Mysore Traditional Paintings - An Introduction
by K. L. Kamat
First Online: August 26, 2000
Last Updated: January 29, 2014
The Vijayanagar School of Painting (A.D. 1336 to 1665) was very distinct from the
earlier styles and has made a great contribution to the Art of India. The pupils of
this school specialized in drawing war scenes, folk dances, animal hunting, commercial
transactions and everyday life of the common people. The Mysore and Tanjore Traditional
Paintings are the off shoots of the Vijayanagar school.
The Mysore kings were ruling the princely state from Srirangapattana and Raja Wodeyar
(1578-1617 A.D.) employed several painters from Vijayanagar and thus laid a sound
foundation of Mysore Traditional Painting. These painters were also assigned allied work
in decoration, preparing banners, doll making, gold work, painting the temple cars,
preparing portraits of rulers, deities and saints. The Mysore kings that followed also
encouraged this style of painting.
These artists used locally available material for their paintings. The hair of the
squirrel were used as brushes by tying them with a silken tread and inserting them in the
narrower end of a quill. The board for painting were obtained by pasting a cloth or waste
paste to wooden planks. Controlled- burnt tamarind sticks were used as sketching charcoal.
The motifs were drawn with a crayon. The sky and river were painted followed by animal and
human figures. The gold (gesso) foils are pasted last. The paintings are polished only
when they are perfectly dry.
© K. L. Kamat
The stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana and Jain
epics are the primary basis of Mysore traditional paintings. Individual deities, epic
heroes, court scenes, battle ground are also depicted. Most popular themes are:
Rajarajegvari, Shri Rama Pattabhisheka, Kodanada Rama, Dashavatara,
Ambegalu Krishna, Laxmi, Sarasvati, Chamundesvari, Visvarupadarsha, and
Some of well preserved Jesso paintings could be seen in Mysore, Nanjangoodu and Bangalore.
Sringeri, Melukote and other pilgrimage centers also have many gesso paintings.
Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar ( Krishnanaraj Wodeyar III, A.D. 1780-1865) was a great
connoisseur of the traditional paintings and was instrumental in executing more than a
thousand portraits of the royal family and important public men. On the walls of Jagan
Mohan Palace, Mysore (Karnataka), the portraits of historical personalities can be seen
today. Students of art and history can study their attire, facial expressions in detail.
Mumadi Krishnaraja also coaxed the painters to prepare their own portraits. Thus, the
painters like Narayanppa and Chinnakrishnappa could be viewed in gesso art. The king
brought out a mega volume of 1500 pages, of half imperial size titled Sritatwanidhi.
This pictorial digest is divided in to nine sections and contains one thousand
paintings. It is a compendium of illustrations of gods, goddesses and mythological figures
with instructions to painters (general guide) regarding composition placement and color
choice, mood, etc. The ragas, seasons, eco-happenings, animals, and plant world are
effectively depicted in these paintings as co-themes or contexts. The tradition was a
strong point which has come down through ages in Mysore school of art, and hence the word
"traditional" is invariably used as part of the proper name.
The modern European art, Roman model art and art of Raja Ravi Varma diminished
demand for Mysore Traditional Painting during 19th and 20th centuries. However, today
(year 2000) many young artists are busy with copying old paintings and selling for
fabulous prices. They use modern art materials and sell finished paintings anywhere
between one to ten thousand Rupees each. However, an authentic painting is extremely
difficult to get for that price.
List of Pictures