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From Caves to Miniatures: Portrayal of Woman in Early Indian Paintings

Mandakini Sharma, Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT, Roorkee

Ila Gupta, Dept. of Architecture and Planning & . HSS, IIT, Roorkee

P. N. Jha, Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT, Roorkee

Volume 6, Number 1, 2016Full Text PDF

Abstract

The portrayal of woman in art is a much debated issue and revisited again and again, after the advancement of feministic ideology. In early Indian paintings, woman is often equipped to evoke sensual pleasure for the onlookers. This phenomenon of female objectification has been particularly observed as a socio-cultural issue from 19th century onwards. The depiction of woman in contemporary scenario has been entirely changed compared to the ancient times because female artists are subverting those objectified narratives into significant forms. The bias of representation has been connected from the very dawn of the civilization and reached on its zenith in 17th century. In this way, the historical representations could be a better medium to evaluate the role of women in Indian paintings. The paper aims to discuss the portrayal of woman from ancient to pre-colonial times, in which the non-significant roles of womanhood have been critically analyzed.

Keywords: Women, paintings, feminist, representation.

Introduction

The subsistence of society is exclusively depending upon the feminine facet, in which, the imagination of the endurance of all human being is inconceivable. The status and connotation of womanhood can be defined appropriately through the visual art of the particular time period. In this context, the literature, art, architecture, and religious manuscripts can be included because visual representation is the reflection of society. Hence, paintings can be used as a medium to revisit the role of woman in the society because art is always being related with the socio-cultural tendencies and strongly connected with the taste and demands of the individual.

In ancient age, paintings are made on the walls of caves (pre-historic period), which was considered the first step of human towards development (Mishra 2001). In this perspective, if the cave paintings are explored as an initial stage, the sexual identities for gender significance are not entirely visible due to geometrical -shaped figures on the walls besides few. Therefore, the gender is not fully visible due to liner composition of the figures. But, the fertility cult and procreation was the most depicted theme in the rock paintings worldwide (Kleiner 2008,).

Going through the evidences, fertility and mother goddess cult has been focused from pre-historic period and started to get developed in the Indus Valley civilization. (Wakankar & Brooks, 1976, Mathpal, 1984, Kamat, 1997, Nagar 1998). In Indus Valley civilization, the woman has been depicted in the form of clay figurines, bronze sculpture and on the seals in symbolic manner (Kak. S 2005, Mcintosh 2008).

In the Vedic period, art was a medium for worship and spirituality, in which, the holy scriptures of the Aryans have been initialized. The very first linguistic record has been found in the Rig-Veda (Khanna 2007), the holy writing of the Vedic period (c.1500-900 B.  C. E.), and its hymns were used for the guidance of human-beings. In this age, the artistic productions were very limited as per the accounts of evidences. The murals of Ajanta and Ellora are also beautified with the sensuous and sublime figures of woman but the core theme was only related with the promotion of religious ideologies. The Indian sub-continent has also been flourished with the marvelous miniature paintings, which originated in Pal dynasty, in India. Although, it’s versatile enhancement has reached on its highest peak during the Mughal period but other dynasties also gave their significant contribution in the production of miniatures.

In miniatures, woman is mostly depicted in an objective manner either in the form of male consort/lover or as the representative of patriarchal hierarchies. The image of woman in Indian miniature has mostly been portrayed with the fusion of societal aspects and sensuous appeal and this stereotype of portrayal has been prevailed till pre-colonial period.

Thus, the present study will be based on an overview of the portrayal of woman in Indian paintings from ancient to pre-colonial times. The role of woman has been observed on the bases of visual narratives. In this context, the representation of woman has been critically observed on the bases of theme, symbolic significance and other related aspects of application. In which, woman has been frequently depicted to project sensual and erotic display and has been neglected from significant roles as compare to man.

Woman in Prehistoric Period in India

The evidence of painting is found from the prehistoric cave paintings of India, where, the signs and motifs of pre-historic civilization can be traced. In these cave paintings, the dominating theme was hunting and daily-life depiction but the identification of sexes (in the paintings) is a challenging term due to the geometrical shapes of the body in more than 80% of the whole paintings. It can also be considered that the gender has no significance in earlier times because the art was entirely based on geometrical or linear forms. It is found that sexuality was not a big issue at that time and the power of reproduction or procreation is highly celebrated as Mathu (2008) stated that:

“In such society, female sexuality was not a threat and did not have to be managed; on the contrary since the very survival of the community depended upon it, female reproductive power was highly valued.”

The magical and religious semiotics can also be traced through some prehistoric paintings.

Going through the theme, it is seen that the portrayal of woman is rarely done. The paintings which represent woman are very few and the dominated theme of those paintings is fertility. Fertility related theme has been identified through the images of pregnant woman. These cave paintings have been deeply observed by Mathpal, who also made some imitations of some of those paintings. His study is particularly related with the rock paintings of Bhimbetaka, Madya Pradesh, which is considered as a main site of pre-historic period.

