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Traditional Mural Painting of Kerala Maria Tomy Panackal



Traditional Mural Painting of Kerala


Documented By Maria Tomy Panackal Guided By Girish PT Photographs by : Maria Tomy Panackal KSID Archieve Guruvayur Mural Painting Institute Kearala State Institute of Design Chandanathope 2018


PREFACE Kerala State Institute of Design (KSID) was found to create new designs to enhance the work of craft men and find new market to their products. It creates a vibrant design community in Kerala, India through synergistic partnership between artisan community, professional designers and general public. This project establishes an understanding and appreciation of India’s rich cultural heritage and vast vocabulary of craft techniques. This also evaluates the possibility of extending the traditional craft techniques to contemporary application. This is a documentation made on traditional mural painting of Kerala by visiting multiple work sites and directly interacting with craft persons. This study is limited by restricted entries in temples and time constraint. Authenticity of content can be questioned as data is collected by word. Everything is true to my knowledge and understanding.


KSID campus


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Research on mural painting was a door to a new world of colours and wonders. I landed into a world of travels and stories. Then I love to thank everyone who helped me to complete this document and shared their knowledge and experience. K U Krishna Kumar, Guruvayur Devaswom Institute of Mural Painting, Dileep Swastik, Swastik Mural Painting, Appukkuttan Aashaan, Vishnu Vikraman, Kerala Mural Painting, Panikkassery, Sasi, Indian school of arts, Ravipuram, Kannan and Shaju Thurathil, Sree Sankaracharya School of Sanskrit, Kaladi. Google maps helped me to plan my trips. I like to thank all who gave food and accomodation during my journey in search of this wonder. Especially, Sreelakshmi, her family, Mariya Vattakkattu, Elamma aunty, Chackochan uncle and my parents who trusted and supported me for my journey. I thank KSID for giving me this chance to explore and learn. I also like to thank Tinu, Noble and Sunish. Ultimately my dear God Jesus for protecting me.










Mural Painting 8



61 Craft persons


Understanding the Paintings

63 Influences and Changes

69 Challenges and Opportunities



71 To Learn More 9

Mural paiting in acrylic on Munnuttumangalam temple wall


INTRODUCTION Mural paintings are the paintings done on a walls. In murals, architectural elements influence the structure of painting. Kerala mural paintings are the frescos (frescos are painting which is done on newly prepared wall. this painting lasts for a long time as the wall absorbs the paints into it) depicting mythology and legends, which are drawn on the walls of temples and churches in Kerala. Tanjavur, Ajantha caves and traditional mural paintings in Kerala have some similarities in nature. Rajasthan is another state in India which is rich in mural paintings. Rajasthan paintings mainly portrays the life of kings and their stories. Here in Kerala it is all about Gods and legends. The process, style, materials used are different. It is adapted to available materials and climate. Most of the paintings in Kerala are painted between the 9th to 12th centuries, and 15th to 19th centuries CE. Ancient temples, churches and palaces in south India, carry mural paintings which shows kerala tradition. Only the kings and temples could afford this art. Good paintings require manpower and great artisan skill. It takes days to paint a single painting.

Kerala murals evolved from ritual Kalamezhuthu (painting done on floor during temple festivals which is related to gods or legends. This is made of natural substances and lasts only for one day). The materials used for work was made of natural minerals and plants. Basic colours of Kerala mural paiting are yellow, red, green, black and white. The oldest murals found in Kerala are in Thirunandikkara cave temple, now part of Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. The largest panel in Kerala is Gajendra Moksha at Krishnapuram Palace, Alappuzha. Today people refer to mural painting to any painting which is painted in style of old mural painting. It can be on canvas, paper, wall, clay or cloth. Even the medium has changed from natural colours to acrylic, watercolour or oil painting and brushes from natural to synthetic. They started to use more colours other than basic five colours of traditional painting.


Vadakkunnathan Temple in Kerala


KERALA Kerala is a state in southern India with Arabian sea shoreline. It is known as God’s own country. It is famous for coconut trees, traditional artforms, backwaters, spices and its beauty. Malayalam is the official language of Kerala. Kerala had ancient trade routes with Babylonians, Assyrians Egyptians, China, West Asia, Egypt Greece and Roman Empire. It was a spice exporter since 3000 BCE. In early 20th century, there were two major kingdoms Travancore State and Kingdom of Cochin. They united to form state Thiru-Kochi in 19549 and northern part of Kerala Malabar was merged into Kerala in 1956. The population of Kerala includes Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. According to Hindu mythology, the lands of Kerala were recovered from the sea by the axe-wielding warrior sage Parasurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu. The state lies between Western Ghats and Lakshadeep Sea. Kerala has a wet and maritime tropical climate influenced by the seasonal heavy rains of the southwest winter monsoon. Most of the biodiversity is concentrated and protected in Western Ghats. As of 2004, 25% of India’s 15000 plant species are in Kerala. Kerala produces 97% of the national output of black pepper and accounts for 85% of the natural rubber in the country. 80% of India’s export quality cashew kernels are prepared in Kollam. Traditional industries manufacturing items coir, handlooms and handicrafts employ around one million people. CULTURE

caparisoned elephants as part of the festivals. The temple idol is carried on top of this elephant. Elephant is the animal symbol of state. There is two elephants in Kerala’s logo. Onam is a harvest festival celebrated in Kerala. Keralites celebrates homecoming of King Mahabali during this festival. It is celebrated with Sadhya, flower carpet, Pulikali and traditional games. Another festival is Vishu. It is celebrated with Golden shower tree flower which is flower symbol of Kerala. Kerala has a long tradition in classical dances formed in temples. These include Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Koodiyattam, Thullal and Krishnanattam. Kathakali is dance symbol of state. Margamkali, Parichamuttukali, Chavittu Nadakom (Christians) Oppana, Duffumuttu (Muslims) are other dance forms of Kerala. State’s visual arts includes Kalamezhuthu, traditional mural and paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. Coconut trees and coconut products are integral part of life of Keralites. As they use many products made of coconut, mainly coconut oil to prepare food. Coconut tree is the tree symbol of Kerala. Kerala spices gives character to the cuisine of state. Rice is the dominant staple eaten at all times of day. Breakfast foods Puttu, Idli, Dosa, Appam, Idiyappam are made of rice. Lunch includes rice with curry. Rasam, Pulissery and Sambar are eaten with rice. Snacks are Banana chips, Tapioca chips, Unniyappam and Kuzhalappam. Jack fruit is the fruit symbol of state. Seafood includes Karimeen, prawns and shrimp. Geen chromide is the fish symbol of state.

Many temples and churches in Kerala hold festivals on specific days of the year. The most famous temple festival in Kerala is Thrissur Pooram with elephants, firework displays and huge crowds. Usually temple festival involve


An old natural colour mural painting of Saswathi Godess with book on Munnoottumangalam temple wall.


