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Indian Food Paintings: A Visual Treat

Indian food paintings

From the Rogan josh of Kashmir to the banana chips of Tamil Nadu, Indian food is a vibrant mosaic of regional cuisines, with each reflecting its people’s rich heritage. Food has always held a special place in Indian culture;  intertwined with traditions, rituals, and daily life. With a history as rich as its curries, India’s culinary journey traverses centuries and its traces are found in various aspects of its culture. Even in its paintings! In fact, Indian food paintings prove to be just as much a palatable palette as India’s cuisine.

While art captures the numerous elements of our lived experiences, food keeps us going. It holds our personal and shared memories, all while being intricately linked to politics and society. Throughout history, artists have used food as not only a subject but also a symbol and a medium for expressing their ideas and emotions.

So, join us as we embark on a journey to explore the portrayal of food in Indian art through the ages. Witness India’s culinary opulence and gain insights into the interplay between art and food through these captivating Indian food paintings.

Of Hunters and Gatherers: Indian Food Paintings in Caves

Within the ancient caves of Bhimbetka, Ajanta, and others, one can unearth some of the earliest representations of food in Indian art. These paintings offer a window into the culinary practices of prehistoric communities. Scenes of people engaged in hunting, gathering fruits and honey, and women grinding and cooking food come to life on these cave walls.

Sculptures from the same periods, such as those adorning the Ellora Caves, portray divine beings relishing celestial banquets. These sculptures highlight the connection of food with both the earthly and the divine realms.

Indian food paintings
Bhimbetka Cave Painting (Image source: Khan Academy)

Food Offerings Brought to Life on Canvas

Indian religious traditions incorporate food into rituals, and this is also reflected in its art. Temple sculptures and paintings frequently portray deities receiving offerings of fruits, sweets, and grains, showcasing devotees offering food to the gods. These depictions symbolize the interconnected cycle of giving, receiving, and gratitude, strengthening the spiritual importance of nourishment.

Indian food paintings
Pichwai painting of Shri Nath Ji Annakut (Image source: Imagineers Studio)

This Pichwai painting of Shri Nath Ji Annakut is a pictorial representation of the Annakut Bhog, which is widely recognized as the Govardhan Pooja. The term “Annakut” translates to the “Mountain of food”. 

This puja is celebrated on the fourth day of the Diwali festival. During this event, a substantial heap of cooked foods and an array of fruits is presented as an offering (bhog) to Lord Shrinath Ji. This gesture celebrates his act of lifting the Govardhan Parvat (mountain) on his little finger to protect his village, ‘Braj,’ from the rainstorm orchestrated by Lord Indra Dev.

In this specific Pichwai painting, Lord Shrinath Ji is portrayed in a diverse collection of 24 Darshan attires, each distinguished by intricate detailing that sets them apart.

Indian Food Paintings Inspired by Mythology 

Religious depictions take various forms, often manifesting through the visual retellings of diverse Hindu mythologies. Frequently, Indian food related paintings portray the life of Lord Ram, Sita, and Lakshman in both regal court settings and the wilderness. 

Pahari Painting – At Panchavati: Lakshmana Preparing Food and Sita Making a Garland of Flowers (Image Source: Indian Culture)
Rajasthani Painting – A Family Scene: Rama and his Brothers in the Company of Raja Dashratha and his Three Queens (Image Source: Indian Culture)

Notice the contrast in food portrayal as the family resides in the court versus their time in exile. It is also interesting to see Lakshman involved in the preparation of food while Sita rests. Especially considering that traditional gender roles dictated cooking to be women’s responsibility.

Lord Krishna: Makhan Chor Food Paintings

Most of us recognize Lord Krishna as the playful ‘Makhan Chor’—stealer of butter.

But did you ever wonder why this particular depiction is one of the most famous food paintings of India? The reason lies in the symbolism that envelops the tale of Krishna stealing butter.

Butter embodies the fruits of spiritual endeavour, not spontaneously generated but rather acquired through the toil of churning curd. In a similar vein, the heart must be stirred with devotion to unveil the essence of divine love, and since Krishna favours this outcome of spiritual striving, he “steals” pure love from the hearts of those who hold faith in him.

This food artwork has found its expression in multiple Indian art forms like Tanjore, Madhubani, Pattachitra, Kalighat, and more. Take a look below to observe how each art form sets itself apart while retaining a universal message.

