The paintings of Assam can be categorised into three main schools.
The earliest existing examples of manuscripts illustrated in Assam represent the Tai-Ahom School and are from the Phung Chin manuscript dated 1437 AD, which contains illustrations depicting the mythological sixteen heavens and sixteen hells. As a well-established artistic tradition exists in other forms of work in Assam it is thought that the art of painting existed before this, but due to the high humidity and adverse climatic conditions of the region, earlier works may not have survived.
The Sattriya school of painting was developed by Sankaradeva, Assam’s 16thcentury spiritual leader. The earliest existing example is the 17th century manuscript the Chitra-bhagavata originally called the Adi-dasama, the text of which was translated into Assamese by Sankaradeva and recovered from a sattra in the district of Nagaon. Characteristics of the Sattriya school include nude male figures, the similiarity of male and female forms which may only be distinguishable by dress, large and wide fish-type eyes, ponds filled with lotus flowers, waterfowl and vermillion backgrounds.
Ahom or Court School
With the arrival of artists from the west the Sattriya school was eclipsed when superior techniques were incorporated and the Ahom or Court school emerged. This flourished under the patronage of King Rudrasimha and the reign of King Sivasimha in the 1700s and was in fact a fusion of the Sattriya school and imported Muslim styles. Manuscripts that survive from that period include the Sankhasur-badha (1726) and the Dharma-purana (1735).
The Sattriya school of art still survived, however, and ran parallel to the Ahom or Court School.