MURAL PAINTING Mural painting means paintings on wall. The natural colour paintings seen on the walls of temples and palces of Kerala in late centuries were known as Kerala mural paiting. But now this term is reffered any painting in the style of traditional kerala paintings. These paintings is fundamentally used to decorate. In some places, these paitings are also used instead idols to represent Gods. Mural painting is highly related to tradition, culture, rituals. Its roots lies in ritual Kalamezhuthu. Indian arts tries to represent “panjabhoothm�(five basic elements) air, sky, earth, water and fire. This can be viewed even in mural painting. Yellow for fire, red for earth, green for water, white for air and black stands for sky. 20,000 years of history lay behind Mural or Wall paintings around the world. It has the record of two to three thousand years of glorious existence in different parts of India starting from Rajastan. Kerala got its tradition started between 16th & 17th century A.D. The figuratorial decorational art show magnificent graceful walls of ancient temple, Sreekovils, Gopurams and old palaces.

The pictorial grace depicting God, Goddesses, Mythological stories, incarnation of Lord Vishnu and Siva so on. Using five natural colors (Panchavarna) like red, yellow, green, black & white(the wall itself if it is the same colour) taken from cut brick stone, yellow stone, copper sulphate, neelamari leaves, lamp black and neem glue as base for mixing. Most of the God forms have stylized body posters, facial expression and gestures like wide open eyes, elongated lips, neatly exaggerated eye brows, compared with classical theatre of Kerala. Apart from Hindu temple, a number of Christian churches have Mural Paintings with Christian iconographic features. But all these are of in different style color ethics. The Kerala traditional paintings are one of the most attractive and colorful among Mural Paintings through out the world.


Kalamezhuthu in temple


EVOLUTION Paintings of extraordinary beauty and variety were made for the many royal courts of India during a golden age that unfolded in the sixteenth century and lasted well into the British period. In India, two artistic traditions converged. The indigenous Rajput culture produced exuberant, vibrantly colored, boldly patterned illustrations of Hindu myths and epics. The entirely different art of the Islamic Mughal invaders, subtle and naturalistic, mainly presented elegant scenes of court life and history. From the cross-fertilization of these two traditions, a multiplicity of highly original painting styles blossomed and flourished. Mural painting style can be viewed even in the sculptures of Gods and Goddesses in temples. Those become the three dimensional depiction of Gods in paintings. The roots of Kerala mural painting can be traced back to Kalamezhuthu, the tradition of drawing pictures on the floor using colours. It starts by drawing swastik. Kalam pattu can be highly seen in Thrissur, Palakkadu districts of Kerala. There are two kinds of Kalams. Ayyappan kalam and Sastha kalam. Nilamezhuthu was done by Kuruppanmar. They use a cow dung floor for it. White, yellow, red, black and green coloured powders are used for this. Rice flour for white, turmeric powder for yellow, turmeric powder and lime mixture for red, “Vaka” leaf powder for green and ash is used for black. As it is big and drawn on floor, white powder is used to draw outline and starts other colours from centre and ends at edges. In Naga Kalams, Manchadi leaves are used instead of Vaka leaves. These two kinds of leaves remain green even if these are dried. After “Pooja” and songs, it is removed within hours. According to Saju Thurathil (faculty of painting at Sree Sankarachrya University of Sanskrit, Kalady) there are few paintings in kerala which is found to have influence of Mysore painting. Thulu Brahmins used to come here for Pooja. They bought some painters with them. During that time, north Malabar had good painters. Painters in central Kerala could be influenced by them. Whenever mural painting tradition of India refered to It is always expressed as a stream from Ajanta to Kerala. V C Balakrishnan, critic and writer stated that Thulunadu (Thiruvananthapuram/Thiruvithancore) artist could be the one who drew Ajantha paintings. Kesari Nalakrishnan Pilla states that Ajalan from Thavannoor has drawn paintings in 30rd cave. Ajanta Painting were done between the second century BC and the fifth or sixth cantury AD. Budha stories are painted in Ajanta caves. The influence of Ajanta was felt across the Indian sub-continent and beyond

along with the spread of Budhism. Budhan is believed to be elephant and lotus in previous births. Elephants and lotuses have great importance in these paintings. In Srilanka, we can find paintings with similar subjects. In India, especially in the southern regions Badami, Thanjavoor, Lepakshi, and Kerala are centers of mural tradition. But with varying styles. Very few documentary evidences are there about the architecture of Kerala and hence the mural painting tradition too. Historically the temple architecture tradition can be divided into three phases. Early 800-1000 AD Middle 1000-1300 AD and late 1300-1800 AD. During the later period, the temple architecture had elaborated decoration in the form of wood carving, and mural painting. Kerala had mural paintings from the 9th century AD. But the pictures are lost. Yet the remains of the paintings in Thirunanthikara in the southern parts of Kerala declare its existence even now. The later period of Kerala had a strong language of mural paintings from the sixteenth century AD onwards. The early phase of mural paintings can be seen in the temples in Thirunanthikara, Kanthalloor, and Padmanabhaswamy temple. The middle phase painting can be see in Mattanchery Palace, the Ramayana panel, Vadakkunatha temple, Thudikalam, Thiruvanchikulam, Elamkunnupuzha etc. The third phase paintings are there in Mattanchery palace, Padmanabhapuram palace, Kottakkal, Pundareekapuram, Guruvayoor and Panayannar Kavu. The pictures are painted mainly on the walls of santum sanctorum and gate tower of the temples. The interior rooms are the selected space for the wall painting in the palaces. The traditional style of paintings can be seen in temples and palaces. The themes of Gods and Godesses according to the prescribed “Dhyanasloka”s. Context is selected from mythologies. Different incarnations of Vishnu, various aspects of Shiva, and other Gods and Goddesses are commonly seen things. Dhyanashlokas are hymns describing the deities. It is a kind of iconographic prescription for mural painters of Kerala. These descriptional hymns dictate the colour, the weapons, the vehicle etc. of the Gods or Goddesses. The other major places having mural paintings in Kerala are churches with style as western. Themes, composition, colour scheme etc. are biblical. The paintings were done only in five colours. Such as yellow, red, green white and black. The process of preparation of wall is a very elaborate one. The human or God figures are stylised and decorated. The facial expressions and gestures are corresponding with the classical theatrical performance 17

Guruvayur temple


of Kerala such as Koodiyattan and Kathakali. The wide open eyes, elongated painted lips, exaggerated eyebrows, stylised body postures, gestures, over ornamentation etc. can be compared with the classical theatre of Kerala. As the patronage connected with feudelism became weak, and aversion to castism became stronger among the people, the old temple culture eroded in the 20th century. Raja Ravi Varma has popularised the Gods in people. He has started to portray Gods and Godesses like normal human beings rather than a figure described in dhyanashlokas. The movement which followed Raja Ravi Varma reduced the popularity of traditional mural paintings. Guruvayur temple caught fire in 1970. Srikovil was burned. Then people recognised the importance of mural painting. Temple looked for craftmen who can do this work. And they found Mammiyoor Krishnan Kutti Aashan nearby. He lived around 20 kilometers away from Guruvayur temple. Krishnan Kutti Aashan (east) Pattambi Krishnan Varrier (west), M K Srinivasan (north), K K Varrier (south) and their disciples painted the walls of Guruvayoor temple. Mammiyur Krishnan Kutti Nayar and Pattambi Krishna Varrier are disciples of Achuthan Nayar who learned painting from Raman Nayar. He lived in a period, it was difficult to live with painting. His teacher was Achuthan Nayar who was a student of Pulakkat Raman Nayar. Raman Nayar learned from Chinnambi Appu Pattar. Chinnambi Appu Pattar liked Mysore painting. He and his disciples has drawn in a style which includes Mysore and Thanjavur style. Those paintings can be seen in Panjaar temple.

