India Arts and Literature


The oldest literary history of the Indo-languages is divided into a Vedic period and a classical Sanskrit period. Towards the end of the first millennium AD got Sanskrit competition of the Middle Indian languages. About 1000 AD began to develop the distinctive literature, and it was richly represented from the 15th century in many modern Indian languages. Other language groups in the Indian environment have produced literature, e.g. nevari. The Dravidian literature from both classical and modern times has been rich. However, a boundary between literary and scientific or religious and philosophical texts cannot be made in Indian literature.

India Population Pyramid

  • Countryaah: Population and demographics of India, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.

Early and classical literature

The oldest literature in India is the Vedic with the religious Vedas texts at its core, but also the comprehensive Brahmanical texts, which lay out the Vedic ritual as well as the Upanishas, which have philosophical character. During the long period when the Vedic texts were orally practiced in the official practice of religion, and given the established form in which they were recorded, there seems to have been a rich popular narrative tradition, including that with strong anchor in the religion. It was collected and designed in the epic literature, especially in the great Indian epics “Mahabharata” and “Ramayana”. The same tradition of popular religiosity and narrative art also included the Puranic texts.

The classical Sanskrit literature came to be characterized by the work of standardizing the language performed by grammarians, which based on Vedic language and Vedic literature already during the last half of the millennium BC. discussed and analyzed the language; the foremost of these was Panini. The classical literature of the centuries closest to BC. and throughout the first millennium used mainly Sanskrit in this standardized form, but it also made use of different styles in different genres. This Sanskrit literature includes several works in the so-called Shastra literature, which is the starting point for a number of different philosophical schools and religious sects, and partly a literature with the intention of entertaining and giving art experiences. The latter, which was largely based on a conscious theory of literature, belonged mainly to a court environment. An epic, Lyrical and dramatic art poetry emerged as well as a kind of novel art. The dramaturgical textbook “Bharata natya shastra” was of great importance and for other literary theorists such as Dandin and Anandavardhana. The central idea of Indian poetics is the doctrine ofrasa, the emotional states that its various content, aims and images elicit in the work’s recipients. The rules of poetics show the importance of using language properly and applying all the poetic figures that were carefully treated by the theorists. The developed art prose and art poetry exhibit many forms of word braiding, phrasing, ambiguities and complicated linguistic constructions, and also has a fairly defined imagery.

For the epic works, the foundation was laid in the design of the Sanskrit version of “Ramayana”, which the Indians themselves perceived as the first art item, kavya. The highlight of the genre was reached by author Kalidasa. The lyrical short poem was another, not quite as well represented genre. The most famous lyric was written by Bhartrihari in the 400’s and Amaru in the 700’s. The storytelling also had an outlet in the art of poetry, in a novel form where the environment was often taken from the everyday world with descriptions of heroes and their adventures. The best known novels are authored by Dandin, Subandhu and Bana. During the centuries of art poetry, the narrative folk tradition also lived on. A flora of fables and stories were known all over India, and gathered in “Pañcatantra” and its successors, among others. “Hitopadesha”. The fairy tale was told and written down also on Middle Eastern dialects. The lost work “Brihatkatha” (“The Great Story”), where later stories in different Indian languages retrieved material, was written in prakrit. Much of the substance comes back, among other things. in Buddhist literature, and the narrative tradition was also carried on within Jainism’s literature.

Medieval Indian Literature

In the various prakrit dialects, too, literature was gradually written down which closely related to religion. The fiction, consisting both of stories and of works in art form, epic and lyric, was based on Hindu material. Lyric was the most important element of literature in the prakrit language of maharashtri, and one of the most prominent lyricists was Hala. It is also in Middle Indian languages that the extensive Buddhist and Jainist canon and its consequential literature are written down. The medieval languages used in literature also gradually solidified into art languages. To this was added a normative grammar and literature theory. At the same time, the dialects of the vernacular had developed and about 1000 AD. their literature began to be written down.

New Indian Literature

The richest literature in the New Indian languages of the Indian group is found in Hindi and Bengali, but also Maithili, Gujarati, Marathi and Panjabi have ancient literary traditions. Several dialects of Hindi have asserted themselves as literary languages. Avadhi, and especially Braj Bhasha, was a literary prestige language until the 20th century. Originally, Hindi literature was dominated by heroic poetry with a strong religious tone. The first work is called the heroic poem “Prithiraj Rasau” (“The Ballad of Prithiraj”, 1191), written by Cand Bardai. The religious poetry reached a peak at Kabir in the latter part of the 14th century. A century later, Tulsidas, author of a Rama epic, lived “Ramcaritmanas” (“The Sea of Rama Adventure”, c. 1574). At about the same time, the female lyricist Mira Bai, who wrote in both Hindi and Gujarati, lived. From the latter part of the 19th century and into the next century, Hindi literature was mainly renewed by Harishcandra and MP Dvivedi. At that time, a Western influence began to prevail in all Indian literature. In the twentieth-century literature, which uses the modern form of Hindi, khari boli, both traditionalist and experimentalist schools are found. Particularly famous from the early part of the 20th century is the novelist and novelist DS Premcand and the poet and playwright JS Prasad.

The linguistic background for Hindi and Urdu is common, and it is the North Indian Muslim literature that forms the background to the Pakistani Urdu literature.

Bengali literature, which stands independently of Hindu literature, has from the beginning been particularly strongly dominated by popular Hindu religiosity. The crisis of Christianity was central and was represented in the 15th century by Candidas and Vidyapati, who also wrote poems on Hindi and Biharid dialects. About the 1800’s, the religious reformer Ram Mohan Roy was a major Bengali writer, while in the later 19th century the novelist BC Chatterjee focused on Western Roman art and Rabindranath Tagore fused the traditional heritage with modern individualism.

