Jenny November 29, 2012

Rajasthan, the large state in India’s northwest, has a great artistic heritage. Ornate palaces can be found across the region, as can brightly colored and decorated temples. But there’s also another interesting form of art, which be seen in less spectacular places: the decorative wall paintings.

In Udaipur, a mid-sized town in Rajasthan’s south, these paintings can be seen everywhere. Painted on the outside walls of people’s homes, they display colorful and elaborate portraits of men, women, elephants and deities.

Wall painting as an art genre has for long enjoyed a big popularity in India, starting already in the 2nd century BC but developing mainly from the 16th century onwards. It has gone through several phases of revival and innovation since then; today, both recent and historic paintings can be seen on Rajasthani walls.

Walking the streets of Udaipur’s old city is akin to wandering an outdoors gallery. Whitewashed house walls make canvases for local artists, who draw cows and elephants, or princely men and women with beautiful clothes and serene faces. Motifs are often traditional, inspired by legends and stories of folk deities.

Most often, the paintings adorn the entrance to a house. They are believed to create a harmonious ambiance, to seek spiritual guidance and to ward off evil. In Rajasthan’s villages, rougher and simpler decorations can be found, made of material like mud, sand and chalk powder. The paintings in Udaipur are fine and detailed, made with accuracy and a thin paintbrush. Many are decorated with tiny mirrors or mosaic, a specialty of the city.