batch and second batch had exam together. This was the result of case gone to high court. Their assignment was to draw within 20 hours. They took five days to complete this. At Guruvayur, seats are limited to 10. Girls started to come to painting class since last few years. Now students from institute spread mural painting across Kerala. First and second batch students now works as important artisians or teachers in most schools in Kerala. Aranmula and Guruvayur are government approved institutes others are private institutes. Mammiyoor Krishnan kutti aashan planned to come to Aarnmula and teach. But he passed away before that. Painters got influenced by modern painting. The effort in preparation of colour and wall was removed. People have to know the meaning of icons in mural painting to understand and enjoy it. But in church painting, there wasn’t any of those confusions. Those paintings were simple. Indraneela (Lapous lasooli) stone was used in church painting after 1500. This paint came from Afghanistan. It introduced the sixth colour in Kerala mural painting. Blue was made earlier from Kattaneela (Indigo plant juice). Another method is copper buried in sand and that sand is dug out and filtered to make copper sulphate. It is used to paint the walls.

Guruvayur dewaswom member Chandrakasan and Sasibhooshan was interested to save this mural painting tradition. Guruvayur mural painting institute started with the help of Mammiyoor Krishnan Kutti Aashaan. The primary aim to start institute was to protect paintings in Guruvayur temple and redraw paintings in 250 temples around Guruvayur. He is considered as the last teacher of that period, even though there were few others who knew the painting. Majority of mural painting artisians are disciples or disciples of his disciples. He made a landmark in history of mural painting in Kerala. He teached in institution at a time where mural painting was dying. He renewed it and saved this traditional painting. Institute started in 1989. Initially it was in Aanakkotta. Now it is near the Guruvayoor temple itself. Later mural painting got a large acceptance in society. Current institute is there since 2014. Girls may leave the course when they get married. First


Cleans the sand and lime.

Mixes sand and lime

Mixes it with water. Water contains jaggery, the juice of myrabulam, and the extract of sicius clocka called “oonjalvalli� in Malayalam.

Beats it to mix well


TECHNIQUES There is a long process for traditional way of mural painting. It strats from preparation of wall and followed by preparation of pigments, brush and execution of painting on wall. PREPARATION OF WALL

is grounded well. In earlier times leaves of “Puli mavu” was also used as gum with lime for walls in northern Kerala. The grounded Oonjalvalli is poured into mixture of sand and lime. This is kept aside for 10-15 days (Pulipikkal). Then it becomes thick. At the time of plastring the wall, this mixture is applied on the wall as the first stage of the process. The first plastering is little rough on which other layers added to make it smooth. For this, cotton is used along with sand, lime mixture. Sand and lime is in proportion of 2:1. It is ground well to make it very smooth. Cotton is used because, it absorbs the pigment when it is applied. It lso keeps the quality of colour. It is difficult to grind cotton. Moreover, it keeps the plastering from peeling off. When the first layer of plastering is dry, the second stage is done. The same mixture is grounded till it become like butter. The thickness of second stage of plastering is half a millimeter. It is smoothed. The wall is allowed to dry. This will have a light grey colour. The boiled “Kadukka” water is also poured into it. Lime and kadukka water/ oonjaal valli juice/jaggery water is mixed in ratio of 3:1 (it will create an addhesive character to it) and applied on wall brick or stone wall.

The preparation of wall for the traditional mural painting of Kerala is an elaborate process. It is done in three stages. Brick or stone wall is prepared first. If the wall has been completed earlier, the coating above bricks are removed first. The clean sand and lime mixed and kept wet about two weeks. The water used for the mixing the lime and sand contains jaggery, the juice of myrabulam, and the extract of sicius clocka called “oonjalvalli” in Malayalam. Onjalvalli stores a lot of water inside it. This is seen in woods as a swing with big leaves. It works as a glue when it

The third stage is a kind of wash on the smooth dry wall. Lime and tender coconut water is mixed well. It is taken in 1:3 Proportion. Later it is passed through cotton cloth to purify it. This is applied on the wall. Horizontally and vertically the brush is moved alternatively around thirty times to make the surface smooth. The thickness of this wash is that of a tamrind leaf. Then the surface will have a white colour. Once the wall is ready, the painting can be done. It takes weeks to prepare wall itself.


This mixture is kept wet for two weeks.

During plastering the wall, this mixture is applied as first stage.

Sand for next layer

Sand for next layer


Mixes sand and lime

Grinds sand and lime mixture

Cotton is added to make mixture smooth.

Ground well to make it smooth. Cotton absorbs the pigment when it is applied. And prevents plastering from peeling off.


Paste of sand, lime and cotton.

When the first layer of plastering is dried, second stage is done. Thickness of this is half a millimeter. Wall is allowed to dry.

Tender coconut and lime for third wash.

Tender coconut water.


Filters tender coconut water through cloth and this water is passed into lime.

Mixes tender coconut water and lime well.

Mixed lime and coconut water.

Brush is moved horizontally and vertically to make surface smooth. Thickness of this wash is that of a tamrin leaf.


Colours, Brush, gum and coconut water


PREPARATION OF PIGMENTS in stones. Water content is removed carefully. Water is passed through a cotton cloth. Paint is stored as small pallets. Kilograms of stones are taken to prepare one kilogram colour. Four people work for two days. This one kilogram of colour may cost 25000 rupess. Colours may have regional colour changes as the colour of stone and other natural substances changes from place to place.

