India, or as we Indians like to call it, “Bharat Ma,” is a country infused with intricate layers of traditions and culture. This is one of the predominant reasons why art for Indians is life. So when you look around, you will witness art everywhere, from well known places to not so known places. Paintings hold a very long tradition and history in Indian art. They date all the way back to pre-historic times, even before language itself existed in India. These cultural paintings are broadly classified into three categories: Mural paintings, miniature paintings, and paintings on removable media. Here, we will take a look at one of the most eminent mural art forms from Kerala.

In India, the origin of Petroglyph’s or paintings done on rocks by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art, dates back to language itself. We can see this kind of art in Bhimbetka rock paintings in Madhya Pradesh, which dates back 30,000 years. These paintings were made in order to get rid of the fear of animals and to give direction to people. Tamil Nadu HR&CE Expert Committee Member and a specialist in Temple murals, Mr. Naveen Bhaskar said, “Before language was developed, these rock paintings were used to deflect fear and bring devotion among people.”

The mural paintings in India derive inspiration from the Dravidian art form and Kerala Kalamezhuthu (Floral Paintings). The origin of this art form was in the 8th century AD. Not many people have the knowledge that Kerala is only second to Rajasthan when it comes to the rich collection of mural sites in India. The oldest relic of Kerala’s own mural style is found in Tirunandikkara cave temple in Thiruvananthapuram district. In these murals, themes of Hindu mythology and even the Buddhist influence can be clearly seen. Mr. Naveen further said that there are around 140 temples with murals in Kerala and in each of these temples, the murals are different.

Credit: Picture by Naveen Bhaskar

Initially, these murals in Kerala where painted with only one color, but in the course of time artists started using multiple colors. These colors were all natural based. For example, to get a yellow color, yellow stones powdered and ground in water would be used and it would take six months to prepare a single paint, said Mr. Naveen. He further added that initially colors were chosen to glow under oil lamps as there was no electricity in those days.

However, over the years, mural paintings have evolved according to modern times. Mythological characters were projected while viewing in earlier times, but in modern mural painting styles, the colors are more predominant, said Mr. Naveen. Natural colors take a lot of time to be inked.

Credit: Picture by Naveen Bhaskar

He added that in a temple in Kottakkal at Calicut, 4 artists took 12 years to complete the mural paintings 500 years ago.  Also, in earlier times, artists needed to do 150 coatings and only 3 to 4 coatings would dry per day. Only following this would the artist paint with natural colors. However, nowadays with the use of acrylic paints, the same murals get completed in a shorter period of time. Apart from temples and churches, this form of art is often used to decorate palaces, houses and even schools.

When asked whether the popularity of this art form has increased or decreased over the years, Mr. Naveen said that now in Kerala a lot of women have taken up this art form and there is a drastic increase in students who follow mural arts. Out of all the mural arts, Thanjavoor paintings are in demand and these are used in clothing, ceramic plates and ceramic cups. He further added that nowadays, with the fast-paced lifestyle, people want to learn this art form fast, but in the process, they don’t learn the basics well.

Credit: Picture by Naveen Bhaskar | Mural of the last supper

Mural paintings, with their popularity, have found their way into movies too. They are generally used as backdrops for films and are pictured on clothes. When asked if he had done these kinds of paintings for the movies, Mr. Naveen said, “I don’t prefer indulging in the commercial use of mural arts. However my colleagues and seniors have painted murals for movies.”

Credit: Picture by Naveen Bhaskar

In order to learn Mural art, there are colleges and institutions which offer 5-year and 2-year courses across Kerala. Out of these, the famous ones are in Guruvayoor, Kaladi, and Aranmula. Guruvayoor Chithrakala Kendram that enroll only 10 students in a batch and the exams here are conducted by the Kerala State Government.

Over the years, this art form has seen many renowned artists who have uplifted this form in many ways. Out of these, Mammiyur Krishnan Kutty Nair was the pioneer in restoring the burnt paintings at Guruvayoor temple in 1971. Some of the other names associated with them are Srinivasan, K.K Warrior and Patambi Warrior. Apart from these legends in modern times, there are artists like K U Krishnakumar, the Principal at Guruvayoor Chithrakala Kendram, Suresh Mudukulam and Sadanandan Trissur, said Mr. Naveen.

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