Abstract

The portrayal of woman in art is a much debated issue and revisited again and again, after the advancement of feministic ideology. In early Indian paintings, woman is often equipped to evoke sensual pleasure for the onlookers. This phenomenon of female objectification has been particularly observed as a socio-cultural issue from 19th century onwards. The depiction of woman in contemporary scenario has been entirely changed compared to the ancient times because female artists are subverting those objectified narratives into significant forms. The biasness of representation has been connected from the very dawn of the civilization and reached on its zenith in 17th century. In this way, the historical representations could be a better medium to evaluate the role of women in Indian paintings. The paper aims to discuss the portrayal of woman from ancient to pre-colonial times, in which the non-significant roles of womanhood have been critically analyzed.

Introduction

The subsistence of society is exclusively depending upon the feminine facet, in which, the imagination of the endurance of all human being is inconceivable. The status and connotation of womanhood can be defined appropriately through the visual art of the particular time period. In this context, the literature, art, architecture, and religious manuscripts can be included because visual representation is the reflection of society. Hence, paintings can be used as a medium to revisit the role of woman in the society because art is always being related with the socio-cultural tendencies and strongly connected with the taste and demands of the individual.

In ancient age, paintings are made on the walls of caves (pre-historic period), which was considered the first step of human towards development (Mishra 2001). In this perspective, if the cave paintings are explored as an initial stage, the sexual identities for gender significance are not entirely visible due to geometrical -shaped figures on the walls besides few. Therefore, the gender is not fully visible due to liner composition of the figures. But, the fertility cult and procreation was the most depicted theme in the rock paintings worldwide (Kleiner 2008,).

Going through the evidences, fertility and mother goddess cult has been focused from pre-historic period and started to get developed in the Indus Valley civilization. (Wakankar & Brooks, 1976, Mathpal, 1984, Kamat, 1997, Nagar 1998). In Indus Valley civilization, the woman has been depicted in the form of clay figurines, bronze sculpture and on the seals in symbolic manner (Kak. S 2005, Mcintosh 2008).

In the Vedic period, art was a medium for worship and spirituality, in which, the holy scriptures of the Aryans have been initialized. The very first linguistic record has been found in the Rig-Veda (Khanna 2007), the holy writing of the Vedic period (c.1500-900 B.  C. E.), and its hymns were used for the guidance of human-beings. In this age, the artistic productions were very limited as per the accounts of evidences. The murals of Ajanta and Ellora are also beautified with the sensuous and sublime figures of woman but the core theme was only related with the promotion of religious ideologies. The Indian sub-continent has also been flourished with the marvelous miniature paintings, which originated in Pal dynasty, in India. Although, it’s versatile enhancement has reached on its highest peak during the Mughal period but other dynasties also gave their significant contribution in the production of miniatures.

In miniatures, woman is mostly depicted in an objective manner either in the form of male consort/lover or as the representative of patriarchal hierarchies. The image of woman in Indian miniature has mostly been portrayed with the fusion of societal aspects and sensuous appeal and this stereotype of portrayal has been prevailed till pre-colonial period.

Thus, the present study will be based on an overview of the portrayal of woman in Indian paintings from ancient to pre-colonial times. The role of woman has been observed on the bases of visual narratives. In this context, the representation of woman has been critically observed on the bases of theme, symbolic significance and other related aspects of application. In which, woman has been frequently depicted to project sensual and erotic display and has been neglected from significant roles as compare to man.

Woman in Prehistoric Period in India

The evidence of painting is found from the prehistoric cave paintings of India, where, the signs and motifs of pre-historic civilization can be traced. In these cave paintings, the dominating theme was hunting and daily-life depiction but the identification of sexes (in the paintings) is a challenging term due to the geometrical shapes of the body in more than 80% of the whole paintings. It can also be considered that the gender has no significance in earlier times because the art was entirely based on geometrical or linear forms. It is found that sexuality was not a big issue at that time and the power of reproduction or procreation is highly celebrated as Mathu (2008) stated that:

“In such society, female sexuality was not a threat and did not have to be managed; on the contrary since the very survival of the community depended upon it, female reproductive power was highly valued.”

The magical and religious semiotics can also be traced through some prehistoric paintings.

Going through the theme, it is seen that the portrayal of woman is rarely done. The paintings which represent woman are very few and the dominated theme of those paintings is fertility. Fertility related theme has been identified through the images of pregnant woman. These cave paintings have been deeply observed by Mathpal, who also made some imitations of some of those paintings. His study is particularly related with the rock paintings of Bhimbetaka, Madya Pradesh, which is considered as a main site of pre-historic period..Full Text PDF

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