Preparation of red pigment

There are only five colours in the traditional Kerala mural painting. Of the five colours, four pigments are made from nature. Yellow, red, green and black are prepared while white is the surface of wall itself. The colour is applied in the paintings in the sequence yellow, red, green and black. Blue can be seen as supplementary colour for green. Stones can be collected while creating wells or from rivers. It is largely collected from Sauparnika river at Mookambika, Kollur. Yellow (Kavi Manja) : Soft yellow stones are collected and washed well. The stone is ground so well that it is made smooth and soft paste. This is collected and decanted a number of times to remove the impurities. The pigment is extracted and dried in the shade. This is stored as small pallets. Colour is mixed with neem glue in water. Red (Kavi Chuvappu) : Red is prepared in the same manner as the yellow. The stone is ground well and made into a paste. It is filtered to remove the impurities

Green : The leaves are Indigo ferra called “Neeliyamari” in Malayalam are collected and ground. This has a greenish blue colour. It is decanted many times and dried in the shade. It is stored as small pallets. The gum used is “iravikkara” in the local dialect is mixed with the Indigo ferra extract to make it perfect green. The gum is mixed at the time of painting. Instead of indigo ferra, there is another formula for pigment green. Chienese blue is mixed with gum and green can be prepared. If yellow is applied on the layer of copper sulphte wash, green will come. Copper Sulphate : Copper sulphate solution is applied on the wall before green. Copper sulphate (Thurisu) is used to protect. Without copper sulphate, leaf juice will be absorbed into the lime and it won’t be that visible. Neem glue (Kara of Aaryaveppu): Neem glue is the adhesive added to the pigment, just before the painting. The ratio of glue and colour has to be taken care of. Otherwise, the paint won’t stick to the wall. Black (Karuppu) : Black is made by collecting the carbon soot from the Ginjali oil(Ellenna) lamp flame inside a terracotta vessel. Thick cotton wick is prepared for it. One litre of oil may provide black enough for a painting. If we use coconut oil, it may result in fading of black colour by time and end up with brown colour. The carbon soot deposited inside the vessel is crushed out and stored. Mixed with water, it can be used.


Soft yellow stones are collected and washed well. Grinds the stones.

Stone is ground well to make soft and smooth paste.

Removes impurities.

Pure pigment is extracted and dried in the shade.


Grinds red stones like yellow stones.

Ground well to make it smooth.

Red paste is prepared.

Red pigment is stored.


The leaves Indigo ferra (Neeliyamari) are collected.

Leaves are ground.

Leaves are made into paste.

Leaf paste is collected.


Pigment is purified.

Pours into vessel.

It is dried in shade.

Pigment mixed with water.


The gum “iravikkara� in the local dialect is mixed with the Indigo ferra extract to make it perfect green. The gum is mixed at the time of painting.

Chienese blue is mixed with gum and green can be prepared.

Copper sulphate solution is washed on walls before applying green. If yellow is applied on the layer of copper sulphte wash, green will come.

Neem glue is the adhesive added to the pigment, just before the painting.


Seasame oil lamp is used to prepare black. Thick cotton wick is prepared for it. One litre of oil may provide black enough for a painting.

Carbon soot from lamp flame is collected inside a terracotta vessel.

The carbon soot deposited inside the vessel is crushed out and stored. Mixed with water, it can be used.


Brush is made of arrow grass.

Grass is collected.


PREPARATION OF BRUSH For the traditional mural painting of Kerala, the brush is made of arrow grass (Eeyam pullu/Kora pullu). The grass is mostly found in less populated areas like near the lake or mud. It can be found outside kerala also. The soft arrow grass is collected and moisoned. This grass is collected at a particular age. Then it is boiled in cow milk. It has to be dried in shade. Sufficient tillers are collected carefully and held together. They are tied well to the bamboo stick, which is the handle of the brush. Bamboo is sliced and sanded to make brush. Bamboo is painted later. Kamukin thandu is also used in place of bamboo. Many brushes are made and stored for painting. These brushes become fine when it is wet. It provides smooth lines. When a brush becomes withered, it can be sharpened by cutting the end of brush using a knife or blade. Grass brush can be highly sharpened and pointed. To make bristles stay together, brush is dipped in paint and let to dry. Bristles will be back to original stage, when it is washed and dried. Natural brushes can be used only with colours in water medium. Even if they don’t wash the brush after painting, it won’t damage the brush. They can wash and use it at the time of next painting.


Grass is moistened.

Grass is tied together.

Cuts the extra grass at end.

Grass is tied well.


Bamboo stick is prepared.

Grass is attaches to bamboo stick.

Grass is tied to bamboo stick.

Many brushes are made and stored.


Pigment is kept in coconut shell. As it is easy to mix in it.

Adds water into it.

A paste is made.

Adds more water and mixes well.


EXECUTION OF A PAINTING There are two kinds of fresco painting, wet fresco and dry fresco. Wet fresco means, paint is applied just after wall is prepared and before wall is dried. Dry fresco is applied on dry walls. Kerala mural painting comes in dry fresco category. Paint is absorbed into surface very easily. Colours are mixed with gum from Aaryaveppu (neem). Paint is carried in coconut shell while painting. It is for the ease of mixing colour with glue and water. If earthen ware is used, clay may get mixed with colour. Paint is taken from an edge of colour, not from the centre of coconut shell. Neem has medicinal values. It also acts as a protection from insects. On the prepared wall, outline is drawn first using paint. For that, a kind of stone which has black colour is ground and mixed with water to make “kittalayani”. Brush is dipped in kittalayini and drawn to make brown outlines. These outlines can be removed just by tapping on the wall. Sketch is corrected by the application of yellow colour. The places where white and green comes are left blank and rest is drawn with yellow first. Yellow is light colour. When red is applied, yellow won’t be seen in painting. It is refined by red sketches. Later green colour is applied to draw characters, flowers and other designs. White is the surface of wall itself. Black is the last colour to be applied. Black outlines are speciality of kerala mural painting. The structure of epic narration is seen in the narration. The elaborate structure of composition corresponds with the

grand narrative organization of the epic detail. The flow of lines defines the beauty of painting. There is a tradition of “nombu nokkal” before the painting in temple. Artisians usually draw in sitting or standing position according to their comfort. The body proportions in traditional painting is fixed for every character. Mural painting is drawn in two dimension. There is no vanishing effect (perspective) in mural painting. Main character is drawn big. Others will be in front, back or sides. If five trees are painted, every tree will have same size and height. For hands, every fingers and nails has to be visible. Mural painting has the role to decorate the place also. “Pakshi mala” (bird chain), “mruga mala” (animal chain of lions or elephants), poo mala (flower chain of lotus), “bhootha mala” (dwarfs) and main portion of “chitra mala”(painting of subject) are used. Manimalas are used to seperate one scene from another. Dot shading, swatching, cross swatching are different painting techniques. Colours are applied multiple times to make it darker. It is done because colour gets absorbed into surface. Shading can be done in four ways. Those are dot shading, line shading, cross shading and spreading using bigger brush. If we uses, acrylic paint on canvas, the method is similar as it is in wall. Netronmalanam is the last process in mural paiting. This is drawing of eye, it is believed to give life to the painting.


If the painting of God is supposed to be worshipped by devotees, Poojari (priest) may come and place paint on eye using “Darbha� grass on the day of Pooja. Painter will complete it and later no alteration is made on painting. Mahavishnu is with chakram, Samku, gadha and padmam in hands. There is instructions on which paintings should be at a particular place. Vishnu temples will give importance to the paitings which is related to Vishnu and Shiva temple to Shiva stories. Dhakshina Moorthi will be on southern side of temple.

Grass brush is used to paint.


Pigment is ready to use.

Removes extra pigment from brush by touching on edge of coconut shell.

Yellow outlines are drawn.

Yellow is used wherever yellow colour is required.


Red is used next.

Green is used after red and finishes by black outlines.


