6 Indian Art Forms that Survived British Colonisation

With the 74th Indian republic day having passed, it seems natural to reflect on how much India has evolved since British rule, and where we are today. Despite facing numerous challenges and obstacles, India has made remarkable progress in all areas. This progress is a testament to the resilience of the Indian people, who have always demonstrated great strength in the face of adversity. Currently, there is a significant debate around whether the British owe it to the countries they colonized to return precious objects that sit in British museums. These objects include exquisite Nataraja sculptures from the southern region and invaluable collections of Mughal miniature paintings, Pahari paintings, and other art forms that have garnered appreciation from foreigners for our nation's artistic prowess.

However, was this appreciation always extended to our art by the British during their rule?


Here are six examples of art forms that have endured the test of time, with or without the support of the British Empire during their time in India.


1. Traditional Weaving

Over time, Indian textiles from every corner of India have become recognized as works of art due to their unparalleled beauty and techniques that cannot be easily mastered. In the 18th century, the British textile industry faced stiff competition from Indian textiles. These textiles were highly valued for their superior quality and intricate designs. As a solution, the British government started levying heavy taxes on Indian textiles imported to Britain. Despite this, India continued to produce and export to other parts of the world, where they remained in high demand. To counteract this, the British implemented a ban on the sale of Indian textiles, which became known as the Calico Act. This was a significant move that had far-reaching consequences for the Indian textile industry. Although the ban intended to protect British jobs and the economy, it had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of many Indian weavers. India's weaving industry faced significant challenges post-independence due to competition from machine-made textiles and the decline in demand for traditional handloom fabrics. However, the Indian government recognized the importance of preserving and promoting the country's rich textile heritage and implemented policies to support the handloom industry. Today, India's handloom industry is a significant contributor to the country's economy, providing employment to millions of people and promoting the country's unique textile heritage.


Weaving Village: 6 Indian Art Forms that Survived British Colonisation


2. Mughal Miniatures 

Mughal Miniature Paintings emerged during the Mughal Empire in India, renowned for their intricate details and exquisite beauty. However, with the decline of the Mughal Empire, the demand for these paintings plummeted, and many artists lost their patrons. Furthermore, British colonial policies disrupted traditional art practices, making it challenging for local artists to continue their work. Under British rule, many Indian artists had to cater to British tastes, resulting in a decline in the popularity of Mughal miniature paintings during the colonial period. Artists had to give up their traditional techniques and styles, and many were forced to abandon their craft altogether.

Despite these challenges, the weaving industry survived and has seen a resurgence of interest and support post-independence. Similarly, in recent times, there has been a renewed appreciation for Mughal miniature paintings, with contemporary artists experimenting with the art form and creating innovative and fresh works of art. This revival is a testament to the resilience and perseverance of Indian artists and their commitment to preserving and reviving traditional art forms.


Mughal Miniatures: 6 Indian Art Forms that Survived British Colonisation


3. Mysore Murals

Mysore murals are a type of traditional art that originated in the southern Indian city of Mysore. These murals are characterised by their intricate details, bright colours, and depiction of historic events and people. During the reign of Tipu Sultan, who was the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in the late 18th century, Mysore murals were used to decorate the palace walls and other buildings in the city. The murals often depicted scenes from the life of Tipu Sultan, his family, and his court, as well as images of animals, flowers, and other natural elements. However, after Tipu Sultan's death and the subsequent British colonisation of India, the Mysore murals fell out of favour. The British considered the murals to be propaganda and symbols of Indian resistance to colonial rule. As a result, many of the murals were destroyed, and the art form fell into decline. It was not until the mid-20th century that efforts were made to revive the Mysore mural tradition. Today, artists and craftsmen in Mysore continue to create these beautiful works of art, using traditional materials and techniques. The murals can be found in various public and private buildings in and around Mysore, and are recognized as an important part of India's cultural heritage.


