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the many-splendoured delights of Ajanta compiled by Subramanian Swaminathan


September 2007

Producing Depth & Relief
From very early times, Indian artists have been using a variety of techniques to produce an illusion of the third dimension.

An example of expert rendering in perspective.

A monastery, Shibi Jataka, Cave 17

Multiple Vision
A technique of painting scenes from different angles and merging them, similar to the modern technique called Multiple Vision.

Details of the farthest pavilion would be lost in normal perspective

Three separate shots dissolved to show action in all the pavilions

Lustration & Renunciation, Cave 1

Kshaya vriddhi, ('loss-and-gain'), Fore-shortening A ceiling painting, Cave 1

Using Colours
Main techniques
animnonnata - flat style
nimnonnata - relief by shading.

A flat style that uses dark colours for the subjects in the foreground against a background of lighter shades, or vice versa.




Shading techniques choosing judiciously tones and colours.


Adding highlights.

A high-relief technique to produce an illusion of the third dimension. There are three main variations.

Patraja - ('shading-like-the-lines-of-a-leaf')
Illusion of depth is achieved by drawing lines to follow contour of the body.

Binduja - (dot and stipple method)
Illusion of depth is achieved by painting dots with variations in concentration of dots.

Airika - (a wash technique)
Illusion of depth is achieved by executing tonal variation and avoiding hard-lines

Ujjotana - (adding highlights)
Highlights in the form of white patches added on the cheeks, the chin, the nose, etc to get a three-dimensional effect.

Chaya-tapa - ('shade-and-shine')
This produces a chiaroscuro effect.

Use of Blue Colour (Lapis Lazuli)
In the later period lapis lazuli, a blue, imported mineral came to be used as an effective medium for creating visual depth,contrasting with warm red and brown tones.

Patraja - A ceiling painting, Cave 1

Binduja - A ceiling painting, Cave 2

Airika - Children playing with a Hen, Cave 2

Ujjotana - A woman in a palace scene, Cave 1

Chaya-tapa - Bodhisattva Padmapani, Cave 1

Use of Blue Colour - Simhala Avadana, Cave 17