Shades of Indian Women in The Art World

Notable Mural painting in Ajanta caves called Black Princess

Fixation for light skin is not just prevalent in our society but has sadly penetrated the art world aswell. Indian mythological character’s are depicted light-skinned in paintings and other popular medias even though our ancient scriptures and texts describe them as striking beauties with dusky lustrous complexion? In Mahabharat, one of the major epic of India, Draupadi, a "fire born" daughter of Drupada, emerged from the yajna (sacred fire) as a beautiful dark-skinned young woman. Vyasa (author of the Mahabharata) described her as the most beautiful woman of that time with a radiant dusky skin, large intoxicating eyes and a graceful stature. Mythology describes Parvati, the divine consort of Lord Shiva, as the goddess of power with a ‘yellowish coppery’ skin. Goddess Sita, the wife of Rama known as a lady of incomparable beauty was earth-born and colored like the golden soil of India. Gleam and luster of the skin, illustrated the appearance, skin tone was of no significance.

If we look back at ancient Indian art, before the infiltration of foreign invaders, when the Indian artisans techniques were mature and in complete possession of Indian ethnicity, the beauty of Indian women was projected in its purest and honest form. Finest examples of this classical art-style are the frescos and murals that decorated the Ajanta caves. The chief female figure (queen, dancer or an apsara) in all the compositions is of a darker complexion than the maids or attendants around her. Black complexion was considered attractive and a beauty asset.

Ajanta caves Mural paintings- Flying Apsara (Left), Queen Sivali begin tended to by her maids (Right)

Dancer with her attendants and musicians around her, mural painting in Ajanta caves 

Even celebrated artists like Raja Ravi Varma mistakenly depicted mythological beauties with light-skinned complexion.
Shown below are some of his most popular paintings of Draupadi and Sita, depicting scenes from epics, Mahabharat and Ramayan.


However there are certain exceptions, some creative genius’s like Amrita Sher-Gill and Abanidranath Tagore represented the originality and realism of Indian women’s dusky tones. Abanindranath Tagore portrayed Bharat Mata as four-armed Hindu goddess with honey-colored complexion, wearing saffron-colored robes. His portrayal is the epitome of Indian beauty and grace.
Shown below is Bharatmata by Abanindranath Tagore, painted during the Swadeshi Movement in 1905 

Amrita Sher-Gil’s female figures are an art connoisseur's delight. Beautifully drawn Indian women with dusky dark brown complexion, wearing ethnic attire, represent the quintessential Indian beauty.

Sumair- A Portrait (Left) and Three Sisters painted by Amrita Sher-Gil
Veena Players (Left) and The Child Bride (Right) by Amrita Sher-Gil


Whatever may be the rationale given by historians behind the Indian fixation for light skin (Mughal influence, British complex, Aryan race theory) , the fact is, in the art world an Indian women looks best when drawn with complete originality as a warm-colored beauty with a tone glowing with pride.

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