Among the literary important languages also include Marathi with, among others. the religious poets Namdev in the 1300’s and Tukaram in the 1600’s. Gujarati was of importance to Jainist literature and gained a strong position in political literature, not least through Gandhi’s authorship. Panjab literature is dominated by Sikhs based on their sacred book Adi Granth. The Indian tradition also includes literature in Nepal and Sri Lanka. The modern Indian literature in various special languages is very rich and productive. Due to the strong influence of Western fiction in the 19th century, the traditional genres have been expanded, both in the Indo-Indian and the Dravidian languages. It is mainly the novel and the novel that dominate, and they are of both experimentalist and popular character with material both from Indian tradition and from today’s reality. During the last two centuries, much in science, politics and fiction in India has been written in English.

Indian literature in English

For 150 years, English has served as a literary language in India alongside the various Indian languages. Early poetry, epics and essays were written in English, but more rarely drama. The first poets Henry Derozio, Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Toru Dutt were all inspired by European romance. More nationalist-oriented were Rabindranath Tagore, who received the 1913 Nobel Prize, and Sarojini Naidu who came to abandon poetry for work in the nationalist movement.

As the first novel in English, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee usually uses Rajmohan’s Wife(1864) is counted. He then went on to write in Bengali. Usually, the 1930’s is regarded as the novel’s first flowering period with three central debut writers, the social-realist Mulk Raj Anand, the realistic and innovative RK Narayan and the more philosophically oriented Raja Rao. GV Desani gave the novel a new direction in the late 1940’s through its dealings with the British and its malicious treatment of the English language. Around Gandhi as well as around the division of India, a whole body of literature emerged with novels by Khushwant Singh, Chaman Nahal, Manohar Malongkar and Attia Hosain. Writers such as Anita Desai, Nayantara Sahgal, Shashi Deshpande and Githa Hariharan, with psychological sharpness, shed light on the Indian woman and her situation. After the 1970’s, the novel’s development has been explosive and increasingly difficult to understand. Authors have emerged from new cultural traditions. Salman Rushdie has a Muslim background, Rohinton Mistry parish and Arundhati Roy Syrian Christian. Many of the Indo-English writers are now scattered throughout the globe, which has its roots in the emigration of colonial times.

During the period from independence onwards, poets have broken out of the sentimental poetry associated with Tagore and Naidu. Modernists, such as TS Eliot, exercised great influence, and poets such as Kamala Das, Nissim Ezekiel and AK Ramanujan developed a symbolic and realistic style at the center of everyday life. The next generation of poets, Eunice de Souza, Arun Kolatkar, Keki Daruwalla and Shiv K. Kumar, are more oriented towards society. Among the younger ones, Sujata Bhatt is worth mentioning for its innovative language.

The ironically playful and socially engaged narrative art of the 1980’s and 1990’s appears as a new highlight of Roman art. Salman Rushdie’s authorship is often perceived as a Copernican turning point in tradition. He, like few others, has a disrespectful creative relationship with the English language. The influence of Rushdie is noticeable in younger writers such as Upamanyu Chatterjee, Amitav Ghosh and Shashi Tharoor. The youngest generation with, among other things, Vikram Chandra and Amit Chaudhuri show that Indian literature in English is full of power.

Drama and theater

India’s theater art can be divided into three areas: traditional Sanskrit theater, regional theater plays with popular roots and modern, western inspired speech theater.

Traditional theater

The traditional theater has its origins in religious dance and music, Hindu rituals, oral storytelling tradition and a widespread presence of puppet theater, shadow play and puppet theater. The most important source of inspiration for Indian drama in historical times has been the epic works of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Sanskrit Theater is, through its preserved drama and theories, the basis for Indian classical theater art and can be traced at least 2,000 years back. The Sanskrit drama, which was staged in a language that excluded everyone outside the clergy or princes, had its heyday from the beginning of our era until the 9th century and was performed at important religious times and at temple festivals. Documents related to philosophical and religious basic theses on duty, wealth and enjoyment were embodied on the stage. Audience experience ofrasa, ie essence, the ideal experience, was a valuable aspect of the theatrical event, which would not reflect real life but show a model for human life. Since parts of northern India were converted to Islam, much of the then existing theater was thwarted or banned. An important source for the appearance and content of the Sanskrit theater is the rule book Bharatanatyashastra, compiled about 500 AD The theater is said to have been created by Brahma to entertain and teach all people. Provided that the theater is respected and the religious sacrifices performed properly, all who participate must be protected from evil and followed by success. Preserved Sanskrit dramas confirm a structure of established role types and the division between two basic playing styles, realistic and conventional, as stated in the rulebook. Relatively few dramas are preserved by the large amount believed to have come during the flowering period of the Sanskrit theater. Early writers include Ashvaghosha, whose dramas dealt with Buddha’s teachings. Of Bhasa, there are 13 dramas preserved with varying content. Kalidasa is considered India’s greatest drama writer. His work includes “Sakuntala” (translated into Swedish and performed at Dramaten 1905).kuttiyattam. However, Sanskrit dramas have again begun to be erected in major cities such as Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras) and Mumbai (Bombay).

