Kerala Mural Paintings – Are they Just “God” Paintings?
Murals are nothing but art paintings that are painted directly on any permanent surface, including walls and ceilings. In this style of painting, it is not just the stroke and colour, which has its significance. The mural also goes with the architectural characteristics of the place where it is made.
In Kerala, India, you will find many such Mural paintings that are a class-apart. Most of the mural art works in the temples and caves of Kerala date back to between 9th and 12th century A.D.
The mural paintings of Kerala fall into the category of Frescos. It is a technique artists use where they paint on a surface with freshly laid lime plaster. Once the lime plaster is set, the painting also becomes a part of the wall.
When it comes to the Kerala version of Mural painting, the artists use natural pigments and vegetable colours for giving life to the painting. There would always be a crowd of characters in these paintings. Temples, palaces and churches of Kerala are the most likely places to find mural paintings.
The mural paintings of Kerala, like most other traditional Indian paintings, depict Gods. While the story and life of Vishnu and his incarnations is a common theme for these mural paintings, you will also find other Gods like Shiva, Ganesh, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and many more as characters. It’s because of this reason that mural paintings are mostly found in the temples of Kerala. However, there are also instances where historical events like battle of Tippu Sultan with the British became subject of Kerala murals.
When it comes to colours, the mural artists of Kerala traditionally follow the ‘Panchavarna’ principle. Only five colors are used to produce a complete mural and the colors are red, white, yellow, green and black. Red and yellow colours are extracted from certain minerals whereas green color from the juice of a plant called ‘Eravikkara’. The soot of lamp becomes the black colour in the painting and the white colour you see in these paintings is the lime base. For blending these colours, a wooden bowl is used and tender coconut water along with neem tree exudes.
It takes six stages for a mural painting to complete. The mural is created in a systematic manner. The six stages are Lekhya Karma, Rekha Karma, Varna Karma, Vartana Karma, Lekha Karma and Dvika Karma.
The sketch for the whole painting is made in the first stage and the second stage is for enhancing these outlines. It is in the third stage of the painting where all the colors are filled, making it look alive. The fourth stage deals with shading and the fifth one deals with final outlines. The last stage is exclusively for giving the painting some finishing touches.
The brushes the artists use also have its characteristics. They use only three types of brush- flat, medium and fine. To make the flat brushes, hair behind the ear of calves is used. Medium brush is made from bottom of goat’s belly and fine brush from delicate grass.
With time, most of the traditions mural artists followed were lost. Artists began to use colors and brushes easily available in the market. Even the use of colors other than ‘Panchavarna’ has been noticed. Along with this, themes are also changing. However, there are some studies and research work going on at the School of Arts, Kalady, to revive the lost tradition of using natural colors and brush. The studies are showing results and the tradition is on the path of revival.
Have you seen any mural paintings? What is the one thing about mural paintings that you like the most? Share your thoughts and opinion with us in the comments.