The blessed topography of India comprises of adequate landscapes that provide the perfect setting for cave paintings and other rock-cut sculptures. Approximately, there are almost 1500 separate caves in the country at present, and more new caves are being exhumed with the course of time. The Deccan Plateau of India comprises of granite, Basalt, diorite which is extensively available in the area. Deep caves provide the idyllic protection from various elements, for the diverse culture and creative styles in Indian cave paintings.
Religious Cave Paintings in India
Various natural rock-cut caves of India usually contain ancient and prehistoric cave art and paintings which is spread though out the country from the Himalayas to the southern part of India. The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh are of outstanding importance as there are around 500 caves and rock shelter which contain numerous paintings. The earliest painting may be as old as 15,000 years and it shelters some of the most primitive paintings created by humans around the world. The earliest petroglyphs are also located in here which may be almost 290,000 years old. The Ajanta Caves also contains very old paintings that can be dated back to 1st century BC, although most of the other paintings are originally from 460 - 480 AD. The murals in the Ajanta are famous for Buddhist art which centre on the life tales of Lord Buddha. Various mythical creatures like Nagas, Yakshas, Vrikshikas, and also other goddesses. The unique artworks of Jogimara Cave in Chhattisgarh, which were made around the 1st century BC, are not linked with religion, unlike most other Indian Cave Paintings, instead they portray images of elephant, fish and dancing couples.
In Maharashtra, the Pitalkhora Caves were ornamented with artistic paintings that belong to the 4th century AD and these have been preserved till now. More stunning paintings are conserved in Bagh Caves, Madhya Pradesh, which also date back to 4th - 6th century AD. The paintings in the Badami Cave Templesof Karnataka, approximately from late 6th - 7th century AD, portray paintings of Lord Brahma riding his swan. In Orissa, Ravan Chhaya rock shelter, also hosts remarkable testament of art of the tempera painting style. The Ellora Cavesof Maharashtra are also of great importance as five caves enclose remnants of ancient Indian painting. The striking murals of the Cave 32 and 33, which are from the 9th- 11th century, mark the origin of the medieval era Indian painting. The paintings in the Kailasanatha temple are conserved in a better state.
Cave Paintings in South India
The most stunning Indian cave paintings of the medieval period can be found in Southern India. Extraordinary amongst these are paintings of Sittanavasal Cave, Tamil Nadu, which are of the period from 7th - 9th century AD. The artwork is spread all over the ceiling of the caves and the pillars. The murals depict a picture of Samava-Sarana, which is considered important in Jain religion. It shows a pond with lotus flowing on the water surface. There are also paintings of gods and Apsaras, elephants and bulls.
The Armamalai Cave in Tamil Nadu also portrays themes of the Jain religion, and dates back to 8th century AD. The walls and ceilings are covered with art of lotuses, flowers and humans. Thirunadhikkara Cave Temple, which was a Jain temple earlier, but was converted into a Hindu sacred ground, is highlighted with gorgeous paintings which portray stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Vishnu temple of Olipathivishnu Vishnugraham in Tamil Nadu, which belongs to the Malayadipatti rock-cut Hindu temples, depicts the Dashavatara, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Numerous beautiful rock cut caves are scattered through out the Himalaya. Buddhist paintings of the Saspol Caves in Jammu and Kashmir, from the 13th - 15th century AD, are of special significance to the Buddhist monks. The painting is a mix of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist art and the colour Blue seems dominant in these paintings. The cave paintings of the Tabo Caves in Himachal Pradesh are also worth mentioning. Cave paintings from the medieval era can also be tracked in the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, amongst the ancient paintings. Indian Cave Paintings can also be found in Thiruparankundram and Murugan Temple in Tamil Nadu, Manmod and Kanheri Caves in Maharashtra and Undavalli in Andhra Pradesh.
Techniques in Indian Cave Paintings
Indian cave painting were usually created in tempera and fresco techniques. The preparation of the surface that served as the canvas was also given due importance. The surface was generally plastered with lime, clay, dung and hay, after being chiselled to make the surface rough. This was normally done to achieve a smooth finish and a glossy effect was added with the use of seashells and conch dusts.
Indian cave painting has suffered adequate erosion over time as colours have faded and have been tarnished. Moreover damp and moist air also adds to the degradation process of the artwork. In the recent times, graffiti created on the painting by immoral and irresponsible citizens have also become a poignant threat. Proper steps and measures should be undertaken in order to preserve and conserve the Indian cave paintings, as these are of great value to the entire world.