• Maya Muralidharan

Kerala Murals: Heritage of painting on walls

“Mural” is derived from the Latin word “murus” meaning wall, referring to paintings embellished on walls, ceilings or long lasting surfaces in historic era. The mural art style of Kerala can be traced to ancient Dravidian art of “Kalamezhuthu” . This art form was connected and practiced as part of religious rituals in temples. These mural paintings may be considered in the category of Frescos, where artists paint on a surface with freshly laid lime plaster. When the Lime plaster is set, paintings also become a part of the wall.

Kerala murals were inspired from religious texts and majorly revolved around scriptures depicting life of Gods and Goddesses of Hindu pantheon. Prominent temples like Vadakumnathan temple in Thrissur and palaces like Padmanabhapuram Palace of Kerala are witness to the prolific period of mural paintings between 14th and 16th century A.D. Bright colours and delicate strokes to the God figures epitomise Kerala murals.

In Kerala, the Murals were dominated majorly by 5 colours also addressed as “Panchavarna”. These are yellow, red, green, black and white. Blue colour too was used however; they entered the paintings scenarios much later. The “Panchavarna” colours were derived from various elements of earth like red and yellow are extracted from minerals of earth, green color from juice of a plant called “Eravikkara”, black from Lamp soot and white is the lime base. Though these paintings in ancient era were completed using natural elements, the continuation of the same in the modern days were difficult for the artists. The artists used painting brush made from elephant grass, locally called as “Kuntalipullu”.

The ability of artists to carry down the age-old traditions into present day scenario involved lot of challenges like difficulty in sourcing and maintenance of paintings. They moved from practicing the same on walls and ceilings to canvases for better portability. It was easier to carry around canvas and communicate to art enthusiasts about the history behind the art rather than having them visit the designated locations from around the world. This made more people aware of the traditional art of Kerala and appreciate the efforts in a better manner.

There are certain rules applicable to Kerala murals, practiced by the artist to ensure a beautiful painting. The foremost being the use of yellow colour. The first shade to be used in Kerala Murals is yellow, which is followed by red, green and brown. The colours are brought to life by completing them with black outlines. The combination of bright hues with white and black brings a sense of tranquility and charm to the murals. There are 6 phases to completing these paintings. The first phase is when the sketch of the painting is made, followed by second phase when the outlines are enhanced. In the third phase colours are filled in making it look serene and real, fourth phase involves shading; fifth phase the final outlines are reinforced and final sixth phase is meant to add the finishing touches.

There is immense hard work and time that goes into making these mural paintings. At times a lone artist cannot complete one painting and may do it as a group. With passing days and modernisation, very few artists are involved in practicing this art and reviving the tradition. We at Mimamsa Art, reach out these few prevalent artist in our quest to bring to you the authentic traditional paintings of Kerala and do our bit to support them in reviving the slowly dying art.

If you have ever come across mural paintings of Kerala or would like to share your thoughts on this dying traditional art of Kerala, India, please write to us in the comments section below.

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