Regional popular theater plays

Regional popular theater plays began to take shape when the classic Sanskrit theater died out at the Northern Courts around the 13th century. The traditions partly lived on at smaller courts and spread over new areas in the countryside. Each region developed its own style, and most importantly, the different forms of theater now used the local languages of each area. Most regional theater plays begin with an introductory section before the story itself and end with religious rituals, which correspond to Hindu mythology and its ceremonies. The combination of dance and dramatic content has been of great importance, as in e.g. odissi, kathak and bharata natya. In general it can be said that southern India emphasizes dance (as in kathakali, for example)in Kerala) while the song is emphasized in northern India (eg in khyal in Rajasthan and nautanki in Uttar Pradesh). Jatra in Bengal and tamasha in Maharashtra emphasize dialogue and often include comedy and satire. The popularity of the popular theater has stretched far into the 20th century.

Modern theater

The modern theater was initiated from the West in connection with the British colonial power being consolidated at the end of the 18th century, when London-based theater was erected mainly to entertain soldiers and other British citizens. With these performances as a model, wealthy Indians in the cities created their own theater in the homes. Indian song and music were woven into dramas with British role models. Towards the end of the 19th century, public theaters emerged in buildings of western incision, run by Indian artists for the indigenous urban population. An example of the drama of the time is Tagore’s “Post Office” (1912) and “Chitra” (1892), both translated into Swedish and performed in Sweden. A performance in Lucknow in 1875 that criticized the British oppression of Indian peasants led to the establishment of theater censorship in 1879. It remained until the middle of the 20th century. During the 20th century, professional theater groups have decreased in number, and many professional actors have left the theater scene for the increasingly popular film. Today, the modern theater business is maintained mainly by amateurs, many of whom, however, can be regarded as artistically professional.


As early as 1896, films were shown by Lumi豕re in Mumbai (Bombay), and in 1899 the first Indian documentaries were made. In 1913, the first Indian feature films, “Raja Harishcandra” and “Bhasmasur Mohini” were both produced by Dadasaheb Phalke (1870-1944), often called the father of the Indian film. During the silent film period, a total of about 1,280 films were made in India, the most significant being considered “The Light of Asia” (1925), about the life of the Buddha, by Himanshu Rai (1892-1940).

In 1931 came the first Indian audio film, “Alam Ara”. The breakthrough of the audio film had several consequences. Indian film production’s share of the domestic market was strengthened, and towards the end of the 1930’s, the country was the quantitatively perhaps the largest film producer in the world with 800-1,000 films per year. Song and dance numbers became almost compulsory elements in the Indian film. At the same time, the film industry was divided into different language areas: Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam and Kannada.

The film grew strongest in Hindi, based in Mumbai; Hindi was the language that had the best conditions to be understood in the various provinces and thus the largest market. However, films were also made in other languages; among other successful films in hindi were made in other languages. Redesign alone could not be done because of religious and cultural differences. The dominance was further strengthened during the 1940’s, when Kolkata’s (Calcutta) competing film industry ended up in economic crisis. However, the Hindi film in Mumbai could ride on the economic growth of the war years.

Three popular indigenous genres that were crystallized were: 1) The mythological film about various traditional and religious themes; 2) the stunt film with breakthrough action adventures, including a series of films about the masked female bandit Nadia. Like the mythological film, the stunt film was strongly sentimentalized and melodramatic in character; 3) the social problem film, with naturalistic acting and everyday dialogue. “Devdas”, a tragic story of lovers separated by arranged marriages that were filmed several times during the 20th century, is a typical example.

During the postwar period, Mumbai’s (Bombay) increasingly glamorous film world was obviously inspired by Hollywood, later also by the successful Hong Kong movie, and came to be half-jokingly called Bollywood by critics. This name has later been adopted both in India and abroad.

A strong star cult grew strong, mainly around heroes with almost superhuman traits, such as Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand in the 1950’s and 60’s, Rajesh Khanna in the 1970’s, Amitabh Bachchan in the 1980’s and Shah Rukh Khan since 1990’s. Western luxury environments and lifestyles formed the foundation for stylized depictions of love and choreographed fights, all permeated by an elaborate adultery. These films were sometimes called “masala movies” because, like the spice mix, they contained elements of every imaginable genre in a visual excess of often three hours of playing time. A style-forming audience success from 1948 was “Chandralheka” by SS Vasan (1903-69)). From the 1950’s, Bollywood films also became a significant export commodity to countries with large Indian minority populations, such as Britain, Singapore, Indonesia, Kenya and South Africa, but also to West Africa and parts of Central Asia.

Contributing to Bollywood’s strong position was that the TV network in India well into the 1980’s was limited to the urban areas, while mobile cinemas have been common in rural areas since the silent film era. With a rapidly growing modernization and middle class, however, TV holdings have become almost as common as in the West, and production of two-opera in particular is now a major source of income for the film companies. The film censorship, set up during the British Empire, still exists in terms of sex, religion and politics. Kisses were for a long time prohibited in cinema and in television but nowadays occur. However, physical sexual intercourse is still subject to severe restrictions.

In addition to financial success, several Indian filmmakers have also gained artistic recognition internationally. In 1937, the film “Sant Tukaram” won a festival prize in Venice, and during the 1950’s, Bengali director Satyajit Ray was recognized and awarded awards at festivals in the western world for his trilogy films about the boy Apu’s upbringing; The trilogy began with the neorealistically inspired “Pather panchali” (1955). Other Bengali directors in the contemporary who first gained recognition outside India for socially engaged films in the same spirit are Guru Dutt (“Pyaasa”, 1957) and Ritwik Ghatak (“Ajantrik”, 1958).

The emergence of post-war European art films, which won artistic prestige for the smaller film nations at a growing number of international film festivals, and the establishment of national film schools and film institutes with state-subsidized production policies also affected India. In 1960, the Film Finance Corporation (since 1980 the National Film Development Corporation) was founded, which distributed resources to state-sponsored programs for what was called “parallel cinema”, ie low budget Indian art film alongside Bollywood’s major productions. In 1961, the Film Institute of India, which was renamed the Film and Television Institute of India in 1964, also came to strengthen the program, with associated cinematics and film education.

