Vishnudharmottara Purana (Art and Architecture)

by Bhagyashree Sarma | 2021 | 59,457 words

This page relates ‘Divisions of Painting (Citra)’ of the study on the elements of Art and Architecture according to the Vishnudharmottara Purana: an ancient text whose third book deals with various artisan themes such as Architecture, Painting, Dance, Grammar, etc. Many chapters are devoted to Hindu Temple architecture and the iconography of Deities and their installation rites and ceremonies.

4. Divisions of Painting (Citra)

In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, four kinds of Painting have been accepted. These are—

  1. satya,
  2. vaiṇika,
  3. nāgara and
  4. miśra.[1]

1) The variety called satya as the term stands for, represents those pictures which are true to life. Vaiṇika through its etymology, seems to represent the pictures of the lute player. Nāgara, being related to nagara or a city, represents the pictures of the city or common man and the miśra variety of Painting on the basis of its name generally includes amalgamated pictures. In this context Stella Kramrisch also gives her view point in the same spirit.[2] According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa the Paintings, which have the similarity with natural things is called satya. This book states that the satya type of Painting should be tall, proportionate and beautiful with a charming and attractive background.[3]

2) The second variety of Painting which is called vaiṇika comes from the word vīṇā i.e., lute. According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the Painting of this variety should be done on a square surface according to a strict proportion. The picture should not be very long or expanded or clotted.[4]

3) The third variety of Painting is nāgara, which according to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa should be vartula i.e., round[5] in shape and dṛḍha i.e., firm[6] . The figures painted in nāgara Paintings should be adorned with well developed limbs and be decorated with garlands.[7]

4) The fourth variety is called miśra and this variety of Painting is the mixture of the above mentioned three varieties of Painting viz., satya, vaiṇika and nāgara.[8]

Footnotes and references:


satyaṃ ca vaiṇikaṃ caiva nāgaraṃ miśrameva ca/ citraṃ caturvidhaṃ proktaṃ……./ Ibid., 3.41.1


Stella Kramrisch, The Vishnudharmottara, Part III A treatise on Indian Painting and Image Making, p.51


yatkiñcillokasādṛśyaṃ citraṃ tatsatyamucyate/ dīrghāṅge sapramāṇaṃ ca sukumāraṃ subhūmikaṃ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.41.2


caturastraṃ susampūrṇaṃ na dīrghaṃ nolvaṇākṛtiṃ/ pramāṇaṃ sthānalambhāḍhyaṃ vaiṇikaṃ tannigadyate/ Ibid., 3.41.3


V.S Apte, The student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.494


Ibid., p.257


dṛḍhopacitasarvāṅgaṃ vartulaṃ nadyanolvaṇaṃ/ citraṃ taṃ nāgaraṃ jñeyaṃ svalpamālyavibhūṣaṇaṃ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.41.4


citramiśraṃ samākhyātaṃ samāsānmanujottama/ Ibid., 3.41.5

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