Mural traditions in South India have a rich and diverse history, with more than 20 known locations containing these fascinating artworks. Dating back to around the 2nd century BC, Indian murals are mainly found in natural caves and rock-cut chambers. Among the well-known sites are the famous Ajanta caves, Sittanavasal cave, Armamalai cave, Ravan Chhaya rock shelter, and the awe-inspiring Kailasa temple in Ellora caves.
However, the evolution of mural art did not stop with the Ajanta caves; it continued to flourish in various places throughout South India during the medieval period.

The significant characteristics and notable examples of mural traditions from different historical periods in South India:

Badami Caves (6th-7th century):

  • Located in the capital of the western Chalukyan dynasty, Badami caves feature murals depicting palace scenes.
  • Example: One mural shows Kirtvarman, the son of Pulakesin-I, observing a dance with his feudatories.
  • Characteristics: The murals in Badami represent an extension of the Ajanta tradition to the southern region. The sinuous lines, fluid forms, and compact compositions exemplify the proficiency and maturity of the artists.

Pallava Murals (7th century):

  • The Pallavas succeeded the Chalukyas in parts of South India and patronized art.
  • Mahendravarmana-I, who ruled in the 7th century, built temples at Panamali, Mandagapattu, and Kanchipuram, where mural paintings were executed.
  • Characteristics: The faces in these murals are round and large, with rhythmic lines and increased ornamentation compared to earlier periods. Notable examples include paintings at the Kanchipuram temple patronized by the Pallava king, Rajsimha.

Pandya Murals (8th-9th century)

  • The Pandyas rose to power and also patronized art, with Thirumalapuram caves and Jaina caves at Sittanavasal being surviving examples.
  • Characteristics: Figures are firmly drawn with vermilion red contours on a lighter background. The body is rendered in yellow with subtle modeling, showcasing the artists’ skill in depicting supple limbs and expressions of dancers.

Chola Murals (9th-13th century)

  • The Chola kings continued the tradition of building temples and embellishing them with carvings and paintings.
  • Notable examples: Chola paintings in Nartamalai, but the most important ones are found in the Brihadeeswara temple.
  • Characteristics: These paintings were executed on the walls surrounding the shrine and showcased narrations and aspects related to Lord Shiva.

Vijayanagara Murals (14th century)

  • The paintings at Thiruparankundram from the 14th century represent the early phase of the Vijayanagara style.
  • Characteristics: Vijayanagara painters adopted a pictorial language with faces shown in profile and figures and objects rendered two-dimensionally. The compositions appeared in rectilinear compartments, reflecting the stylistic conventions of preceding centuries.

Nayaka Murals (17th-18th century)

  • The Nayaka dynasty’s paintings are seen in Thiruparakunram, Sreerangam, and Thiruvarur.
  • Characteristics: Nayaka murals continued the Vijayanagara style with minor regional modifications. The figures, mostly in profile, are set against a flat background. Male figures are depicted with a slim waist and a less heavy abdomen compared to the Vijayanagara style.

Kerala Murals (16th-18th century)

  • During this period, painters in Kerala developed their pictorial language and techniques while adopting elements from the Nayaka and Vijayanagara schools.
  • Characteristics: Kerala murals drew inspiration from contemporary traditions like Kathakali and kalam ezhuthu (ritual floor painting of Kerala). They used vibrant and luminous colors and represented human figures with a sense of three-dimensionality.


South India boasts a rich legacy of mural traditions dating back to ancient times, where these artworks were intrinsically linked to the architecture they adorned. From the Ajanta caves to the vibrant murals of Kerala, the evolution of this art form reflects the cultural, historical, and artistic prowess of the region. The use of color, design, and thematic treatment in these murals transformed the spatial proportions of the buildings, leaving behind a mesmerizing legacy for generations to admire and cherish.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish February 26, 2024