Without alternative distribution channels, cinemas and an audience base in the home country, this “parallel cinema” remained marginalized in the home country, and in 1975 the government decided to require that state-funded or subsidized films have commercial potential, that is, find a distribution channel to the audience. Despite this limitation of resources, a smaller stream of art-film-influenced and community-critical productions in the spirit of Satyajit Ray continued to be made especially in Bengal, for example Mrinal Sens’s “The Case is Ending” (1982) and younger colleague Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay!” (1988).

The last 25 years have seen an increasing internationalization of both Bollywood and other Indian films, and as in the Western world, the boundary between art and popular film genres has now been dissolved. Co-productions with film companies in the US, France and the UK have also become commonplace. Several Indian directors in the younger generations have made films even outside their home country. For example, British Channel 4 co-produced controversial films, such as Nair’s “Salaam Bombay!” and Shekhar Kapurs (born 1945) “Bandit Queen” (1994). Both of these directors have since worked partly directly in Hollywood and in the home country with American money, Nair with, among others, “Mississippi Masala” (1991) and “Monsoon Wedding” (2001) and Kapur with films such as “Elizabeth” (1998).

The multinational film companies’ interest in the Indian film market has increased significantly in the early 2000’s; Among other things, several companies have established themselves in the country to invest in film production. In 2009, American DreamWorks signed a cooperation agreement with Indian Reliance ADA Group. A growing international fan culture with specialty magazines and DVD sales via the Internet in particular has made the export market an important source of income for Bollywood, in particular.

Major productions such as “Lagaan” (2001), by Ashutosh Gowariker (born 1964), and the new recording of “Devdas” (2002), by Sanjay Leela Bhansali (born 1963), are examples of films that have thus found a large audience in the West. Inspiration from Bollywood can also be found in productions outside India, for example in the American movie “The Guru” (2002), Swedish “Bombay Dreams” (2004) and the Oscar-winning British “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008).

India is still the country in the world producing the most films (1,255 pieces in 2011).


The Indian art tradition is strongly religiously rooted. To facilitate human communication with the divine has always been the Indian artist’s main quest. The favorite motif is the idealized human body with swelling convex shape planes and postures often retrieved from the dance. Jewelry and clothing always allow the body shapes to shine through. Sculpture and painting are to the exterior of a strongly sensual and decorative touch, while the content is deeply changed. The interest in aesthetics is strong in Indian tradition. By contrast, the cyclic conception of time and the view of the individual as less significant (present-day mortality is only one of many existences) has meant dating difficulties and largely the absence of individual artist names.

Early cultures

Rock paintings with animal motifs dated 8000-5000 BC can be found in Vindhyabergens sandstone massif. During the Indus culture (c. 2500-1700 BC), the first known sculptures appear; the period is generally characterized by a high artistic level (see Indus culture).

After the disintegration of Indus culture, sculpture was made for a long period of time in perishable material, which explains the lack of finds from the time up to the Maury period (322-185 BC), when (probably through Iranian influence) they began to work with stone. Emperor Ashoka created a sophisticated representation art, mainly sculpture in close association with architecture and in connection with religious cult sites. Pillars with edict consisting of a 10-15 m high polished sandstone shaft without pedestal and a lotus capital crowned by an animal sculpture were erected at important Buddhist locations.

Of sculptural art preserved from the centuries around Kr.f., mention can be made of parts of the decoration of the balustrade to the stupa in Bharhut, with narrative scenes and ornaments in very low relief. The sketchy figures are often depicted in bird’s eye view. The Buddha is only represented by symbols. The portals of the so-called Great Stupa in Sanchi – created during the Late Archaic period (Kr.f. – approx. 200) – are richly sculptured with individual figures and continuous narrative scenes in high relief. Famous is the sensual, almost circular plastic goddess of the East Gate’s deceit.

In the Kushan Empire – first century AD – dominated two art schools, Mathura and Gandhara. The former represents a domestic development, while Gandhara (in present-day Pakistan) represents Buddhist content in Roman-Hellenistic costume. One then began to produce the Buddha in human form. He is depicted standing or sitting with crossed legs. Iconographic features are a shiny hair swirl between the eyebrows, hair knots on the head, elongated earlobes, foot soles and palms. The saints of contemporary Jainism are depicted completely naked with shaved heads and symbolic signs on their chest. The relief art with characteristically elegant, drawn figures and advanced compositions reached its peak in the Andhra kingdom around 150-200.

The so-called classical period (300-500) is also called the Gupta period after the leading dynasty. From now on, Hinduism gained ground at the expense of other religions. The dynamic and sensual Hindu deities contrast with the serene Buddha figure. The classic sculpture is characterized by balance and harmony. Many god images were now designed for the first time iconographically.

Medieval and newer times

From the post-classical period(550-800), characterized by political divide and cultural regionalization, there are preserved unique remains of Buddhist murals in the famous Buddhist Ajanta caves, and in the Shiva temple on the island of Elefanta near Mumbai (Bombay) there is a monumental sculpture (700’s) three aspects. With the Pallavad dynasty, South India gained an independent art; the sculpture followed the tradition of the Andhra dynasty (the Great Stupa at Amaravati), with slender figures, while the animal depiction is unmatched in Indian art. South Indian bronze casting tradition culminated during the Cholad dynasty (highlight of year 1000). The figures were intended to be worn in processions. They have Shiva Nataraja (Shiva as the king of dance) as the greatest motif. The northern sculpture is characterized by more robust figures.