Dot shading method (Aaranmula)


Shiva and Parvathy (Guruvayur)


UNDERSTANDING THE PAINTINGS There is limitations on paintings which can be placed at home. Paintings with idea of anger and war is not suitable for houses. Sringaram (Krishna and Radha), Athbhutam and Santham are the ones which is used at houses. Veeram (Shiva) has to be worshipped.There is specific directions assigned for paintings in temples. According to Markandeyan, there is nine Rasam (emotions) in painting. “Sringaram”, “Karunam”, “Hasyam”, “Veeram”, “Raudram”, “Bhayanakam”, “Bheevalsyam”, “Atbhutam” and “Santham”. Emotion of character can be read from the eye. For example those who are in fear or needy will have eyes in shape of lotus petal. Those who are in anger and pain will have eyes in shape of “Sangu”. Kunthalam (straight), dakshivartham (wavy), tharangam (curly), simhakesaram (spread), vardharam and jooda dasaram are different kinds of hairs. Eyes can be in shape of “Chapam” (bow), “Malysodaram” (fish), “Ambal dalam” (water lilly petal), “Thamara dalam” (lotus petal) and “Sangu” (conch). Each body part has assigned measurements for male and female. The basic structure of characters in the painting are the same. Characters has different colours assigned to them. It is based on their “Gunam” or “Bhavam” (quality). Gunam is fundamentally divided into three, Thamo gunam, Swathika gunam and Rajo gunam. “Thamo gunam” is represented with white colour. Kali and Shiva are associated with this.People with “Swathika gunam” would be calm and quite like Ganapathi and Muni. And it is represented in green colour. People with higher “Rajo gunam” will have anger and proud. This is associated with kings. And they are represented in red colour. Vishnu is

believed to have rajo gunam. Everyone is a mixture all these three gunams. It is just that one will be prominent in everyone. This prominent character is highlighted for the person. Temple paints the dedicated gods according to the description in “dhyanashlokas”. Dhyanashlokas are praises to God. It was intially written in Sanskrit and came to Malayalam. It descibes the weapons and number of hands of God. Weapons which are used to attack will be in right hand and those for protection will be on left hand. “mazhu”, sword and “shoolam” will be in right hand and shield will be on left hand. It also gives hints on where the god is situated, whether he is on seat or flower. This picture represents the God and temple. Kerala murals were simply based on these iconography. Similar sujects like Annapoorneswary, Krishnan and Vishnu can be found in different places in Kerala. But the style is different. Christian churches may have biblical stories like baptism of Christ. Painter takes more freedom in painting based on stories. Fishes, snakes, tortoises and lotuses are drawn to represent water body. In church paintings, characters might not have ornaments. But in temple paintings, characters are highly ornamented. Shiva is with “sarpa kundalam” (snake ring), Vishnu and every god with “vaishnavamsam” (element of Vishnu) with “makara kundalam” (Fish ring), Durga with normal kundalam and Bhadrakali might have “gaja kundalam” (elephant ring) or “simha kundalam” (lion ring). Vishnu with manja (yellow) pattu , Shiva with yellow and green pattu and Devi with yellow, green and red veerali pattu.



SUBJECTS Dwaraka palakar (gate keepers) are drawn on the two sides of entrance door. Vettasasthavu is a form of Shiva itself. He is largely portrayed with horse. He has gone for hunting and comes back with pig. He is illustrated on the south side of temple. The painting related to Shiva are portrayed on south side. Venugopalam portrays Krishna in “vrindhavanam” (garden) with Radha and other gopikas. He plays flute. Kiratha Arjuna tells the story when Shiva comes as a “Kattalan” and fights with Arjuna arguing who killed the pig. Arrows are drawn to show the fight. Vettakkorumakan is believed to be son of Shiva and Parvathi when he took the form of Kiratha to give weapon to Arjuna. He gets angry very easily. He is given sword in one hand and bow and arrow in other hand. Eventhough he has weapons with him, he can’t use those. KIRATHA AND ARJUNA Once upon a time, Arjuna prayed to Lord Shiva. Pleased with Arjuna’s devotion, Shiva and Parvathi set out from Kailash to meet Arjuna. Shiva disguised himself as Kiratha, a mountain tribal hunter. Just as Shiva appeared before Arjuna, he saw a wild boar – the demon Mookasura charging towards Arjuna. Shiva, as Kiratha, shot an arrow at the boar to protect Arjuna. At the same time, the expert Arjuna also shot an arrow at the boar and killed it. They argue over who shot first, and a battle ensues. Arjuna is unable to defeat Kiratha. The defeated Arjuna makes a Shiva Linga out of mud, prays to God and offers flowers to the Shiva Ling. When he turns to face the tribal hunter Kiratha, he sees the same flowers on Kiratha. Arjuna then realises that Kiratha is none other than Lord Shiva. Shiva and Parvathi then appear before Arjuna in their true form, and bless him. Shiva also gifts Arjuna with the divine arrow Pasupathastram.

left : Vettakkorumakan (Munnoottumangalam temple)



GAJENDRA MOKSHAM Gajendra Moksham is an important part in Bhagavatham. There was an elephant named Gajendra who lived in a garden which was created by Varuna. This garden was located on Mount Trikuta, the “Three-Peaked Mountain.” Gajendra ruled over all the other elephants in the herd. On a hot day, he proceeded with his herd to a lake to cool off in its fresh waters. Suddenly, a crocodile living in the lake attacked Gajendra and caught him by the leg. Gajendra tried for a long time to escape from the crocodile’s clutches. All his family members, relatives and friends gathered around to help him, but in vain. The crocodile simply would not let go. When they realised that ‘death’ had come close to Gajendra, they left him alone. He trumpeted in pain and helplessness until he was hoarse. As the struggle was seemingly endless (it is believed that the crocodile held Gajendra’s foot for over a thousand years), and when he had spent his last drop of energy, Gajendra called to the god Vishnu to save him, holding a lotus up in the air as an offering. Hearing his devotee’s call and prayer, Vishnu rushed to the scene. As Gajendra sighted the god coming, he lifted a lotus with his trunk. Seeing this, Vishnu was pleased and with his Sudharshana Chakra, he decapitated the crocodile. Gajendra prostrated himself before the god. Vishnu informed Gajendra that he, in one of his previous births, had been the celebrated King Indradyumna, a devotee of Vishnu, but due to his disrespect to the great Sage Agastya, he had been cursed to be reborn as an elephant. Because Indradyumna had been devoted to Vishnu, the god had him born as Gajendra and made him realize that there is something called Kaivalya which is beyond Svarga and Urdhva Loka, the realm of the gods. Indradyumna could attain Moksha finally when he (as Gajendra) left all his pride and doubt and totally surrendered himself to Vishnu. The prayer made by Gajendra on this occasion became a famous hymn in praise of Vishnu called the Gajendra Stuti.

left : Painting of Gajendra moksha (Krishnapuram Palace).



