Mural Paintings of Karnataka (ಕರ್ನಾಟಕದ ಭಿತ್ತಿ ಚಿತ್ರಗಳು) are not as well known as the architectural and sculptural marvels of the same state. Hubert Knox found some rock engravings and cave paintings in Kigali of Karnataka. Later in 1915 Leonard Munn, an English officer was moving about in the forested hill ranges of Hire Benkalgudda. ( Gangavati taluk., Raichur district, now in Koppal district) He happened to discover three caves with drawings and monochrome paintings. They contained line drawings of animals such as deer, pea-cock, bull and many human beings, with flat paints filled in. These drawings belong to the early decades of the Christian era. The Ramapura caves near Anegondi have some crude drawings with out any painting. There is a line drawing of a tiger on a rock near Ankalagi MaTa of Chitradurga district. Similarly, artists have chosen other surfaces such as clay pots and vats. A pot belonging to the copper age found in a village called satti in Belgaum district contains a long beaked ibis painted in violet black colour. This is supposed to be the earliest painting in Karnataka.

There are three categories of rock art: bruising caused with a stone, engraving with a sharp stone or metal tool and paintings. Almost all the paintings of this period are mono chrome. In South Karnataka, we find mostly engravings. Very rarely there are paintings in white ochre and red ochre. In the eastern part of North Karnataka there are bruisings, engravings and paintings dating back to the Neolithic period (4000-2000-800 B.C.) In Badami, Hospet, Mahakuta, Pattadakal, Aihole and Kutakankei area there are very interesting painted shelters mostly with animals of wild species and humans drawn in a peculiar way besides some unusual geometrical designs datable to circa 10,000 B.C. or even earlier. In Badami area, paintings only of wild animals such as pigs, animals with stripes on the body still to be identified and depictions of stick like humans with an exaggerated trunk are to beseen.. These paintings have no parallels in other parts of Karnataka. Some geometrical drawings are found at Hire Benkal, Chik Rampur in Bellari district and at Sonda in Uttara Kannada district and at Gavali near Kundapura in the South Canara districts. All of them are in the engraved form. Some more drawings were found by M.S. Nagaraja Rao at Tekkalakote in 1965, by V.S. Vakhankar at Malagitti and takkOTa in 1973. Most of them are mono chrome paintings in red and its variant colours. Bruised and engraved drawings were found in places such as kappagallu, sanganakallu, piklihAL, huNasagi, gombiguDDa etc by many archaeologists such as Fawert, Gordon, Subba Rao, Paddayya, Mahadevan, R.S. Panchamukhi and Irwin New Mayor from time to time. Dr A. Sundara has done seminal work in this field and has many publications to his credit.

When we move on to historic period instances of murals are few and far between. The third of the celebrated caves of Badami dedicated to Vishnu contained a few paintings modeled on those of Ajantha and Ellora. These were described and analyzed by art critics such as Thomas Munroe, Bird, Wilson and James Burgess in the nineteenth century. However they were subject to gradual decay and not much remains now to arrive at proper conclusions. However C. Shivarama Murthy and A. Sundara have studied this cave diligently. According to them one of the paintings represents the court of Lord Indra and the other Keerthivarma the Chalukya monarch. A. Sundara gives details about the nature of paints used and the mode in which the surface was prepared for painting. M.V. Minajagi a well known artist of Karnataka made copies of these paintings at an early date and they have become handy for purposes of analysis.

The next stage of mural painting in Karnataka encompasses the Vijayanagara period and the reign of the Bahmani and Adilshahi Sultans. The Jamia mosque and Asar Mahal in Bijapur and a bathing ghat in a near by village called kamatagi contain a few murals painted in the 17th century. Some of the artists hailed from Europe and some more were influenced by that style. Consequently many portraits resemble their European counterparts. The paintings are predominantly blue and most of them are floral decorations. This school is known more for its miniature drawings and drawings made in books rather than murals.

Vijayanagara period constitutes a watershed in the history of murals in Karnataka. Krishnadevaraya who built a mandapam in front of the sanctum of the famous Virupaksha temple embellished it with Vijayanagar style bas releifs and murals. Several of Shiva's manifestations, (Tripurantaka) and the ten incarnations of Vishnu are portrayed here, as is the classic scene from Mahabharata depicting Arjuna's shooting the ‘fish device’ (matsya yantra) in order to secure Draupadi's hand in marriage. There is also a mural depicting Vidyaranya the spiritual leader of Vijayanagar in procession. Most of these paintings have mythological/historical themes, even though the details are contemporary.

Lepakshi in Andhrapradesh is another repository of Vijayanagar style murals. Lepakshi houses the Virabhadreswara Swami temple . This temple is known also for its elegant murals which depict the various manifestations of Shiva. The murals here are full of vitality. Mention must be made of depictions of Kirataarjuneeyam, Dakshinamurthy and the divine wedding of Shiva and Parvati. The mukhamandapa has a 50 feet long panel, which bears paintings narrating the legend of Manunidhi Cholan. The mukhamandapam also bears paintings depicting Krishna as a child, and scenes from the Mahabharata illustrating Draupadi's wedding. The ardhamandapam of the Lepakshi temple bears paintings of 14 of the manifestations of Shiva (Dakshinamurti, Chandesa, Anugraha murthy, Bhikshatana, Harihara, Ardhanareeswara, Kalyanasundara, Tripurantaka, Nataraja, Gowriprasadaka, Lingodbhava, Andhakaasurasamhaara.) The sanctum's ceiling bears a large painting which is said to be Asia's largest mural. This large painting of Veerabhadra measures about 23 feet by 13 feet.
Elsewhere in the Lepakshi temple are paintings depicting the incarnations of Vishnu.
The Vijayanagar ruler's patronage extended deep into Tamilnadu and the brilliant murals in the Srirangam temple are yet another feature in the never ending display of art treasures in a vast temple complex that is also a repository of ancient worship traditions. In the innermost circumambulatory passage in the Srirangam temple are 300 year old paintings depicting scenes from the epics.

After the fall of Vijayanagara Empire the art of murals passed on to South Karnataka and the murals in the Dariya Daulath palace at Srirangapattana are interesting. The murals at the houses of the big land lords at places such as AthaNi, Naragunda, Gadagu and NippaaNi, at a Jaina MaTa in Shravanabelagola and the famous wall paintings in the Sibi Narasimhaswamy temple at Sibi(sIbi) a village in Tumkur district belong to the eighteenth and nineteenth period and they are beyond the scope of this article.


Further Readings and Links:

1. (An article and a few murals)

2. (An article and a number of murals)


4. (An article and many good murals-LEPAKSHI)

5.      ‘Murals of Karnataka’ by B.V.K. Shastry, Karnataka Lalitha kala Academy . 1980, Bangalore .



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