The image hostility of the Islamic conquerors systematically destroyed many sculptures. However, positive for the Indo-Islamic cultural contact was the emergence of a number of thriving miniature schools.

Text illustrations in religious manuscripts are preserved from the 11th century and in the 16th century the artists began to illustrate worldly texts. Through the mogul rulers, Persian miniature painting was introduced in India. Hinduhoven was inspired to support a comprehensive domestic painting production, the rajput painting. From the mogul style, the rajput painters mainly acquired technical lessons. Rajput painting is divided into two main groups, Rajasthani and Pahari. Among the first group is the highly conservative Mewar School (1600’s), which depicts the Krishna legends in decorative and expressive colors in pure, glowing colors. In the 18th century, after the moguls influence, the Rajasthan schools’ motif circle was expanded with portraits, court and harem scenes. The hunting images of the Kotah School from the latter part of the 18th century represent the only real landscape paintings of Indian art. The Bashohli School depicts highly expressive human figures with elaborately crafted jewelry. The color scale is saturated. In Guler (flowering time of the 18th century), bright colors depict profane or religious genre scenes. The kangaroo school with a high point during the early 19th century is characterized by lyrical feeling and sentimentality. Krishna’s and Radha’s love and women’s representations in symbolically perceived landscapes are themes.

See also Buddhist art, Islamic art and Gandhara art.

Colonial times and later

As the British East India Company gained ground, Indian artists became involved in the work of depicting the subcontinent’s ethnography and natural history. These company paintings have their forerunners in the moguls’ miniatures, but also show a desire for accurate imaging according to European requirements. At the same time, for the popular market, the boldly simplified base paintings in Kolkata (Calcutta) were created. During the Victorian era, attempts were made to renew the indigenous sculpture tradition, including through the Bombay School of Arts, but it was not until the 20th century that these aspirations got a distinct character. The Bengali school led the way, led by Rabanindranath Tagore; it sought inspiration in both Ajanta’s frescoes and the Chola bronzes.

A kind of counter-movement was started by Amrita Sher-Gil, who in the 1930’s tried to unite east and west in a summary strict form. Later, Jamini Roy reconnected to the nationalist direction and influenced several younger artists to draw power from the folk tradition in different parts of the country. A turn towards the abstract and individualistic is shown in return by some Indian artists, who today operate far from their home country, for example. Krishna Reddy in New York, Prafulla Mohanti in London and SH Raza in Paris. From the once Portuguese Goa comes the UN Souza, who works figuratively. In South India, collective forms have been tried, such as in the artist village Cholamandat near Chennai (Madras).


The Indian architecture is rich and varied. A variety of religious and social needs have characterized the design of cities and individual buildings. The historical process is anything but straightforward; Ancient mills and mold systems often live on and appear side by side with very modern phenomena, but interesting mergers also arise.

Indus Valley Civilization

Today, only a few places of Indus culture are located in India, in the desert areas near Pakistan. However, here are the remains of a 4,000-year-old, advanced city culture with rationally arranged buildings in burnt brick.


The oldest preserved architecture consists of caves and monolithic buildings. Their design shows that they were preceded by wooden structures. Thus, in the first large Buddhist preaching rooms, caitya, in Bhaja and Pitalkhora from about 100 BC, as well as in Karle and Ajanta, from about 100 AD, there are clear forms of transition from wood to stone. The large halls are thin-vaulted and woody with a finishing touch. The columns are on pot-shaped bases and have richly sculpted chapters. The last large cave in this tradition, from the 600’s, was added in Ajanta. In front of the entrance to the mountain room, monolithic pillars crowned by Buddhist symbolic animals were erected on lotus lime.

Another early building type, vihara, consists of cells for the monks, arranged around a yard. A well-preserved example is Cave No. 13 in Ajanta, but similar arrangements exist in several parts of western India; at Elephanta, the fourth wall is occupied by a porch for common use, and in Elura the courtyard is surrounded by cells on three floors and looks like a pillar hall. These buildings were also decorated with relief sculpture and paintings.

A third type of building is the stupa. The dome-shaped “body” contains relics of the Buddha himself or his disciples. Whether the stupa is part of a temple or a stand-alone monument, believers show their reverence by wandering clockwise around the monument. The plunge thus has a circular plane, and in the four lines of weather are richly sculpted portals. A classic example is the recently restored large plunge in Sanchi. Gradually, the dome develops into a towering structure, as in Sarnath, from the 500’s. Compare Buddhist architecture.


A tree and a god image is the most common mark of a Hindu cult site, and the simplest and oldest temples consisted of a solitary cell with portico. Gradually, this building was placed on a platform, the porch grew into a surrounding colonnade, and the roof was crowned by a tower; An early example is the Durga Temple in Aihole, from the end of the 400’s. The sculpture decoration also became richer and soon covered both individual architectural elements and entire exteriors. During the Pallavad dynasty, a special temple form emerged in south-east India by combining a dance hall with the shrine itself. The most famous examples of this type can be found in Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram, from the 7th century. In western India, however, the rock caverns developed into extensive temple facilities, such as in Elura and on the island of Elefanta outside Mumbai (Bombay). The dominant Hindu temple in Elura is Kailasanatha; it has been carved out of the rock around a ravine with a phallus-shaped rock. In Central India is Khajuraho, where some twenty temples from the 9th to 11th centuries survived to our time. These architecturally and sculpturally advanced buildings end in high spiers. They appear as cosmic mountains and extend through all levels, from the earth up to the top regions of the sky.