LIBERATION OF KUBERA’S SONS FROM CURSE Sri Krishna liberated from two Arjuna trees, the two sons of Kubera who, in their previous lives, had been turned into trees, by Narada’s curse. This is their story: Once it so happened that these two brothers named Nalakubera and Manigreeva were so enamored of their wives that they did not notice the arrival of the great sage Narada. Insulted by this behavior, Narada cursed them thus: “You shall remain as two trees in Gokula forever.” Hearing this, the wives of Nalakubera and Manigreeva fell at the sage’s feet and asked him to forgive their husbands and take back his curse. Narada relented and said, ”A curse once given cannot be retracted. It can only be modified or lessened. Your husbands will be released by Lord Vishnu himself when he incarnates as Krishna.” Krishna was dragging the wooden-mortar to which he had been tied by his mother Yashodha. As he passed between the trees, the mortar stuck in between. With a mighty heave, little Krishna pulled it forward; the force of the pull uprooted the trees and they crashed to the ground. Two heavenly beings in resplendent clothes appeared as if from the trees and paid their respects to Lord Krishna. Seeking his permission they returned to their heavenly abode. Thus were Kubera’s sons released from Narada’s curse. Hearing the loud crash of the trees, everyone rushed to the site. Nanda Maharaja untied the knots to free his child and picked him up with great relief and affection. He was glad that the falling trees had not hurt his baby and he liberally gave in charity to the needful, as his thanksgiving.

left: Krishna with Radha and friends



ANANTHASHAYANAM Ananthashayanam has a special importance in hindu tradition. This painting portrays Vishnu lyning in centre. His head lies on the lap of Lekshmi Devi and his feet is on “Bhoomi Devi” (Goddess Earth). Bhoomi Devi is in green colour and Lekshmi Devi in yellow colour. Naradan is in white colour. There are eight persons representing “Ashtayudhangal” (eight weapons). Vishnu’s vishwaroopam has eight hands. These are the weapons in his eight hands. Weapons are drwn on the head of these persons. Bow, arrow, sword, shield, conch and wheel (Sudarshanachakram) padmam (flower) and mace are the eight weapons. Brahmav is situated on lotus which comes from Vishnu’s navel. The one with eyes all over his body is Indran. Maharshis are part of the scene. Shiva linga is on bottom, left side. Vishnu is portrayed as he worships Shiva with flowers. Sometimes, Shiva is drawn instead of Shiva linga. Then Shiva would be in worshipping position with his palms folded together. Then there would be a situation like Vishnu and Shiva worship each other. Santhanagopalam story is portrayed in bottom. Story goes like this. A brahmin couple prays to Vishnu for children as they didn’t have children. Children dies just after the birth. Whenever a child dies, they used to go to Arjun and tell him about this. Arjun is portrayed in green colour. For tenth child, Arjun gave word that let us wait for this child also, If this tenth child dies, he will commit suicide. He was sure that nothing will happen to this child. Tenth child also died. Arjun prepared to immolate himself by jumping into fire. Krishna sees this and takes him to Vaikundam. Krishna is commonly portrayed in blue colour. When they reach Vaikundam, they see these children playing there. It shows that they haven’t gone anywhere. They are with Vishnu only. So, Arjun takes back his decision. Santhanagopalam Kathakali and Krishnanaattam are based on this story. Vishnu’s vehicle Garudan is also present in painting. Sun and moon are drawn on two ends to show that whole universe in here. Ettumanoor temple has Ananthashayanam illustrated on its gopuram. That includes so many other characters also. Ananthan, the snake on which Vishnu lies has five heads. Snake lies in a folded position.

left : Ananthashayanam



PRATHOSHANRITHAM Nataraja, cosmic dance of lord Shiva. According to mythology, Shiva is considered as the great Shiva who is the God of ultimate wisdom. Ignorance is personified as the demon Apasamara, who is subjugated by the lord Shiva by dancing upon him. He is the stage or Shiva. He holds a snake on his hands. Nataraja’s sculptures are seen in different styles cross India. Unlike many of the four arm sculptures in the painting, Nataraja dance of Shiva in the traditional mural paintings of Kerala has sixteen arms. Different weapons attributed to each arm. Deer, garland, bell, stringed musical instument Veena, vassel, skull, spear, rope, axe, fire, hand drum, rosary, flagpost, hook, hand gesture of boon and hand gesture of protection are attributed to each arm. The concept of Prathokshanritham is that lord Shiva danced and showed his dancing form to the gods on the thirteenth lunar evening twilight. All gods attended the franctic and violent dance of Shiva and some of them even joined him as a company instrument players. In painting, Bhadrakali, Parvathi and Ganesh are present. Vishnu is with “Mizhavu”, Brahmavu is with “Ilathaalam”, Indran with “Odakuzhal”. Thrimoolam asura is beside with three heads, three hands , three legs and one body (part of Shiva’s Bhoothaganam). Heavy lines around Shiva is “jada”(hair). Bbootham, snakes and flowers are present in jada. This constitutes a circle, which represents world. Ettumanoor temple has Prathoshanritham. Except Shiva and Apasmara asura, other characters are outside the circle.

left : Prathoshanritham



LOCATIONS The masterpieces of Kerala mural art include the Shiva Temple in Ettumanoor, the Ramayana murals of Mattancherry Palace and Vadakkumnatha kshetram. The “Gajendra Moksham� mural painting in the Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam, the Anantha Shayanam mural painting in the Pallikurup Mahavishnu Temple, Mannarkkad Palakkad District and the mural paintings in the sanctom of Padmanabha temple at Thiruvananthapuram are very famous. Some of the oldest, largest, and best executed murals in Kerala are also found in the churches at Cheppad, Alappuzha. The murals of Thirunadhikkara Cave Temple and Tiruvanchikulam are considered the oldest relics of Kerala’s own style of murals. Fine mural paintings are depicted in temples at Trikodithanam, Ettumanur, Vaikom, Pundarikapuram, Udayanapuram, Triprangode, Guruvayoor, Kumaranalloor, Aymanam, the Vadakkunathan temple in Trichur, the Thodeekkalam temple in Kannur and the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram. Other mural sites are churches at Ollur, Chalakkudy, Angamaly, Akapparambu, Kanjoor, Paliekkara, Edappally, Vechur, Cheppad and Mulanthuruthy, palaces such as the Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam and the Padmanabhapuram Palace. The traditional style mural art form, using natural pigments and vegetable colours, is being revived by a new genre of artists actively involved in researching and teaching mural art at the Sree Sankara Sanskrit College in Kalady and also at a mural art school associated with the Guruvayoor temple. There are paintings on the walls of Guruvayur temple. Bhoothamala is painted on the top of Guruvayur temple. Bhoothamala is a chain of human figures. it includes birth to death. Krishnapuram Palace has the biggest mural painting in Kerala. They tried to restore the painting. But they could not do it properly. We can see the second drawings clearly on the painting. They ended up in changing the colour of elephant from blue to brown. It was drawn during the reign of Dharmaraja (after Marthanda Varma), in 1762. It was painted for the king to pray. It is believed that this painting was done by an artisan from Thanjavoor, Naarayanapattu. left : Padmanabhapuram Palace