Kerala Mural painting of Bal Krishna (Image Source: Tallenge Store)
Pattachitra Painting of Bal Krishna (Image Source: Creative India)
Tanjore Painting of Bal Krishna (Image Source: Art Zolo)
Indian food painting
Kalighat Painting of Bal Krishna (Image Source: Creative India)

Annapurna: The Goddess of Food 

In India, people revere food as “Annapurna,” a deity embodying nourishment. Annapurna is perceived as a divine force alleviating hunger for everyone.

Artist Nandalal Bose depicted Annapurna during the 1943 Bengal famine, reflecting a tragic event that led to 1-3 million deaths due to starvation and disease.

Indian food paintings
Annapurna by Nandalal Bose, 1943 (Image Source: WikiArt)

The artwork captures Annapurna holding a food-filled vessel and spoon, representing her role as the provider. Bose’s painting uniquely combines traditional Indian techniques, a lively colour palette, and a metaphorical portrayal of the goddess. Symbolic of the Bengal School of Art, this artwork holds lasting importance in Indian art.

We can also see various other renditions of Goddess Annapurna in the art forms given below.

Annapurna Lithograph by Raja Ravi Varma (Image Source: Archer India)
Tanjore painting of Annapurna (Image Source: Madhurya)

Indian Food Paintings of Banquets, Marketplaces and Kitchens

Indian food paintings beautifully mirror the country’s myriad culinary traditions, reflecting its immense cultural diversity. The intricate miniatures of Rajasthan and Mughal miniatures, for instance, showcase royal banquets. 

Indian food paintings beautifully mirror the country’s myriad culinary traditions, reflecting its immense cultural diversity. The intricate miniatures of Rajasthan and Mughal miniatures, for instance, showcase royal banquets. 

Mughal Miniature – Preparing food in the Royal Camp (Image source: Desi Writers)
Mughal Miniature – A royal feast for the Uzbeks (Image source: Desi Writers)

Kalighat Pattachitras showcase intricately detailed paintings of fishes. 

Prawn and Fish Kalighat painting (Image source: Pinterest)

Within Indian art, glimpses into daily life often take centre stage, with food as a pivotal element. Art vividly depicts bustling marketplaces where vendors offer vibrant produce. 

Indian food paintings
An 1850 company painting by an Indian artist depicting women selling food (Image source: Outlook)

Food depictions in Indian art forms like Warli art, Madhubani, and Cheriyal as well as in Kalighat paintings often show women engaged in traditional kitchen activities (often reflecting contemporary depictions as well!)

Madhubani Painting – Daily life of women (Image source: Exotic India Art)
Warli Painting of women doing cooking chores (Image source: Sujata’s Warli Art World)
Cheriyal Scroll painting of Cooking activities (Image source: Pinterest)
Woman in the kitchen by Kalam Patua (Image source: Museum of Art and Photography)

These scenes infuse the canvas with vitality, allowing viewers to connect with the familiar sights of their own experiences.

Famous Food Paintings by Modern Indian Artists

Food paintings by modern Indian artists offer a captivating window into the convergence of food and art, often commenting on contemporary issues or exploring symbolic meanings. 

“Haldi Grinders” is a painting by Amrita Sher-Gil created in 1940. The artwork portrays three women grinding haldi (turmeric) in a forest setting. The piece can be found at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. It’s fascinating to observe how the artist’s eye captures even the tiniest actions in food preparation.

Haldi Grinders by Amrita Sher-Gil, 1940 (Image source: Google Arts and Culture)

Another famous food painting is Madri by Raja Ravi Varma. The presence of a fruit-laden plate in the hands of the subject seems to hint at European influence. Traditionally, fruits symbolise fertility and subtly infuse a sense of sensuality into the female subject. 

Madri by Raja Ravi Varma (Image source: RtistiQ)

Contrastingly, F. N. Souza’s “Indian Family” depicts the irony of food scarcity through its apparent presence. 

Indian Family by F. N. Souza (Image source: Christie’s)

The artwork portrays a farming family by a window, revealing delicious food and wine placed behind them. Closer observation reveals the food is actually in a separate room, likely on the table of a wealthy master, inaccessible to the family outside. This painting thus comments on the economic inequality, power dynamics, and food as a symbol of scarcity and deprivation.

Wrapping It Up! 

Indian food paintings transcend the realm of visual art, weaving together the rich threads of culture, history, spirituality, and social commentary. From the ancient caves that echo with the sounds of prehistoric culinary practices to the modern canvases that depict the complexities of contemporary society. These artworks unveil the profound significance of food in human existence. Each stroke of the artist’s brush not only captures the vibrant hues of regional cuisines but also paints a narrative of shared memories, aspirations, and struggles.

Hungry for more? A pinch of Rooftop is all you need to turn your art into a masterpiece!

By Naomi Fargose

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