Marvels of Mysore

Royal paintings from the 19th century in the collection of Salar Jung Museum from Mysore, Karnataka, India.

Warrior tackling an enraged elephant (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Paintings of Mysore school

Mysore painting belongs to the classical South Indian painting schools. It originated around the town of Mysore in present day Karnataka. It was patronised by the Mysore rulers. The school of painting evolved from the Vijayanagara school,  since after the fall of Vijayanaga in 1565 A.D after the battle of Talikota the artists migrated to nearby places like Mysore, Tanjore and Surpur. The Mysore school evolved by imbibing the Vijayanagara and the local influences.

Dasara Darbar at Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore (1905) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Osianama Research Centre, Archive, Library & Sanctuary, India.

Kingdom of Mysore

The Kingdom of Mysore (1399-1947 A.D) was founded by Yaduraya and Krishnaraya Wodeyar in and around the modern city of Mysore in present day Karnataka. The Wodeyar family which ruled this kingdom had served as feudatories to the erstwhile Vijayanagara empire which declined since 1565 A.D. The kingdom is mentioned in early 16th century Kannada literature. The kingdom expanded its area under Narasaraja Wodeyar and Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar in Southern Karnataka. 

The kingdom reached a military peak under de-facto rulers Hyder Ali and son Tipu Sultan when it had to fight the British empire, Maratha empire, the Nizam of Golconda and the rulers of Travancore and Malabar. After the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799 A.D Tipu Sultan was defeated by the British who restored the Wodeyars as the rightful rulers of Mysore and it became a princely state under the British until 1947 when India gained independence from colonial rule and Mysore became part of the Indian Union.

Maharaja and Maharani of Mysore (1930s) by Raja Ravi Varma and Ravi Varma PressThe Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation

Patrons of art

The Mysore court patronised art and musicians. Mysore painting developed as did Kannada literature and Indo-European architecture. The kings were writers themselves; drama and theatre also flourished. The artists were called chitrakaras.They flourished both under the Wodeyars and when Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan were de facto rulers. Mysore style paintings are found at Mysore, Shrirangapatna, Shravanabelagola, Sira, Chitradurga, Mudukutore, Hampi, Raichur and Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh. Shravanabelagola, Sira, Chitradurga, Mudukutore, Hampi, Raichur and Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh.  

Raja seated with his queen (1875/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Made for the Maharaja

 The resplendent yet dignified Mysore paintings have evolved from the Vijayanagara school of painting. Just like Tanjore painting which is also an offshoot from the same school. Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (b.1794 - d.1868) who revived ancient styles in Mysore paintings was a contemporary of Serfoji II of Thanjavur. The Mysore maharajas patronised the paintings during the 17th - 19th centuries.

Raja with his queen praying to Goddess Chamundeswari (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Colours of Mysore

The Mysore paintings are characterised by delicate lines, fine brushwork and the vegetable colours used are not too loud. Emotions were well expressed in the paintings.

The paintings were patronised by the Mysore maharajas during 17th - 19th centuries. The Mysore school reached a zenith under Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar III.

A couple praying at a Shiva-linga and Parvati shrine (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Painting techniques

The paintings were done on paperboard or cloth pasted on wood; first the sketch was made, then paint was used which were sourced from stones and vegetable material. Relief work known as ‘gesso’ was done to highlight jewellery, clothes, and architecture.

This video depicts the hard work, patience, expertise and proficiency to make a piece of Mysore painting. 

Subhadra with Arjuna (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Varied themes

Mysore paintings mostly covered religious and mythological stories and anecdotes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana and Jaina texts. Also depicted were court scenes, battle scenes and images of epic heroes. 

The most popular themes were the images of Goddess Raja Rajeshwari, the Coronation of Rama or Rama- pattabhishekam, Kondanda-rama (Lord Rama with bow and arrow.

Raja praying to Lord Shiva (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

The Salar Jung Museum collection

The Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad  has an interesting collection of Mysore paintings from the 19th century. The collection includes images of Gods, Goddesses, scenes depicting the royals, battles, warriors, sages, a scene from the epic Mahabharata, and  Balakrishna   with his mother Yashoda among others.

Lord Venkateswara with his consorts (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Lord Venkateshwara with his consorts

Lord  Venkateshwara with four hands is shown with his consorts on either side.  His consorts are shown in standing posture. The medium of this painting is oil on canvas.

Raja praying to Shiva-linga (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A Raja praying to Shiva-linga

A decorated 'Shiva-linga' inside a shrine.  A priest, a king with folded hands and his turbaned associate stand before the shrine.  

A Raja feeding an elephant (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A Raja feeding an elephant

A temple with a Raja feeding an elephant. To the left a seated saint can be seen meditating. 

Sage offering water to soldiers (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Sage offering water to soldiers

A sage can be seen pouring water into the cupped hands of a warrior. A large cylindrical urn is painted behind the sage and warriors seem to have stopped by to drink water.

Battlescene (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum


A painting depicting five figures at war. Two prominent warriors are in the foreground and a temple can be seen in the background. 

A group of workers (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A group of workers

This paintings shows a group of workers. A river can be seen in the foreground. On the other shore stand four figures, a nobleman on the right, and few workers. 

In the top register of the painting a couple can be seen working in the fields.

A royal couple with a baby on a swing (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A royal couple with a baby on a swing

In this painting a royal couple can be seen relaxing on a swing flanked by two female attendants holding fans. 

Raja tackling an angry snake (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A Raja tackling an angry snake

A king tackling a snake. The snake stands high with its head raised, and tongue spread out. Rocks are painted behind the snake.

Battle-scene (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum


A battle-scene with five warriors on horses, separated from the rider on the left by a stream with a floating vanquished warrior, his horse and his crown. 

Warrior tackling an enraged elephant (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Warrior tackling an enraged elephant

A warrior shooting arrows at an enraged  elephant that stands on raised rocky ground. 

Brahman in front of Shiva-linga shrine with three disciples (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Brahman in front of Shiva-linga shrine with three disciples

A temple with a decorated Shiva-linga in it on right. In the middle stands a Brahman preaching to three animal skin-clad disciples. 

A nobleman reclining (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A nobleman reclining

A nobleman reclining on a bed. A woman stands holding the bedpost, his counsel is depicted on the left foreground. 

Raja before a temple (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Raja before a temple

A Raja with three others and a four headed, eight handed God in a temple. Gold foil is freely used all over.

Lord Shiva with Parvati (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Lord Shiva with Parvati

Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati sitting on his left crossed leg, flanked by two devotees, one on left is a Raja and one on the left, his turbaned associate. 

Warrior with spear (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Warrior with spear

A warrior-king is holding a sword in his left hand and with his right hand he is brandishing the spear towards the net filled with fish and tortoise. A temple can be seen in the background.

A Raja with his son before a temple (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A Raja with his son before a temple

A Raja with his son and an assistant stand before a temple priest or elder. On the right side is a temple.

Raja seated with his queen (1875/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Raja seated with his queen and a physician

Raja seated with his queen on one side and a man,  a physician on his right side on a carpet. 

Credits: Story

Text and Curation : Soma Ghosh
Research Assistance : Dinesh Singh and E. Rajesh
Photography : M. Krishnamurthy and Bahadur Ali
Special thanks to Dr. A Nagender Reddy, Director , Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad.

References -

1. Jain, Laxmi (2016): History of the Wodeyars of Mysore (1500-1965), New Delhi : Vayu Education of India. Pp vii-viii
2. (accessed on 28th May 2021)
3.. › craftcanvas › docs › mysore_painting (accessed on 29th May 2021)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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