History: Cultural Production: Chapter Objectives, Cultural Production and Literature

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Cultural Production

In this lesson, we will look at how things that are aspects of our culture (i.e. pots, paintings, textiles, literature and food) are produced.

Chapter Objectives

Cultural Production

Cultural Production

Cultural Production

Paintings, Painters & Patrons

  • In the past arts and crafts was a part of everyday life. Our ancestors painted different designs on their clothes, homes and the pots and pans they used. The women produced exquisite designs on the threshold of their homes with rice flour, turmeric and vermillion powders. The Madhubani paintings originated in Bihar was another rural tradition where scenes from the life of Krishna were produced on the walls, on paper or any other medium during Janmashtami festival as well as other occasions. These arts had a religious and ritualistic purpose.

  • The earliest paintings were cave paintings created by hunting and gathering tribes. The best examples of these are found in the cave and rock shelters of Mirzapur and Banda in Uttar Pradesh, Bhimbetka near Bhopal and Singanpur near Raigarh in Madhya Pradesh, the Mahadav hills of the Vindhya ranges and Bellary in Karnataka. They depict hunting scenes which give us an idea of their surroundings, flora and fauna, tool types such as bow and arrow etc.

  • In later times, paintings were usually produced under royal patronage. The earliest of these are found at the caves of Bagh in Madhya Pradesh and of Ellora and Ajanta (in Maharashtra). These paintings depict many themes from Buddha’s life. Sometimes some scenes of everyday lives were also depicted such as princesses engaged in makeup as is found in Ajanta. Gupta and Vakataka rulers belonging roughly to the fourth to sixth centuries patronized the arts of Ajanta and Ellora. It is believed that the cave art of Mahabalipuram patronized by the Pallava kings between the sixth and tenth centuries were inspired by the artistic techniques of Ajanta and Ellora paintings.

  • Paintings as art objects were produced in royal courts and towns and cities. The Mughal (produced between sixteenth and eighteenth centuries) and Rajput paintings are good examples in this case. Mughal miniatures, book binding and manuscript illustrations are different art forms which were developed during this time. The Padshahnama and Akbarnama are two famous illustrated manuscripts of this period.

  • Jain manuscripts which began to appear from the sixth century A.D. onwards were produced with the intention of preserving the ancient knowledge. These were illustrated through miniatures. It is believed that the first Tirthankara Rishabhadeva was himself a skilled painter. Trilokya Dipika is the best-known miniature paintings on Jain philosophy.

  • The modern artistic works are done to meet immediate requirements and have short life since they are frequently replaced (such as posters advertising films). This is in contrast to the early paintings which were leisurely works of arts.

Indian Textiles and Costumes

  • Indian clothing is greatly influenced by geographical and climatic factor. In the northern India people use both woollen and cotton clothes while in the southern India, which has a warmer climate, people only use cotton. In warmer regions, men generally wear an upper and a lower cloth of roughly one and a half yards as well as kurta and pyjama while women wear sari or kurta and salwar. Different types of saris are worn in different regions depending on the culture.

  • The earliest evidence of the use of cotton comes from one of the largest cities of Harappan civilisation, Mohenjodaro from where archaeologists have found spindles. Atharva veda gives the earliest literary reference of the loom on which cloth is woven. Women were especially engaged in spinning.

  • Colours of Indian textile also depict culture. Brides generally wear bride which represents fertility, white and ochre represent purity and sacrifice and are usually worn by spiritual persons and also by widows, black is considered inauspicious although in south India pregnant women wear black. Traditionally, indigo and madder were used for vegetable dyes but now most dyers have switched over to cheaper chemical dyes. Numerous kinds of designs are also used in textiles. This includes geometrical designs or pictures of different plants and animals such as lotus or the kalka (mango). Different types and designs of silk (Jamdani and Jamewar in Varanasi or gold bordered silk of Kanchipuram etc.) are popular in India. Cotton textiles can be woven on simple horizontal looms while silk requires more complex looms. The latter is also more expensive.

  • Textile production has many techniques. The textile called ‘tie and dye’, also known as bandhini, ikat or chungdi, is produced by a process in which cloth or yarn is tied and dyed. In Andhra, the kalamkari is popular which literally means wording (lean) with the pen Kalam. These were patronized by the Deccani Sultanates (from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries) and the nobility. Its themes depict blend of Hindu and Islamic motifs. However, in modern times kalamkari are machine made, block printed textiles.


  • India is a land where as many as 325 languages dialects are spoken. India also has a wide variety of literatures which includes religious and non-religious. Thus, the Vedas written in Sanskrit are religious literatures while the Mrichakatika, literally The Story of the Toy Can’ of Shudraka deal with worldly themes.

  • We also have many regional literatures. Ramayana and Mahabharata were composed in different regional forms. Valmiki wrote Ramayana as ‘Adi Kavya’ in Sanskrit, but its Hindi version known as Ramcharitamanas was composed by Tulsidas. Kamban, the court poet of Cholas wrote Ramayana in Tamil while a peasant woman named Molla wrote it in folk version in Telugu. The social situation of the writer also influenced his writings. Thus, Kamban wrote it using the language and imagery of the elite ruling class while Molla wrote the same from the perspective of a peasant woman. Mahabharata is said to have authored by the sage Veda Vyasa in Sanskrit.

  • But we see many different versions of Mahabharata. In its Telugu version, Draupadi is known to have won back whatever her husbands had lost in the game of dice against Yudhisthira. In the Chhattisgarh version of Mahabharata called Pandavani, Bhima is made the central character. Many north-eastern tribal communities also claim direct descendant from Bhima and Hidimaba (who is Bhima’s tribal wife). For instance, Darrang Kachari of Dimapur calls themselves as Bhima-ni-fa, i.e. the children of Bhima. In this way different communities understand and transmit their own ways of incorporating various local stories in the epics which range from classical narrations to folk ballads.

The Culture of Food

  • The food habits vary from depending on the nature of crops grown in different regions and on the economic, social and cultural practices of the communities of those regions. In the Indo-Gangetic belt, wheat is the staple diet while rice is the staple food in south India. Through archaeological evidences, we know that our ancestors used to produce wheat in the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh and rice, ragi and horsegram in the southern sites like Brahmagiri and Hallur in Karnataka, Piklihal in Andhra Pradesh and Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu. Pots were used for storing grains and water. Indian archaeologists classify ancient cultures on the basis of pottery type such as Painted Grey Ware, Black Polished Ware etc.

  • Most regions have their distinctive cuisine. In south India, rice-based cuisine such as Idli, Dosa and Upma are popular while in coastal cultures such as West Bengal and Kerela, fish preparation and sea food are popular. Mughali dishes like the tandoori chicken and seekh kababs were introduced in Indian cuisine with the coming of Mughals. The Portuguese, in the sixteenth centuries, introduced potatoes, tomatoes and green chillies into Indian food. French beans were also included at the same time. Thus, cultural interaction has led to changes in our food habits. An ordinary Indian meal generally consists of rice or roti, dal (lentils) and a vegetable preparation. Generally home cooking is done by women. There are many poor people who can only afford to eat gruel unlike the rich who eat a variety of foods.


  1. Assess the various themes and forms of Indian paintings?

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