Mysore Murals: 6 Indian Art Forms that Survived British Colonisation


4. Kalighat Painting

Kalighat painting is a style of Indian folk painting that originated in the town of Kalighat in Kolkata, India, in the mid-19th century. The patuas, traditional painters renowned for their ability to portray mythological tales and everyday life events in a straightforward and comprehensible way, primarily created these paintings. During the British colonial era in India, Kalighat paintings were highly popular and were often used as a means of social commentary and political satire. However, some of these paintings were critical of British rule in India and were seen as subversive by the British authorities. In response, the British colonial administration attempted to ban Kalighat paintings that were deemed to be politically charged or anti-British. This decline in patronage, coupled with censorship, contributed to a waning interest in the Kalighat painting style. However, it's worth noting that several British artists were enamoured with the style and emulated it due to their fascination with this art form which was so prominent in Calcutta. Today, Kalighat paintings are highly prized as a distinctive form of Indian art that encapsulates the essence of the era in which they were created. In recent years, the style has undergone a revival, with contemporary artists incorporating elements of Kalighat painting into their works.


Kalighat Painting: 6 Indian Art Forms that Survived British Colonisation


5. Classical Dance

Performing arts, such as dance and music, are an important aspect of India's cultural heritage and have played a significant role in the country's artistic tradition. Dance, in particular, has a long and rich history in India, with several classical dance forms that have developed over the centuries. Bharatanatyam and Odissi are two of the most popular classical dance forms in India. Bharatanatyam originated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, and Odissi originated in the eastern state of Odisha. These dance forms are characterised by their intense footwork, elaborate costumes, and the use of expressive hand gestures and facial expressions.

During the British Raj in India, the "Anti-Dance Movement" was launched in the early 20th century, aimed at banning traditional Indian dance forms such as Bharatanatyam and Odissi, among others. British authorities sought to impose their standards of cultural and artistic expression on the Indian people, leading to censorship and suppression of indigenous dance forms. The Anti-Dance Movement had a significant impact on the development and practice of traditional Indian dance forms, with many dancers forced to give up their art. However, with the rise of the Indian independence movement, there was a renewed interest in traditional Indian culture, including dance. After India gained independence in 1947, several dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Odissi rapidly expanded again. Today, many traditional Indian dance forms, including Bharatanatyam and Odissi, are the most popular and celebrated dance forms in India. They are celebrated for their beauty, grace, and expressive power. The revival of these dance forms after the Anti-Dance Movement is a testament to the resilience of Indian culture and the enduring power of traditional arts in shaping and enriching people's lives.


Classical Dance: 6 Indian Art Forms that Survived British Colonisation


5. Madhubani


Madhubani painting is a traditional style of art that originated in the Mithila region of Bihar, India. It is known for its elaborate designs, bold lines, and bright colours. The paintings often depict mythological and religious stories, as well as scenes from daily life. During the British colonial period, unlike many traditional art forms in India, Madhubani not only survived but also thrived. Interestingly, it was during this period that Madhubani painting gained recognition and popularity outside of its native region. In the 1930s, a massive earthquake struck the region, leaving many people homeless and in need of assistance. A British colonial officer, William G. Archer, was sent to the region to help with relief efforts. While there, he came across the vibrant and intricate Madhubani paintings adorning the walls of homes and buildings. Archer was so impressed by the art that he encouraged the women of the region to create more paintings on paper, which he later helped to sell in galleries in India and abroad. This exposure brought Madhubani painting to a wider audience, and helped provide livelihoods to many people. Today, Madhubani painting is still practised in the Mithila region and has gained worldwide recognition for its unique style and vibrant colours.



Madhubani: 6 Indian Art Forms that Survived British Colonisation



India's folk art and dance is truly remarkable, featuring a diverse range of cultural traditions that have been shaped by centuries of creative exchanges. Indian art has always been known for its imaginative flair, technical expertise, and ability to leave viewers awestruck, from the captivating cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora to the stunning carvings found at the Khajuraho temples. After our country's independence, there was an artistic rebirth, as artists sought to create a unique Indian identity that blended contemporary styles with traditional elements. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a stronger connection was established between art and nationalism, and many artists and artisans developed a style that combined both modern and traditional elements. To promote Indian folk art, it's crucial to recognize the harm caused by cultural imposition. Artists must be encouraged to explore taboo themes and decommissioned techniques as an authentic exercise in decolonization.



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