The earliest central Indian pictures to survive were executed during the fifth or sixth centuries in the Buddhist cave-temples of Bagh at the southern end of Malwa. In style they evince the rounded elegance and delight in physical grace associated with the parallel art of Ajanta. Indeed, just as the central Indian city of Ujjain—the home of the love-poet, Kalidasa—may well have propagated the romantic sensuality which underlies the frescoes of Ajanta, influences from the same court may also explain the paintings at Bagh. Amongst the murals is a festival of song and dance. Courtly figures mounted on horses and elephants pass grandly by while suavely modelled girls dance to a male musician, his skirt displaying the pointed ends so typical of later court attire1. Such scenes are not at all Buddhist in spirit and it is possible that they were painted in order to delight the spirit of the cave or shrine and thus ensure the structures' safety.
From the sixth century to the fourteenth, no securely dated pictures have survived. By the twelfth century, in other parts of India, however, the majestic naturalism of Ajanta and Bagh had given way to wiry distortions and while the new style is first apparent on the rock-cut temple of Ellora in the Deccan, it rapidly became the normal means for illustrating Jain scriptures in western India. The Jain religion paralleled Hinduism and was based on the life and teachings of its founder, Mahavira, a contemporary of the Buddha. The leading Jain scripture was termed the Kalpa sutra and it was copies of this text which were written and illustrated for Jain patrons first on long strips of palm-leaf and later, after 1400, on paper. The ways of illustrating incidents were quickly standardized and until the fifteenth century, certain conventions were sternly practised. The picture was conceived as a flat design, enclosing airy linear figures. Colours were red and blue, though green and gold were also employed. But the chief mark was a certain type of face. Heads were often shown three-quarter view and the second or further eye as if removed from its socket and projecting into space. Jutting agitated poses contributed to the general ferocity, while the use of flat red backgrounds imbued each incident with taut excitement. Whatever factors may have led the Jains to develop this style, the result was a type of art "which like the anguished creations of Picasso and the horrific visors of European armour evoked a mood of turbulent disquiet.
Such a style was a monopoly of Jains and until 1400 its chief centre was Gujarat in western India. The Jains, however, were vigorous traders, covering not only Rajasthan but also eastern India and it is this characteristic which now accounts for developments in CENTRAL INDIAN PAINTING. During the fifteenth century, two manuscripts were illustrated—one at Mandu, in central India, in 1439, the other at Jaunpur, just beyond its eastern-most frontier, in 1465. Both were copies of the leading Jain text, the Kalpa sutra, but both departed from the standard style. In the Mandu text, characters have a nimble grace, compositions are less crowded and a characteristic idiom, a wriggling skyline, is also included. In the Jaunpur text heads are squarer, great veils jut from the bodies, outlines are no longer nervously hesitant and there is a new air of smart precision. Such departures may well be due to changes of region. But in Gujarat itself, the study of Persian miniatures was already resulting in greatly enriched borders and it is contacts with Persia and Bukhara which were now to affect central India.