The Caunsath Yogini Temple has instead been designed as a mandala, with 64 small cells around a central courtyard. The best known temple in Odisha (Orissa) in eastern India is thought to be the “black pagoda” sun temple, in Konarak from the 13th century. This building has in its entirety been depicted as a carriage with six huge wheels and with the rides of horses and elephants, all in stone.

The architecture of Gujarat in western India is also richly decorative, where the Jainist temples on Mount Abu have gained special fame. Among these sanctuaries from the 9th century is Dilwara, erected entirely in white marble. Above the palace in Chitorgarh stands a mighty tower, built in 1440 as a victory monument and strewn with sculpture. In many places, the wells and basins, baoli, have given a lavish architectural setting.

In southern India we find extensive temple facilities like in Madurai and entire cities like Srirangam, which are characterized by ritual use; the planes are strictly rectangular, and the axiality is marked by sculptural high pyramids, gopuram. Pools for purification, study halls and rooms for pilgrims are included in the whole.

Also in Hampi in Karnataka, the spheres of the gods and man meet. The temples are located in a grand block of terrain on the river Tungabhadra, according to the myths the place where Rama met Hanuman. Episodes from Ramayana are recounted in the stone reliefs that adorn the exterior of the Ramacandr temple. This was built for the rulers of Vijayanagar, the last great empire of the Hindus, extending from the Deccan to the southern tip of the subcontinent, and which was captured and destroyed by a Muslim army in 1565.

Generally speaking, there is a slowdown later, but in Rajasthan a bold building art also developed, in centers like Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaipur during the 18th century. In the medieval Jaisalmer, the desert town near the border with Pakistan, they built on the yellow sandstone that gave their special touch to this rare, well-preserved environment.


Among the Muslim conquerors’ first monuments is the Qutb Minar in Delhi, an almost 30 m high tower with Kufish and Arabic writing from the 13th century. Local stone masters have worked here as well as in the mosques in Ahmadabad, where both recycled older materials and created new forms of Hindu imprint within the new framework.

Babur, the first mogul prince, took the help of an Ottoman architect, and both the architecture and the garden art developed during the following centuries in close connection with Western, mainly Persian role models. At the end of the 16th century, the mogul ruler Akbar built a new capital, Fatehpur Sikri near Agra, entirely in red sandstone. The followers used white marble rather than the Pearl Mosque in Agra and the extensive palace quarters that are part of the Red Fort in Delhi, once the site of the peacock throne. Jami Masjid, the Friday Mosque, also in Delhi, is a large and strict facility on a high terrace and with a large open courtyard in front of the covered prayer hall.

An important building type next to the mosque was the mausoleum. Again, the moguls followed Persian and Central Asian patterns. Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, Akbar’s in Sikandra and Shah Jahan’s and his paintings outside Agra – Taj Mahal – are some eminent examples, showing a conscious and peculiar development of the type of origin. Characteristic of both Taj and Shah Jahan’s buildings elsewhere are the inlays of brightly colored stone material.

In Bijapur, in central India, several architecturally remarkable monuments, most notably Gol Gumbad, with a dome width of over 40 m, erected as a mausoleum over Muhammad Adil Shah during the 1650’s. Among the most impressive facilities of recent times is the large Imambaran in Lucknow. Compare Islamic architecture.


Some influence from India’s different cultures can be seen in the first European colonies. But gradually, immigrants are happy to profile their own character in architecture. Fortress cities such as the Portuguese Daman and Diu and the Danish Tranquebar are significant for the first stage, when the enclaves were small and the coast still remained. As the British from the middle of the 18th century expanded, cities became larger and more marked by prevailing European ideals. Above all, Kolkata (Calcutta) was developed into a neoclassical environment with huge administrative buildings, clubhouses and private villas in Doric, Ionian and Corinthian style. The same trend was seen in Chennai (Madras) and Mumbai (Bombay). In the capitals of the Indian princely states, magnificent residences were erected, such as in Hyderabad and Lucknow, where the indigenous princes were also inspired to a flamboyant style of mixing.Indo-Saracenic. This included, among other things, the large institutional and station buildings in Mumbai (Bombay), such as Victoria Terminus (1878-87) by FW Stevens. The cornerstone of architectural development during the British era was New Delhi, which was planned and built from 1912 and inaugurated in 1931. The principal responsible for the plan and the most important monuments was Edwin Lutyens, with Herbert Baker as a partner. In the Viceroy’s house, Lutyens tried to fuse traditional Indian elements into a superior, western form.


When India gained political independence in 1947, renewed contact with the West was sought. The first major project was Chandigarh, capital of Punjab state. Le Corbusier played the same role here as the Lutyens in Delhi. Advanced buildings by Le Corbusier can also be found in Ahmadabad, where the modernist line was later completed by employing Louis Kahn, who designed the Indian Institute of Management in a distinctive style that he first tried in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Le Corbusier’s and Kahn’s example formed a school. Among the followers are Balkrishna V. Doshi. A more independent line is represented by Charles Correa. See also picture Fatehpur Sikri.


In today’s India, a great variety of music forms, lives and develops. The science and theory of music, sangita shastra, was designed in a variety of writings from Bharatanatyashastra (around 500 AD) up to our days, and as shastriya sangita, classical (or ‘scientific’) music, the music that follows the rules of raga is counted.

Classical music has been branched into two distinct but closely related traditions, a South Indian and a North Indian. Both cultivate solo music in small ensembles consisting of soloist (vocalist or instrumentalist), an accompanying melody instrument (only in vocal genres), burgundy instruments (for example, tanpura) and percussion. Among the melody instruments are notices (in the north sitar and sarod; in the south wine) and string instruments (sarangi and violin, respectively), but many others are present. The drums (tabla and pakhavaj and mridanga, respectively)) is played with a richly differentiated set of strokes with different fingers and at different points of impact, which produces a great variety of sounds, all with their soundproof names.

