Mural Paintings

Mural Paintings

A Mural Painting is a form of visual art where the colors are directly applied to an extended and permanent surface like wall, tomb and ceiling creating a harmonious fusion of the image and that of its architectural edifice and its surroundings.

History of Mural Paintings

Murals are the earliest forms of creative exploits of human species, which are found in the form of cave paintings. Dating back to as early as 30,000 B.C. to the Upper Paleolithic Age, the earliest instance of mural paintings is found in the Chauvet Cave of France. Other early mural paintings are found in the Egyptian tombs, Minoan Palaces (a civilization growing up in Crete during the Bronze Age) and in the Roman city of Pompeii around 100 B.C.

Contemporary Scenario of Mural Paintings

With the ‘Muralista’ art movement in Mexico, mural paintings gained a huge impetus and grew in popularity across the world. The spearheads of the movement were the well known Mural artists like Diego Rivera, José Orozco and David Siqueiros.

Technique of Mural Painting


Among the various types of techniques of making a mural painting, the most popular is Fresco. Derived from the Italian word affresco, this form of painting is done by applying color on the wet plaster on walls primarily with the motif of making the painting last more than any other type of mural. Frescos became a popular technique for the artists during the Renaissance, but lost its significance in the following period only to be revived in the 20th century.

On the basis of techniques, fresco is divided into the following:

  • Buon Fresco: This method includes the style of panting in pigments with water on a layer of lime plaster. These paintings last more than the others as the color pigments undergo a chemical reaction with the dry air making it dehydrated and permanent.

  • Secco: This type of mural painting is done on dry plaster, unlike the earlier type, justifying the term secco meaning dry. Therefore, additional glue has to be used for binding the color. Although it is a technique not as good as buon fresco, it has three crucial advantages:
    1. This technique is much quicker than the others.
    2. If mistakes are committed on the art work, it could be rectified at ease.
    3. The variation in color at the time of application and after drying of the plaster was much less unlike the wet frescos which completely differed.

  • Mezzo Fresco: This type of fresco painting was worked on semi soft plaster, so that the color pigments can only penetrate slightly. Interestingly, by the end of the 16th century during the Renaissance, Buon Fresco technique was replaced greatly by this technique for its ideal balance of advantages and retaining true color than others. The greats like Michelangelo and Gianbattista Tiepolo followed this technique in almost all of their paintings.

Indian Mural Painting

Indian Mural Painting has a vastly important role in world art. One of the earliest cave paintings in India are found to be murals as early as the 6th century B.C. Indian murals, which were practiced widely in the ancient India, give us an in depth knowledge of the socio-cultural practices of its people.

Indian mural paintings are found in various historical places as one of the finest specimens of any art form in India. The famous mural types of India are:

  1. Murals of Ajanta
  2. Murals of the Bagh Caves
  3. Dravidian Murals in Kerala
  4. Punjabi Murals of the Mughals
  5. Murals in Lepakshi of the Cholas

Murals of Ajanta

The earliest evidence of mural paintings in India has been found in the cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora made from the volcanic rocks in Maharashtra in 2nd century B.C. Most of the paintings have eroded away due to lack of maintenance. Being the earliest remnants of Indian art, Ajanta murals include sculptures and paintings of animals, deities and their guards.

Created during the Gupta period, this cave depicts the life and thoughts of Lord Gautam Buddha and Buddhist philosophy and perspective of life. The most celebrated mural of this cave is the illustration of a male figure seen to be emanating a sense of compassion, benevolence and even an essence of somberness while witnessing the misery and pain of the whole world. This figure seems to personify the senses of human perception of beauty within its figurative representation: the eyes are painted like the lotus petals and the waist is that of leonine tautness. This is the famous Indian mural of Ajanta Bodhisattva.

A few characteristics of Ajanta Murals are:

  1. Use of light and shade in different hues.
  2. Depicts the story of Jataka and many births of Lord Buddha.
  3. The ceilings are painted with motifs of flora and fauna.

Murals of the Bagh Caves

Having resemblance with the architectural patterns of the Ajanta Caves, mural paintings of Bagh Caves situated in Madhya Pradesh were done during 4th and 7th century A.D. With residential units inside the caves, murals on the subjects of teachings, inscriptions and religious practice of the Buddhists are found here. The popular Buddhist figure of Padmapani, also found in the Ajanta, is beautifully painted in the tempera (permanent fast-drying painting medium mixed with color pigment and water soluble binder) technique. Use of frescos is found in abundance on the walls, ceilings and pillars of this cave.

Dravidian Murals

Following the technique of Fresco Secco dating back to 9th to 12th century A.D., Dravidian murals are commonly found on the walls of the temples and churches in Kerala and other parts of South India. With its genesis from an ancient Indian art form called Kalamezhuthu, (art of creating images on the floor), Dravidian murals follow the aesthetic principles of Shilparatna, an ancient Indian text prescribing the various technique of creating images with color.

A few notable characteristics of Dravidian Murals are:

  1. It is espoused that the pure colors, namely Indian red, white, yellow ochre, sabgreen, lampblack and indigo, are combined and used individually to create the colorful kaleidoscope of the murals in Kerala.
  2. The primary color of blue is given less importance in these murals.
  3. Painting brushes are specially made from a grass called Eyyum Pullu found on the river banks.
  4. The subjects are mostly taken from Hindu mythology.
  5. The characters of Bhagavata Gita are painted in such colors so that they follow the description given in the text.

Various places where instances of this mural are found include the following

  1. Shiva Temple of Ettumanoor
  2. Ramayana murals of Mattacherry Palace and Vadakkumantha shetram
  3. Bible murals St. George Syrian Orthodox Church

Punjabi Murals

Punjabi Murals came into existence during the Mughal Era. This kind of mural is found on the walls of the Lahore fort portraying both the Hindu and the Muslim kings, reflecting the secular mindset and fraternity of the Mughals. Punjabi Murals become historically interesting as these murals reflected the defying attitude of the Mughals, as they promoted murals in spite of the Islamic inhibition of drawing human figures.

Mural paintings flourished under the patronage of the Mughal Dynasty, especially during the rule of Akbar who among the Mughals was the first to use frescoes extensively as a decorative tool in architecture. Among the best are the frescoes of Rangmahal, which was built by Jahangir in 1630.

Murals in Lepakshi

During the 15th and 16th century A.D. Lepakshi murals were popular under the reign of the Vijaynagar kings in Karnataka. The most significant mural painting is found in the temple of Veerbhadra in Lepakshi, which provides an important reference point in discerning the history of visual culture in India.

Some of the key features of Lepakshi murals are:

  • These paintings depict various scenes from the Indian Puranas.
  • The ceiling at the Veerabhadra temple is divided into strips, which are further divided into square and rectangular sections, each depicting a scene from Indian mythology in parity with the main theme of the representation depicted at the central.
  • Most of the paintings feature the Hindu deities like Brahama, Vishnu and other figures from epics and mythologies like Arjuna, Krishna and such others.
  • Great detailing can be noticed in depicting the royal features of the figure, like ornaments and dresses.
  • A lot of murals show Hindu gods are blessing the Chola Kings and Queens.
  • Avatars of Vishnu was a common theme in the paintings.

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