The Story of Indian Art #11: Raja Ravi Varma

A look back at one of India's greatest artists Raja Ravi Varma, who provided a vital link between the traditional Indian art and contemporary art.

Born: April 29, 1848
Died: October 2, 1906

“There Is No Failure. It’s Only Un-Finished Success.” – Raja Ravi Verma

Raja Ravi Varma was one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian Arts. He brought Indian painting to the attention of the larger world; provided a vital link between the traditional Indian art and the contemporary art. Raja Ravi Varma is most remembered for his paintings of beautiful sari clad women, who were portrayed as very shapely and graceful. He is considered as modern among traditionalists and a rationalist among moderns.

Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906)

Raja Ravi Varma was born on April 29, 1848 in the royal palace of Kilimanoor, 25 miles from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, India. His parents were Umamba Thampuratti and Neelakandan Bhattathiripad. At the age of seven years he started drawing on the palace walls using charcoal. At the age of 14, Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja took him to Travancore Palace and he was taught water painting by the palace painter Rama Swamy Naidu. He was later given lessons in oil painting by a British painter, Theodor Jenson.

Lady lost in thought by Raja Ravi Varma

Lady Lost In Thought by Raja Ravi Varma

In 1873, Ravi Varma won the first prize at the Madras Painting Exhibition. He achieved worldwide acclaim after he won an award for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna in 1873. He travelled throughout India in search of subjects. Varma’s paintings were also sent to the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 and he was awarded three gold medals.

He travelled throughout India in search of subjects. He often modelled Hindu Goddesses on South Indian women, whom he considered beautiful. Ravi Varma is particularly noted for his paintings depicting episodes from the story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala, and Nala and Damayanti, from the Mahabharata.

Lord Krishna As Ambassador

Lord Krishna As Ambassador by Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravi Varma’s representation of mythological characters has become a part of the Indian imagination of the epics. He is often criticized for being too showy and sentimental in his style but his work remains very popular in India. Many of his fabulous paintings are housed at Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara.

Raja Ravi Varma was fascinated by the power and forceful expression of European paintings, which came across to him as strikingly contrasting to stylized Indian artwork. His paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art.

In 1904, Viceroy Lord Curzon, on behalf of the British King Emperor, bestowed upon Varma the Kaisar-i-Hind Gold Medal. A college dedicated to fine arts was also constituted in his honour at Mavelikara, Kerala. In 2013, the crater Varma on Mercury was named in his honour. Considering his vast contribution to Indian art, the Government of Kerala has instituted an award called “Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram”, which is awarded every year to people who show excellence in the field of art and culture.

Some of the famous paintings of Raja Ravi Varma are:

Lady Lost in Thought

Damayanti Talking to a Swan

The Orchestra

Arjuna and Subhadra

Lady with Fruit

The Heartbroen

Swarbat Player


Lord Krishna as Ambassador

Jatayu, a bird devotee of Lord Rama is mauled by Ravana

Victory of Meghanada

A Family of Beggars

Lady Giving Alms at the Temple

Lord Rama Conquers Varuna

Romancing Couple

Draupadi Dreading to Meet Kichaka

Shantanu and Satyavati

Shakuntala Composing a Love Letter to King Dushyanta

Girl in Sage Kanwa’s Hermitage

To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.


  1. Avatar
    Pramod December 19, 2017

    Nice article. He was bridge between traditonal and modern paintings

  2. Avatar
    Raju Kumar July 28, 2018

    good image


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