescos at Bagh monuments were clearly inspired by the Buddhism. These caves were probably the Buddhist Viharas (monasteries) and were nine in number. But only the five among them could survive till date. Bagh Caves could be date back to from the 4th to the late 5th century.
3. Jatayu Vadham by Raja Ravi Varma
It is said that the Indian mythology were brought to life with the paintings by the greatest Indian artist of modern age, Raja Ravi Varma. The divine paintings by him were mostly based on the Indian mythology and the culture of Kerala and Maharashtra. Among uncountable stunning paintings, Jatayu Vadham was a class apart. The fighting scene of Jatayu with Ravana and the sheer grief of the delicate Sita, the ruthlessness of Ravana and the valour of Jatayu were illustrated with stunning preciseness and lucidity.
4. Bharat Mata by Abanindranath Tagore
Widely considered as the first example of advocating the Swadeshi ideologies in Indian art, Bharat Mata is the most eminent work of the great painter Abanindranath Tagore. A four-armed Hindu Woman (depicting the motherland) wearing a saffron-hued robe, holding a book, mala, sheaves of rice and a white cloth promising Shiksha-Diksha-Anna and Vastra to her children (countrymen).
5. Group of Three Girls by Amrita Sher-Gil
Group of There Girls is probably the best painting by Amrita Sher-Gil, one of the greatest Indian artists and who was also known as India’s Frida Kahlo. Three Girls is a painting depicting three village girls colourfully dressed thinking about a destiny they can never change. The realistic facial expressions of the deprived yet spirited girls made the painting so irresistibly beautiful. The painting was influence by the woks of the great French painter Paul Gauguin.
6. Bapuji by Nandalal Bose
Bapuji is a masterpiece by the renowned artist Nandalal Bose is another great Indian art-work. It is a linocut done in black and white projecting the famous Dandi March of 1930 started and led by Mahatma Gandhi. The image is a wonderful example of modern Indian art and now is places at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore.
7. The Star That Beckons by Jehangir Sabavala
The Star that beckons was the best work by the ‘gentleman Painter’ Jehangi Sabavala and one of the best modern Indian art-works. The painting is a stunning mélange of sand, sea and the sky merging along with the beautiful juxtaposition of flying birds.
8. Mother Teresa by MF Husain
Mother Teresa by the legendary painter MF Husain is an essential piece of abstract modern art and of a highly sensible work. The otherwise controversial painter MF Husain did a complete justice with this glass painting making it an iconic, highly applauded and immensely appreciated Indian art-work.
9. Horses in Full Gallop by M F Hussein
Horse was the most favourite subject of MF Husain which was depicted in his paintings in numerable ways for the uncountable times. ‘Horses in full gallop’ was one of the best works done by the modern Indian painters. This beautiful image is still one of the priciest possessions in the country.
10. Krishna, Spring in Kulu by Nicolas Roerich
Though Nicholus Roerich remained a Russian citizen for the entire life, no one can deny how much Indian he was by heart spending the last and most important years of his life in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh. Krishna, Spring in Kulu was indeed one of the greatest art-work made in Indian soil. The painting was themed on ever charming Krishna playing his flute under a blossomed tree surrounded by the snow-clad Himalayas. This image is now on a permanent display at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York.
11. Malanggan Mask from Ireland by Rabindranath Tagore
There was probably no field left where he did not travel and with complete authority! Rabindranath Tagore was not just a poet, song-writer, story writer, novelist, playwright or a great philosopher; he also had his share of fame as an artist. Started a little late at sixty, Tagore did a handful of paintings in his lifetime. Malanggan Mask from Ireland was probably the best among them. His rendition of this popular mask was done on pastel and was a highly acclaimed piece of art.
12. Gopini by Jamini Ray
Gopini is the foremost work done by one of the most famous and praised modern Indian artists, Jamini Ray. The beautiful young woman has a lyrical sensuality and vibrancy in her posture and is richly hued. The art-works of Ray was influenced by the Kalighat Patachitra of Kolkata. Gopini is now placed at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
13. Mahishasura by Tyeb Mehta
Mahishasura is probably the best known art-work by Tyeb Mehta, one of the most influential contemporary artists in India. The Indian mythological elements have always found important places in Mehta’s creation. Mahishasura depicting the Killing of the demon by the goddess Kali is a highly celebrated work of him and was sold at a whopping Rupees 19 crore!