In the first part of a performance, the raga’s melodic ideas develop freely rhythmically. Then these are embodied in compositions and improvisations within the framework of a speech. A number is a cycle of, for example, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13 or 16 beats composed of smaller units (for example 2, 3, 4 or 5 kinds). The basic tone of the raga (often given in bordeaux) and the first kind of speech are fixed reference points, to which all melodic and rhythmic events relate.

The length of the two forms and the balance between composition and improvisation depends on the performance situation and genre (for example, dhrupad and khyal in the north; kriti and ragam-tanam-pallavi in the south). In light classical genres such as thumri and ghazal (sung ghazel poems), expressive melodic representation of the text’s emotional content is more important than fidelity to ragan. Both Muslim hymns (qawwali) and Hindu (bhajan and kirtan)) may have a musical relationship with the light art genres. Hymn singing in groups, with accompaniment of, for example, harmonium and drum, is very common all over India, in urban neighborhoods as well as in villages. The text repertoire includes, among other things, Jayadeva’s poetry cycle “Gitagovinda” (11th century), which with its chorus-verse arrangement has a form typical of many Indian forms of music. Ritual and ceremonial temple music is played on oboe (nagasaram in the south, shahnai in the north) and percussion.

The great diversity of castes as well as ethnic and linguistic groups is reflected in rich and differentiated folk music. You sing and music as part of daily life, at rituals and as a relaxation. The concept of raga can also be found in popular music. Classic raga is used in popular theater forms, especially in southern India. There is a large regional diversity of popular forms of music and a number of groups or castes that specialize in performing music and playing for others. These professional musicians often have relatively low social status. There are songs that belong to special seasons and holidays (such as the Holi Spring Party), work songs, narrative songs, and not least a rich repertoire of wedding songs. Film songs have become a significant element in the popular repertoires as well.

Wind orchestras with roots partly in western military music and partly in shahnai traditions are found in all major north Indian cities. At weddings and religious feasts they appear on the streets with arrangements of mainly movie songs.

The record media has been in India since 1902, the radio since 1927, but the medium that has contributed most to the development and dissemination of a genuinely Indian popular music is the film. Since 1932, almost every Indian film has contained 6-8 songs, each about five minutes, sung by star vocalists, with romantic lyrics and often dramatically instrumented with large orchestras with both domestic and Western instruments.

The film song is based on light classical genres, folk songs and western deposits, but has also been based on older forms of musical fusion such as regional theater music and Tagore’s songs. Other modern forms are found in Indian orchestral music with Indian and Western instruments, art-oriented new songs on records and on radio, local popular music linked to the cassette medium and propagandist songs sung in the slums and in the countryside. More recently, ghazal, especially in its modern, media-adapted and popularized design, where the song is accompanied by a mixed domestic / western ensemble – has taken up a large part of the cassette market. Western harmonics are used in many of these modern forms – unlike in the art and folk traditions – but here too the emphasis is on melody.


Indian popular music has been dominated by movie songs since the 1930’s, which constitute a unique genre of music called filmi, associated with the center of Hindi film in Mumbai, the so-called Bollywood (which is no longer the largest center but the most influential).

The period from the end of the 1940’s, when India became independent, up to the 1960’s is referred to as the golden age of the film melodies; then the filmi style was established through a fusion of several Indian traditions, both folk and classical, and Western styles such as jazz, Latin American music and American country.

The films combination of song, dance and drama has borrowed features from the Indian Sanskrit drama and Hollywood’s musicals. The orchestration is mainly Western, with large unison string sections and individual Indian instruments such as sit and tabla and today electronic instruments. The male voting ideal is near a western crooner’s voice, while the women sing in a loud, nasal tone.

Through its eclectic form, which by modern means bridges several regional styles, religions and languages, the film genre represents a unifying feature for the people of this large, heterogeneous and relatively new nation.

A special peculiarity, which was initially kept secret but which today belongs to the genre, is that the film actors usually mimic pre-recorded song. Some of the relatively few but successful playback songs during the Golden Age were Mohammed Rafi (1924-80), Lata Mangeshkar (born 1929), Asha Bhosle (born 1933) and the acting Kishore Kumar (1929-87). A couple of the most stylistic composers were SD Burman (1901-75) and Naushad Ali (1919-2006).

During the 1970’s, the films became more action-oriented and music with strong rhythm began to dominate, composed by RD Burman (1939-94), among others. At the same time, the lyrics that were written with poetic ambitions became more conventional. The romantic feature came back in the 1980’s in a popularized form of the poetic form ghazal, as a less improvised, more westernized form of film than the golden age. Gradually, modern Western popular genres have influenced the film genre but always with a certain retained “Indian” character through performance and instruments.

Among the most prominent names in cinema of recent times are the playback singers SP Balasubrahmanyam (born 1946), Sonu Nigam (born 1973) and Shreya Ghoshal (born 1984) and the composer AR Rahman (born 1967), who is considered one of the most successful and influential the music personalities of India.

When the inexpensive and lightweight cassette media was launched towards the end of the 1970’s, the dominance of the film genre and the record label EMI, and several traditional and regional music forms such as ghazal (akin to filmi-ghazal), bhajan and bhangra began to spread in modernized forms, often with more varied and daring lyrics than the smooth songs of the movie singers.

Non-film-related pop and rock has also existed in India since the 1960’s; mentioned can be the Bengali rock group Moheener Ghoraguli (formed 1975). Since the 1990’s, hip-hop and remixes have grown in popularity. However, filmi (which incorporates most of the above genres) still constitute the majority of the popular musical selection in India.

