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Magnificent murals

Efforts are on to preserve the mural art tradition of Kerala


THE CANVASES are filled with just five luxurious colours — yellow, red, green, black and white. These colours combine with delicate strokes to form Kerala's elaborately beautiful traditional murals.

On show earlier this week at the Vimonisha Gallery were paintings from Kerala's mural tradition, brought to Chennai by Cochin-based mural restoration and preservation company, Stupa Murals. The drawings, which are traditionally done on walls and rocks with natural dyes, have been adapted to canvas, terracotta and board with acrylics.

There is a precise beauty to the paintings that makes them seem doubly gorgeous. Most of the subjects are simple — Gitopadesam, Ashtalakshmi, various kinds of Vinayaka, Krishnaleela, the Dasavatar, Gajendra Moksham. But the wide, drawn-out eyes, attention to detail, rich but earthy colours, elaborate backgrounds, ornamentation and flow and grace of the figures make for magnificent murals.

An exquisite canvas of Nataraja dancing on an impish dwarf watched by Ganesha, Muruga and other figures occupied one wall. The figures are perfectly proportioned, ornate and splendidly coloured.

Known as choovarchitram (paintings on walls) in Malayalam, the subjects are derived from the epics and religious texts. They are found on the walls of temples and palaces. In the old days, murals were not just decorative; they were a form of mass education — teaching the common man about the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

This is a rich and rather rare art tradition because there is only one institute in Guruvayur that trains persons in mural art. The institute was opened in the 1970s after a fire damaged the murals in the Guruvayur temple and the Kerala Government realised that there were just two artists in Kerala who knew traditional art form, explains a representative from Stupa Murals. Awareness has improved now and preservation has become a priority. Stupa Murals (www.stupamurals.com) does restoration work in temples, palaces and churches and produces murals in various sizes and designs to spread awareness about them.

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

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