Friday, December 5, 2014

How the Ajanta murals were created

The Ajanta cave paintings (from around 200 BCE to 500 CE) represent India's art at a great height of sophistication and skill. These scenes of the life of Buddha and the bodhisattvas, natural beauty and royal splendour have been called "the birth of Indian art".

So how were these works of art created? The Vishnudharmottara Purana, an encyclopedic text that deals with arts and sciences, gives us insights. The third khanda (chapter) deals with Painting and Image Making. The Vishnudharmottara Purana admits that it is only repeating things from earlier sources. Since those sources are not available, the Vishnudharmottara Purana (said to date to 4 CE) is our best possible guide.

Here are some of the ingenious methods that Indian painters used to create paintings that enthrall us to this day.
Scene from the Jataka Tales depicting king Mahajanaka
Methods of lighting up a dark cave to paint in:
Painters used many methods to light up the interiors of dark caves they had to paint. Apart from using torches lit with vegetable oil, they positioned large metal mirrors to angle sunshine. They poured water into shallow depressions they had made on the floor, to reflect sunlight onto the ceilings of the caves. They would also whitewash the walls of the caves with lime plaster before painting them, which would create a natural halo of light that would help them with their paintings.

The plaster base that enables the painting:
The painters covered the cave walls with two layers of plaster made of mud, vegetable fibre, paddy husk, rock-grit, sand, etc. The plaster was then covered with a thin coat of lime. Then they made their drawings on this.

Materials used to make paints and brushes:
Six pigments were used by the painters. They were mixed with water to create paints.
  • Yellow ochre (from a natural earth pigment containing hydrated iron oxide)
  • Red ochre (the same pigment with a large amount of hematite in it)
  • Blue (from crushed lapis lazuli)
  • Green (from glauconite or 'green sand')
  • White (from kaolin, lime or gypsum)
  • Black (from lamp-black, the soot left over from oil lamps
The brushes used for different types of effects:
They used several types of brushes, of different materials. One brush was a pointed rod made of khachora-root mixed with boiled rice. Another was a thin bamboo rod topped with a cotton swab. A third was made from the soft ear hair of a calf, and fixed with lac. Hair from a squirrel's tail and a sheep's belly was also used.

So there you have it - isn't it marvellous?!
Different pigments used to depict skin colour variations

1 comment:

  1. Amazing to know. Thanks, Aishu.