Indian music in the world

Although Indian religion and literature have interested intellectuals in the Western world for hundreds of years, Indian music was fairly unknown until the 1950’s. Some individual composers, such as Gustav Holst (opera “Savitri”, 1908), Olivier Messiaen (“Turangalîlas Symphony”, 1946-48) and John Cage (“Sonatas and Interludes”, 1946-48), drew inspiration from Indian culture, but more from poetry and philosophy than directly from music.

Sarod player Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009) gave the first concert in 1955 with Indian classical music in the United States; he later founded a music school in California. The most important ambassador for Indian music, however, became the classical sitarist Ravi Shankar, who began touring in 1956 in the US and Europe. He became an icon in the pop world and exerted a strong influence on many musicians, including George Harrison in the Beatles, who, with his sitcom in “Norwegian Wood” (1965), started the trend for ragarock and psychedelic rock and, by extension, the development of world music. The Kinks, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead andLed Zeppelin were other rock artists who recorded Indian features, but usually only as a single sound.

Shankar was also a leading figure for the fusion genre of indo jazz through his collaborations with jazz flute artist Bud Shank (1926-2009) and violinist Yehudi Menuhin during the 1960’s. Jazz musicians such as John Coltrane, Don Ellis (1934-78) and John McLaughlin contributed to the development of Indo jazz and, among Indian jazz musicians, violinist John Mayer (1930-2004), saxophonist Braz Gonsalves (born 1934), pianist Louis Banks (born 1941) and violinist L. Subramaniam (born 1947).

The encounter with Shankar and Indian classical music also became crucial for American composer Philip Glass and his evolution towards minimalism.

The burgeoning interest in Indian music in the United States and Europe during the 1960’s should be understood in light of the hippie culture of the time and its exotically colored craze for the non-Western.

In the Caribbean, approximately the same time as the Indo jazz developed the popular musical mixed form chutney, where South Asian features were incorporated with calypso, among others. Typically performed with accordion, dholak and dhantal. Later globally spread in the chutney soca variant.

The Bollywood culture has long been popular in South Asia and in the Indian diaspora, but since the turn of the millennium there is a growing global interest in Bollywood with direct exchange influences and collaborations. In the Anglo-American music world, the trend started to mix Indian features with electronic dance music and other modern styles. This trend goes under the collective term “Asian Underground”. Many of its artists are British with an Asian background, such as Talvin Singh (born 1970), Apache Indian (born 1967), Panjabi MC (born 1973) and the Cornershop group (formed 1991). Gradually, these mixes have come to influence the great American hip hop and rhythm & blues market with artists such as Jay Z, Black Eyed Peas andBritney Spears.

Other western countries with great interest in Bollywood are France, Germany and Greece. French singer Pascal of Bollywood (born 1963) has made a career in India as the first Western interpreter of film.

Many films, TV productions and musicals can be seen drawing inspiration and environments from Bollywood and India, such as the Australian-American music film “Moulin Rouge” (2001), the British-produced musical “Bombay Dreams” (2002) and the British film “Slumdog Millionaire §(2008), the latter two with AR Rahman as composer.


One characteristic of Indian cultural life is the seriousness with which the dance art is practiced and considered, its prominent position among the artists through the millennia and its immense wealth of styles and forms. This is rooted in the fact that since ancient times dance has a central position as a symbol in the philosophy of religion. An Indian creationist teaches that the universe came into being by God invented dance. Matter as well as life and spirit consist of movement and exist only as long as a divine dance continues. Already Rigveda describes the warrior god Indra’s dance skills, and he was called upon by dancing clergy.

The directions of reform around the 800-400 BC launched more popular goddess figures, such as Shiva and Krishna, and transferred (especially to the former) the mission of sustaining the world. Shiva bears the honorary name Nataraja, ‘the king of dance’. Attached to his temple in South India were young maids, devadasis, who performed ritual dances (see also Bharata natya). The popular god Krishna’s mythology includes dancing with a hundred girls simultaneously, symbolizing his all-encompassing love. Violent dance dramas illustrate the myths of annual folk festivals, e.g. manipuri in northeast India.

The ancient hero and goddess bag Mahabharata’s and Ramayana’s intricacies are illustrated in dance dramas like the kathakali from Kerala’s fertile kathakali. Another type of classical Indian dance is kathak, a refined entertainment art that was developed at mogulhoven in northern India around the 15th-16th centuries.

Common to all Indian dance is the gesture language. With hand postures and hand movements, mudras, the dancer interprets song lyrics. Since mudras are independent of spoken languages and dialects, the dancer is understood throughout the continent. Mudras is composed into the choreography and is dramatically supported by the dancer’s demeanor and body expression. It is also found in Asian sacred sculpture.

India has a huge variety of folk dances. The hundreds of tribes who wandered down in India each own their own dances, which are important means of national identification with roots in ancient myths. Magic dances for the spread of diseases, to ensure good harvest or as protection against demons are practiced in different parts of the country.

With trade and mission, the early highly developed Indian dance art spread across Asia. In some countries it gave rise to local variants, more or less independently designed, among other things. in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia. When Buddhism also embraced temple dance, it, with unmistakably Indian features, was nationalized in Sri Lanka, Tibet and all the way up to Japan, whose oldest sacred dances of Indian origin are known from the 600-800’s.

The first Indian dance crews came to Europe in 1838. From about 1900 modern Western choreography has been deeply influenced by the old Indian. Of influential visiting Indian dance artists include Uday Shankar and Ram Gopal. In India, tradition weighs heavily. Freer dance art has a hard time creating new, current design languages.

India Arts and Literature