Hindu art in India had its origin in the Vedic period with the invasion of the Aryans who came to the Indian subcontinent thousands of years before the birth of Christ. The Aryans had their own culture and tradition and their ways of livelihood was the beginning of Hinduism. The Dravidians who were the natives of India also had some elements of Hinduism but they were out shown by the Aryans and were pushed down in the south where they prospered in their own way. The Aryans were mainly agricultural nomadic invaders and so their architecture was neither monumental nor permanent nor con¬centrated in urban development. They were distributed in small settlements and their building materials were those most readily available for construct¬ing shelters like wood, bamboo, thatch, and, prob¬ably only later, brick.
Four Vedas came to existence during this period which recorded the scriptures of the Aryans. Hindu deities like Varun, Usha and Mitra began to be worshipped. In the period of the early Upanishad the principal aspects of modern Hinduism developed. The Vedic gods were super¬seded by the worship of the Trinity of modern Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Among the popular subjects of Hindu art are representations of Vishnu in the form of the boar that saved the earth-goddess from the waters of the flood, or, in the form of a lion, when he struck down an impious king who dared to question his universal divinity. One incarnation of Vishnu is in the shape of the hero Krishna, who first appears in the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata and in that most remarkable of devotional and mystical hymns, the Bhagavad-Gita in which he offers salvation through union with the world-soul or Brahma. The fact that Krishna is frequently referred to as dark in colour has led some scholars to think of him as a divinity of Dravidian origin, and this racial distinction is maintained even in the iconogra¬phy of Indian painting in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Another member of the Hindu trinity is Lord Shiva who is generally regarded as a divinity of Dravidian origin, perhaps stemming from the Rudras, who were deities of destruction. Shiva symbol¬ised the powers of destruction which are the bases of re-creation. The representations of Shiva as the Lord of the Dance are personifica¬tions of his enactment of the end of the world, when the universe falls into ruin and is recreated by Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva in his procreative aspect is worshipped in the shape of a lingam that is the phallic emblem and, by symbolic inference, the tree and axis of the universe itself. An inevitable attribute of Shiva, especially in all late Hindu art, is his vehicle, the bull Nandi.
The Hindu temples are a remarkable specimen of the Hindu art. In the Hindu temple, large niches in the three exterior walls of the sanctum house sculpted images that portray various aspects of the deity are enshrined within. The sanctum image expresses the essence of the deity. For instance, the niches of a temple dedicated to a Vishnu may portray his incarnations; those of a temple to Shiva may represent his various combative feats; and those of a temple to the Great Goddess, her battles with various demons. The exterior of the halls and porch are also covered with figural sculpture. A series of niches highlight events from the mythology of the enshrined deity, and frequently a place is set aside for a variety of other gods. In addition, temple walls feature repeated banks of scroll-like foliage, images of women, and loving couples. Signifying growth, abundance, and prosperity, they were considered as auspicious motifs.
Hindu art unlike Buddhist art illustrate human figures as voluptuous, curved and full of potential motion. For instance some sculptures of goddess Parvati are adorned with jewelry to emphasise on her sexuality. Images of Vishnu are endowed with four arms to portray his multiple powers. Deities are mostly depicted with many arms especially when they are engaged in aggressive acts of cosmic effect that involve destroying influential forces of the evil. The multiple arms also tresses on the gargantuan power of the deities and their capacity to execute several feats at one time. Demons on the other hand were portrayed with multiple heads to designate their superhuman power. At times the artist represented a deity with more than one head to demonstrate the varying features of the character of the deity for example the portrayal of Shiva with triple heads specify the blissful aspect of his character.
There are also some specimens of Hindu art from the Gupta period like the temple of Vishnu at Deogarh. The temple was originally surrounded by four porticoes, one leading to the sanctuary, the other three serving to set off and protect the reliefs of Brahmanical subjects set in the remaining walls of the edifice. Initially the temple platform was decorated with a continuous wall painting representing events from the epic Ramayana a text popular in Gupta times for its heroic account of the triumph of a godly race. Inside the temple there is a plaque of Vishnu on the great Naga. Another unique and important building of Hindu art is the brick temple at Bhitargaon near Cawnpore. Originally a Brahmanical dedication, it was intended as a sanctuary for images. The brick tower, raised on a high plinth, is thirty-six feet square, and contains a cella joined to a small vestibule by a barrel vault. Domical brick vaults cover the sanctuary and porch. On the exterior we see a structure with doubly recessed corners ornamented by double cornices enclosing a recessed frieze of carved brick.
Under the Chola dynasty Hindu art revived in the south Indian kingdoms. The Chola kings were the devotee of Shiva. So the Hindu architecture down south constitutes mainly of temples dedicated to Shiva. The Rajrajesvara temple of 1000A.D. is one hundred and eighty feet long and has a tower rising one hundred and ninety feet in the air. The steep tower is not only enormously impressive, rising above the empty sea of court¬yards around it, but extremely beautiful in its proportion. The form of the tower is that of the Dravidian sikhara, but the horizontal dividing lines of its thirteen storeys have been suppressed so as not to interfere with the effect of soaring vertically achieved by the converging lines of the truncated pyramid in profile. It should be noted that the plan of the Rajrajesvara temple, consisting of the garbhagriha under the central spire preceded by a pillared mandapa, is only an enormous enlargement of the very simplest form of Indian sanctuary. The wonderful balance between architectural mass and verticality, together with the subordination of enormous detail to the complete form, makes this temple at Tanjore perhaps the finest single creation of the Dravidian Hindu craftsman in architecture.
The stone sculpture of these Chola temples is typical of the creative vitality of this last great period of South Indian civilisation. The iconography of this most dramatic aspect of Shiva will be found fully developed in the magnificent bronze images of the Nataraja of the Chola Period. The bronze medium by its very nature afforded the craftsman greater freedom to express the movement and passion of Siva's Dance; but even in this stone figure, which is actually a high relief, there is a sugges¬tion of the boundless, whirling energy of the cosmic measure. The temples of Vijayanagar and Madura are also outstanding instances of Hindu art in south India.
Paintings are also an integral part in the history of Hindu art. The paintings of Kailasha temple is a rare example. The upper layer of paintings in the Kailasa temple datable no earlier than the late eighth or early ninth century contains a representation of Vishnu and Lakshmi sur¬rounded by Garudas. Among the few examples of ancient wall-painting in South India are the decorations of the Rajrajesvara temple at Tanjore. The figures in this cycle are devoted to the life of Sundara-murtiswami in a completely Chola style, in which the poses, gestures, and facial types are the pictorial equivalents of the great South Indian bronze images. The final chapter of painting in Hindu art is in the work of the Rajput schools. Rajput painting is the work of artists attached to the princely courts in Rajasthan. The intention of the artists in Rajput painting is realistic. The Rajput miniatures are derived from earlier classic styles in exactly the same way that Hindi vernacular writing stems from classical Sanskrit. In this regard Rajput art might be presented as a merging of folk art with hieratic and classic traditions. The Rajput paintings are in a sense the product of the development of popular Vaishnavism centered particularly on the devotion to Rama and Krishna who typified the worship of Vishnu and Shiva. The rise of popular Vaishnavism coincides with the renaissance of Hindu literature and the begin¬nings of Rajput painting in the late sixteenth century.
Hindu art in India is thus divided into indo-Aryan and Dravidian Hindu architectures. Hindu art in India evolved in two distinct ways in north and in the south.