Shadanga - Principles of Painting

रूपभेदः प्रमाणानि भावलावण्ययोजनम।

सादृश्यं वर्णिकाभंग इति चित्रं षडंगकम्॥

वात्स्यायन

Lalit Bhatt
Lalit Bhatt
Raja Ravi Varma Painting in Laxmi Vilas Palace
Raja Ravi Varma Painting in Laxmi Vilas Palace

रूपभेदः प्रमाणानि भावलावण्ययोजनम।

सादृश्यं वर्णिकाभंग इति चित्रं षडंगकम्॥

In the 3rd century CE, Vatsyayana in his book Kamasutra enumerates the six principles of painting known as Shadanga (षडंग ). Yashodhar Pandit, who was part of the court of Raja Jai Singh in the 11th or 12th century, explained the concept of Shadanga in his book “JayaMangala”.

  • रूपभेदः Roopbheda refers to the appearance and looks of something. The term is made up of two words, Roop (appearance) and Bheda (difference). It means that the artist should have knowledge and understanding of different forms of appearance. This understanding goes beyond just seeing the appearance, but also involves the artist’s personal connection and insight into the subject. The way an artist interprets and represents the appearance of something is reflected in their artwork.
  • प्रमाणानि Pramana refers to the accuracy and precision of the proportions and measurements in a work of art. If the proportions are incorrect, it can detract from the overall look of the piece unless the artist has a specific intention, such as in surrealism. Suppose an artist is creating a work of art where there is a huge mountain with trees in front of him. A river is flowing in the foothills. A shepherd herding his sheep along the riverbank. The artist has to capture this on a piece of paper. Ensuring that the proportion and measurement is accurate brings realism to the scene.
  • भाव Bhava refers to the expression in an artwork. It gives life to the painting and helps to set the mood. The right combination of Bhava is important for the tone of the artwork. Bhava is important in any composition be it painting, writing or performing art. How is the bhava of anger, beauty, fear, joy, disgust is visually expressed? Imagine a painting of an oppressor and oppressed. How do you bring the sense of joy and fear in the same frame? Bhava is the soul of an art work.  
  • लावण्य योजना Lavanya Yojana represents aesthetic composition. When a dish is prepared it is composed of multiple ingredients including spices. If any of the ingredients goes out of proportion both on the higher and the lower side, it spoils the dish. Similarly the composition of an artwork is to balance out all the elements. Lavanya Yojana defines the overall artistic quality of an art work. 
  • सादृश्य Sadrishya represents resemblance. It is about how similar the subject is on the paper vs in real life. When we talk about similarity, it is not about exact depiction but similarity in literal sense. For example, an artwork of a warrior is done by making him ride a horse with a spear in his hand. This creates resemblance. Suppose one wants to depict a college professor and show him riding a supercar. Does it create Sadrishya? 
  • वर्णिकाभंग Varnikabhanga is the use of brush and colors in an artwork. It demonstrates the technical skill of the artist. It is considered the peak of Shadanga and can only be achieved through constant practice. Varnikabhanga is necessary to bring life to an artwork, as it requires a complete understanding of the materials used, such as the brush, pigments, and canvas, and how they interact.

इति चित्रं षडंगकम्  These are the six main principle of limbs of a painting. Mastering the six limbs or Shadanga is an inevitable part of any painter’s journey to become a true artist.

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