It was painted using natural colours at that time. Guide at palace said that ten coatings of each colour was given and dot painting technique was used. Pine tree glue was mixed with coconut oil to make and this was brushed over the painting for protection. Krishna is present as Krshna, Vishnu, Navaneetha Krishnan (Krishna with butter). Legs spread to both sides. Munnoottumanglalam temple, Niranam - here they painted over temple walls using acrylic paint. Earlier painting was done using natural colours. Dhakshina moorthi and Vishnu are worshipped here (two Prathishtas). This temple has four doors and “Dhwarapalakar” (gate keepers) were drawn on four side. Vettashasthavu, Venugopalam, Poothanamoksham, Vettakkorumaka, Mohini, Rama and Seeta, Nalakubera and manigreeva moksham by krishna and Kiratha Arjuna, Arthanaareeswaran, Lekshmi, Parvathi, Kinnaripakshikal(a small bird), Prathoshanritam paintings were drawn by different persons. It can be recognised by the style, design,face and proportions used. There are another two paintings of Annapoorneswari and Balamuralikrishnan (child krisha playing flute). These are highly destroyed because earlier, roofs used to leak. And the palace wasn’t protected for a long time. Aarnmula Gallery has a collection of paintings in natural colour. One painting may cost around 18,000. They make changes in the painting according to need. They have even provided a painting of last supper to Vatican. They even teach painting here. Students practice with acrylic colours. They paint a variety of subjects from Gandhi to crucified Jesus. This is open to everyone. Anyone can come and see the exhibited paints and brush used for painting. Aaranmula vasthu vidya gurukulam started in 1993 november. In 1995 April, first batch started. It may take around one month in average to complete one painting on canvas. It takes ten years for a staff to get permanent post here. At Aaranmula, they sell painting at rate of 3000 rupees per square feet. It was fixed 20 years ago. Here acrylic paintings may cost more. They mainly use dot shading method. Stones are collected from Mookambika, selected from forest. When stones are removed by human or natural interventions, they go in jeep and collect it. It can be found near forest river also. When artisians draw real human figures, which is familiar to general people like Gandhi, they draw face as actual replicas and draw the surrounding in mural style. Otherwise people will find it difficult to associate the image with person. Aranmula and Guruvayur institutes tried to give publicity to the concept “There should be a mural painting for a house”. left : Krishnapuram Palace



Indian school of arts is run by son of K K Varrior. K K Varrior learned painting from Thalassery. He lives in Guruvayur. Indian school of arts use acrylic and water colours to paint. Natural colour is used only when there is an order for it. water colour is used as the first learning tool for students. They explore painting in different subjects also like Kathakali and other stories. The sketching process is different here. Whole face is drawn at last.

left : Mattanchery Palace


K U Krishnakumar, Guruvayur

Vishnu Vikraman


Painter at Aaranmula

Hariharan Swastik and Dileep Swastik

CRAFT PERSONS Mammiyoor Krishnan Kutti Aashaan taught two batches of studets in guruvayur and died one month before the completion of course of the second batch. Appukkuttan Aashan is a student of Mammiyoor aashan. He came to learn painting after his tenth standard. He learned painting and taught in school for some time. He left teaching and went to Bombay and learned painting from there. As he came back, the fire caught Guruvayur temple. He got interested in mural painting. He studied at Guruvayur Institute. He follows the traditional methods and style of painting. He teaches painting also. His students include school students to teachers and engineers. He works for exhibitions also. He makes and uses natural colours for his paintings. He works in water colour and acrylic colour also according to customer requirement. But most of his works are in natural colours using natural brushes. He has drawn a large painting of “Last Supper” in mural style with natural colour on canvas. It may cost around two lakhs. He provide natural brush for 50 rupees. He takes help of others to prepare bamboo stick and collect grass. He even provides natural colours to others. He uses yellow and red prepared from stones. He has painted a Prathoshanritham which took 6 months to paint on canvas with acrlyic paint. It may cost around three lakhs. He uses yellow, red, green, blue and black colour to paint. He uses blue colour from “Kattaneela” (Chienese blue). Chinese blue is mixed with iravikkara to make green. Neelamari leaves are used to make green. Hariharan Swastik and Dileep Swastik are the force behind “Swastik Mural Paintings”. The two artists applies a different way in mural paiting. This is to match with

Mammiyoor Aashaan



current market trends and customer needs. Dileep and Hariharan studied from Institute of Mural Painting, Guruvayur Devaswom, Kerala. Vishnu Vikraman is influenced by other paiting styles and traditions. His execution is different from traditional method. Yellow and red stones are brought from Mookambika in Karnataka. He uses copper sulphate alone to produce blue colour. He uses natural colours from Thailand. That gives a different flavour altogether to his painting. It includes a brighter yellow. Blue may come from Arab countries. He also experiments with gold and Red oxide (chenkkal). He does not consider the traditional connotations of colours for character.


Mural painting on portable form at Guruvayur.


INFLUENCES AND CHANGES The Kerala mural painting could not break the barrier of the stereotype figuration or composition. Recently, a number of secular walls has been commissioned by the people, and so the themes became diverse and style became progressive. Now there are a number of progreesive ways of painting such as paintings on the portable boards or canvases. This made the style popular as a genre beyond its existence as mural painting. Earlier, paintings were based on Dhyanashlokas only. To enjoy Mural painting, there should be a basic knowledge about the paintings, symbols and signs used in it. Viewer has to know the story and characters in the painting to enjoy it. We can recognise the character through the dress, ornaments and weapons they have. These days, there is a tremendous change as they paint according to a context or different stories. People even have started to mix fine arts into mural painting style. Its indigenous nature gets fade. Changes happenes according to the need of time period and interest of artisan. After Ravi Varma, there was an endangered period for mural painting. During that period, there was a trend to draw Gods and Goddesses with human features rather than representing them ina an “out of world” manner. It made people feel that Gods are one among them or someone like them. Beauty was given a great importance. It possessed a realistic style. People went after this trend. To match with this trend, few artisians started to paint in real anatomy. New Guruvayur paintings on temple walls have this influence on it. This style variation is clearly visible. Artisians like Dileep Swastik has established their own style to match the new trends. They use various colours and different line styles. These days, artisians even takes printout of original paintings and draw above it to reduce the work when a customer askes for the replica of the same painting. In olden times, painting were filled with figures or patterns. But now they leave space in between so that people can have a better understanding of painting and they can enjoy its beauty. Earlier, the main story is illustated in the centre and other characters will be placed around it. Main charater will be larger in size. Size of characters reduces according to their role in the story. It was difficult to follow the story as multiple stories or scenes were drawn in a single painting. These days, people have started to draw Gods or Goddesses alone and draw a single story or scene

