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Shades of the past

The frescos at the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple are a treasure collection, second to none, displaying the brilliance of the painters of the past, says T. SARAVANAN


FOR ANY temple, its architecture and paintings are like its cultural ambassadors of a bygone era. For, they unveil the history and tradition of the past. They silently speak volumes of the time when they were created. The wall paintings of Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple are one such treasure collection, second to none.

"Brilliance of these paintings stand a testimony to the quality of the painters living in that period. The rich colours and inimitable style add an extra charm to these paintings," says P. Baskaran, the Joint Commissioner of HR&CE and the Executive Officer of the temple.

Standing the test of time is a real challenge for the paintings of the Temple. Braving vagaries of nature, some of them have survived but many are also discoloured. The temple authorities thus decided to reproduce all the paintings in the corridor that surrounds the Golden Lotus tank and once called `chithra mandapam'. "It is not easy to reproduce all paintings. It requires a painter adept in handling the job. After years of search, we found and fixed a `tantrik' painter T. Vinoth from Guruvayur," Baskaran discloses.

Basically, a tantrik painter specialising in Indian styles like Tanjore, Puri, Guruvayur and the Naick (the Vijayanagara style), Vinoth has done a lot of research for designing the frescos of the Meenakshi SundareswararTemple. He also has expertise in the Kashmiri Buddhist Tantra, Nepal Murals and South Indian Tantrik School. "These are mural paintings which have a unique style and require natural colours. Hence I used the conch shells, tender coconut and natural stones for making the base for the paintings," says Mr.Vinoth, who belongs to the Sankaracharya Parampara having studied the agamas and the aesthetical aspects of the Saiva Siddhantha. "I have taken the 64 `Thiruvilayadalkal' of Lord Shiva in relation to 108 karnas of Bharatanatyam practised by the Lord and the 64 Saiva principles to devise the mudras for my paintings. I included all the `navarashas' in these paintings. The medium is very important for these paintings. Hence, I mixed the conch shell powder, molasses, pure sand using vegetables as binding object," he explains his technique. "Also I used neem paste and `vilva' root gum as binding objects. I have used five colours, red, white, black, blue and yellow, based on the `pancha bootha' philosophy, signifying rajaguna, the red colour (for ferocity), thatva guna, the black (for negative force) and satva guna, the white (for purity). There are coloured stones such as blue, yellow and red stones available in the forests. To collect all these materials I went to Courtallam forests, Mookambiga Temple and other deep forest areas in Karanataka ," Vinoth shares his experiences. "The blue stones are quite expensive and I had to purchase them from Andhra market. I also purchased the `melacate' or green stones from the same market," says the painter. Vinoth is particular about the details of his paintings. "Even the eye measurement is very important. It has to be the same in all the paintings. More important is the painting should not get repeated." "I draw event by event and split them into six here, the Indira Sabha, Iravatham Sabha, building Mathurapuri, birth of Goddess Meenakshi, Tirukalyanam and Velliambalam."

Once completed, the `chithira mandapam' is likely to attract more viewers and promote tourism in a big way.

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