The history of art and painting in India begins with the pre-historic rock painting at Bhimbetka caves (M.P.) where there are drawings and paintings of animals.
The cave paintings of Narsinghgarh (Maharashtra) show skins of spotted deer left drying. Thousands of years ago, paintings and drawings had already appeared on the seals of Harappan civilization.
Both Hindu and Buddhist literature refer to paintings of various types and techniques for example, Lepyacitras, lekhacitras and Dhulitcitras. The first was the representation of folklore, the second one was line drawing and painting on textile while the third one was painting on the floor.
The Buddhist text Vinayapitaka (4th-3rd century) describes the existence of painted figures in many royal buildings. The play Mudrarakshasa (5th Century A.D.) mentions numerous paintings or Patas. The 6th Century AD text on aesthetics-Kamasutra by Vatsyayana has mentioned painting amongst 64 kinds of arts and says that it was based on scientific principles.
The Vishnudharmottara purana (7th century A.D.) has a section on painting called Chitrasutra which describes the six organs of painting like variety of form, proportion, lustre and portryal of colour, etc. Thus, archaeology and literature testify to the flourishing of painting in India from pre-historic times. The best specimens of Gupta paintings are the ones at Ajanta. Their subject was animals and birds, trees, flowers, human figures and stories from the Jataka.
Mural paintings are done on walls and rock surfaces like roofs and sides. Cave no. 9 depicts the Buddhist monks going towards a stupa. In cave no. 10 Jataka stories are depicted. But the best paintings were done in the 5th – 6th centuries AD during the Gupta age.
Different materials were used in different types of paintings. Mention of chitra shalas (art gallery) and Shilpasashtra (technical treatises on art) have been made in literary sources. However, the principal colours used were red ochre (dhaturaga), vivid red (kum kum or sindura), yellow ochre (haritala), indigo (blue) lapis lazuli blue, lampblack (kajjala), chalk white (Khadi Mitti) terra verte (geru mati) and green.