in a painting and tries to avoid confusion and enhance the experience of viewer. We can find few interesting similarities between children’s paintings and traditional mural paintings. Both draws human beings in same size irrespective of perspective. Few kids draw main characters bigger in size and all other characters will have the same face and only the ornamentations change. Techniques vary according to the availability of materials. Squirrel brush, brush made of hair near to ear of calf were used. Earlier natural colours were limited for painters. Today, in place of wall, they use plywoods and make an emulsion coating on it. And paints using acrylic paints. There is also an influence of Tanga paintings in Kerala murals. Earlier Water lilly, leaves and fishes were drawn to portray water. Now they use curly lines and shading to show water or clouds. This element is taken from Tibetan Tanga painting. This happened around 2010. Prathoshanritham is traditionally drawn in circle. Few have experimented it in rectangular framework also. Earlier the art used to highlight the stories of kings and leaders. By 14-15th AD, Bhakti movement came to Malayalam literature. Akananoor, Pukananoor literary works describe people in administrative position. After 10th c., people started to loose the trust in them. Gods were descibed as those who punishes or destroys the one who does wrong deeds. Faith in Gods reflected in art and literature. Earlier mural painting was used to decorate temple walls and palaces. Only they could afford the paintings as it is long and expensive process. But now people use these paintings to decorate their homes, workspace and to worship. This can be seen anywhere. Same style is used to draw even non religious or non-hindu subjects and characters. Artisians mainly paints according to the order or to display in exhibitions and sell later. Most of the times the artisan cannot afford his own paintings as it costs lakhs sometimes. Natural colour apperas dull just after the painting. But its colour and beauty increases as time passes. The bright painting would be the older ones. In case of acrylic paints, colour dulls as time passes. Natural colour won’t fade. Students practice with water colour or acrylic colour. As 65


they can not afford to practice with natural colours. They even experiment mural style with other colours and tries to give another feel for it. They mix individual styles to the paintings. Even if people use natural fibers for painting, they use sticks of market brushes instead of bamboo sticks to reduce the effort. These days, blue is also considered as basic colour in painting by some artisians. In earlier times, artisans used to come and stay with their family in work area. After completion of one work, they used to go to other temple or palace. These days, temple paintings are done by sponsorships or “Vazhipadu� (offering). When it comes to portable boards, lime and coconut water mix is applied around fourty one times. If pure white is acheived earlier, artist stops the washing process. Paintings are done in asbesto sheets for ease of transport. It was tried by Mammiyoor Aashan in 1990s. Painters tries to bring their own style to painting to be different from others and to get recognised.

left : Mural painting on social issues at Aranmula.


New muralpainting with blue curlings which is an influence of Tanga paintings (Guruvayur temple wall painting)



Christian figures in mural painting style at Aaranmula.


Coconut shells are still used to carry pigments while painting (scene from Guruvayur).

Acrylic paints used for mural painting.


Real person painted in mural painting style at Aaranmula.


Experiments in mural painting style at Guruvayur.


Natual colours imported from outside Kerala are also used for mural painting.


Painting of Vishu for a poojamuri using natural collours from inside and outside Kerala by Vishnu Vikraman.


Application of mural paiting style on a flower pot.


CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES Protection of old paintings is the most difficult thing to do. Those people who do not know its value and importance do not take care of this. Sometimes people draw, write or carve on the paintings. Cleaning process may destroy the painting itself. Use of oil lamps and exposure to rain, sun, dust and insects are issues. Reconstruction and maintenance of these walls has to be done with care. Earlier, pine glue and Nallenna (seasame oil) was used to varnish the painting for protection. We can’t make changes to the painting if any damage has happened to it. Water colour will not stick on varnishing. Smoke, dust, spider web, overpainting bysynthetic paints, varnshing mistakes made while preparing the wall, non scientific preparation of lime, use of bad coconut water, mistake in calculation of glue, application of sandal paste or kumkumam, touch with oil, draw over paintings, scratch, bats spiders and other insect’s attacks, growth of small plants, white washing, painting, continuous flow of water, fire, moisture, salt wind if it is near to sea etc. may destroy paintings. Archeology department advices not to use natural colour while restoring a painting. It should be done using acrylic or water colour. If one day, archeology department wants to study the old painting, they can remove it by acid wash (for acrylic paint) and natural colour will remain the same. But using oil painting creates problem as it is difficult to remove for next restoration process. Usually acrylic is appied on required places only, not on the whole painting. If we repaint the whole picture, its essence will be lost. Then the painting will have the style of new artisian not of the old one. The parts of paintings which came out of wall is supported by lime and cotton mix. Those sepertad from wall is stick to wall by injecting fevicol into it. Fevicol and cotton is applied on cracks. Then it is coated by a chemical to protect it. Dust and spider web has to be removed carefully using cotton or cloth. It is difficult to protect them from smoke. Even if water and soap is used, it might not get cleaned well as somke goes into the paintings. Cracks can be filled. But if the painting cames out of wall, nothing can be done except redraw the painting once again. If the problem is

with paints, that part has to be cleaned and painted again. For slight issues like those made by waterflow can be retouched and maintained well by expert painters. If the glue content is more than required, paint will be detached from wall later. If the glue element is less, painting will be erased as one rubs on it. Experience is required for it. Even during the purification process of painting, it requires an experienced person to recognise the pure colour. Otherwise, it may affect the life of painting. When an old temple is reconstructed or when it is destroyed, it is difficult to preserve the paintings on walls. There is a technique used to take the painting out and preserve it. There is a huge collection of such paintings. This technique started from 1985 in Guruvayur. Ananthashayanam at gopuram of Ettumaanoor temple was painted in 1756. It was restored 70 years ago using oil paint according to trend at that time. In 1967 Shiva and “Ahoramoorthi” was restored by Saju Thurathil as archeology department involved in it It took one year to restore one painting. Correct way is to use water colour to restore so that it can be removed easily at any time in future. If acrylic colour is used, acid wash remover is applied to remove paint. Natural colour won’t go as it is absorbed into the wall. Acrylic paint will remain as a coating on the wall. Remover is used to erase the splitted colour drops and writings by visitors. The cost of painting depends on materials used, (natural colours / water colours / acrylic paints) theme or subject, detailing and the size of painting. If a painting costs 15000 rupees, print of it may cost one third of it. Four paintings of 6*7 feet costed 430,000 rupees. It took two months for a team to complete those paintings. At Aranmula they provide natural coloured painting for 3000 per square feet, according to rate fixed 10 years ago when institute was started. Traditional mural paitings can be used in films and advertisements to show our cuture and rich heritage. Application of mural painting designs has got extended to textiles, furniture, pot paiting, decorations and interior designs.



To Learn More Chitralakshanam Chitrasuthram Chumar Chithrakala Aaranmula)




K K Warrior, Keraliya chumar chitra sambradhayam M G Sasibhooshan, Keralathile Chumar Chitrangal / Kerala Mural Painting M G Sasibhushan, Keraliyarude Devathasankalpam


Traditional Mural Painting of Kerala

Maria Panackal


Mural paintings are part of Kerala culture and tradition. Hindu purana stories were the subjects of traditonal mural paintings. This book covers a study on it from its evolution to current paining styles and its applications.

Traditional Mural Painting of Kerala  
Traditional Mural Painting of Kerala