The story of Indian art comes down from thousands of years ago, long before the historic period. The world is today discovering the early roots of India’s and indeed the world civilization.
There are highly expressive and lively Indian art paintings of pre-historic man in many cave shelters spread all over the country. These hold a wealth of information and a valuable treasure of our past which needs to be guarded and conserved. Many sites of the art of early man are still being discovered such as the site found in recent years by Bulu Imam near Hazari Bagh in the state of Jharkhand. Since then, a dozen rock sites have been brought to light in this region by INTACH, which is the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage Chapter in Hazari Bagh.
The walls of palaces, temples and even homes in India were once extensively painted. Most of these murals have been lost to the passage of time and change to cultural norms. Great treasures of murals have been lost to recent whitewashing and repainting. Unfortunately, in many instances, valuable ancient Indian art paintings have been covered with new paintings. Conversations efforts have been taken up with the large numbers of mural paintings which are spread all over Rajasthan. In the Mehrangarh Fort, the murals were cleaned to reveal the original colors.
In recent years, the exquisite murals of the Nagaur Fort were cleaned and preserved under expert guidance. These are among the finest murals of Rajasthan. Watchful individuals of today are discovering a wealth of murals which still survive in many remote corners of India.
Organizations are working to protect and conserve this vast cultural heritage. The Indian Conservation Institute, Odisha Art Conservation Centre at Bhuvneshwar collaborated with the Indian Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore and worked on a hunch that there would be at least 70 to 80 wall painting sites in Odisha, which no one knows about because the official records say that there are only 11 or 12 such sites. A team of experts worked on this hunch. And, over a two-year period, they surveyed all the 30 districts of Odisha and brought to light 77 wall painting sites. Most of these sites were exquisitely illustrated. These sites had elaborate Indian art mural paintings on mud walls and on lime plastered walls. One of the things that came to light from the documentation was that most of these paintings were in an utter state of decay and if they were left on their own, they would definitely disintegrate in the next 10 to 15 years. This was further compounded by the fact that there are absolute apathy and lack of awareness of even the existence of these wall paintings because of which no measures have been taken to conserve them. There is also a propensity to repaint these murals; as a result, a number of these are getting destroyed. The team worked in collaboration with the traditional artists of Odisha and took up a project to revive this ancient mural painting skill.
Because of the condition reports that were prepared of all these manuscripts, conservation projects were initiated. In Odisha, not only traditional artists are not making mural paintings, they are also forgetting the skills that their forefathers had. These artists are not training their children now on how to make mural paintings.
As in other parts of the country, Punjab also had a rich tradition of mural painting. Temples, palaces, and forts would once have all been profusely covered with murals. With the passage of time and the repainting of most of these walls, much of this treasure of Indian art has been lost. A recent documentation and conservation project has brought to light forgotten sites of mural paintings in Punjab. Efforts are ongoing to conserve these valuable paintings.
From Punjab in the west to Odisha in the east, there is a growing awareness of the need to preserve our heritage. Individuals and institutions have begun valuable pioneering work. Indian art painting is one of the oldest and finest traditions of painting in the world. It is a vast legacy which preserves 2,000 years of our cultural and philosophical history and is invaluable; that is why it needs to be preserved for our future generation.