The calligraphy works done by artist Parameshwar Raju are inspired by mythology

Blood red lines, thick and thin, short and long, merge and separate on creamy canvases. There is little space left on the walls of Nanappa Art Gallery, as 91 of these canvases have claimed their places on it. Some of them have just a few intersecting curves and lines. Some others appear as a mere bunch of squiggles at first. But as Poosapati Parameshwar Raju, the artist, describes, forms and contours begin to appear--Ganesha with his mouse, Krishna with Radha and Buddha under the peepal tree.

Calligraphy, Raju says, may appear easy but is an extremely complicated and time-consuming art. The artist, who has been doing calligraphy for the last 30 years, is exhibiting his works for the first time in Kochi.

Beauty of calligraphy

An applied artist by profession, Raju was drawn to the simplistic beauty of calligraphy. He learnt the ancient art form from the Government School of Art, Aurangabad, where he completed his BFA in Applied Arts. Though he started off experimenting with the Devnagiri script, Raju practised and perfected his art, creating a style of his own. However, it was only in 2006 that he held the first ever public exhibition of his works. Blending his interest in Indian scriptures and mythology with calligraphy, what emerged was a fascinating body of work.

The form of the Ganesha is a recurring motif and most of the paintings on display feature the Ganesha. His more recent works include the Krishna and the sun series. Raju says the scriptures provide him the rich tapestry of images to draw from.

Koeli Mukherjee, who has been curating his works since 2006, says Raju’s oeuvre is legendary as calligraphy and iconography are not too common in India. “His iconographic interpretations of temples, rituals, customs and folklore are simple narrations of complex themes,” she says.

A few paintings at the show are from Raju’s Tree series. Inspired by his visit to Billigiri Ranganna Betta in Karnataka, Raju brought out an exquisite collection of paintings on the tree—different kinds of trees, with and without leaves, gnarled and straight, thick and weak.

The most recent of his works is the Ramayana. The series of 34 paintings tells the entire story in a simplified manner. “I combined the North Indian and South Indian versions of the Ramayana and keeping the Tulsi Ramayana as the base, did this,” he says. Scene by scene, the epic unfurls. The scene in which Hanuman sits atop his tail throne opposite the mighty Ravana and another in which he sets Lanka aflame, are particularly alive and the lines seem to leap out of the frame.

Calligraphy is also an expensive preoccupation, Raju says. The pens, paper and inks he uses are all imported. “Also, one needs a lot of patience to figure out the grid on which to work,” he adds.

He uses the temple grid, which gives the works the balance and proportion.

Different nibs

The nibs used for calligraphy are different, Raju explains, drawing out a box full of calligraphy pens. The right-slant nibs are used for Indian languages and left-slant for Urdu and English. “Getting used to a nib takes time, too. It takes about a week or two to get acquainted with a new nib,” he says.

Raju is currently planning separate series on Jesus and the Buddha. “I have already conceptualised the works on Jesus. I am also reading the Bible so that I don’t go wrong while representi ng scenes from it,” he says.

Though all his works contain the image of God, Raju says he works like a craftsman. “When I am drawing an image of a God or a Goddess or any such sacred symbol, I don’t see it as God, but just as a character in a story. I work like a sculptor who just makes the idol,” he says.Raju’s works were exhibited at the Beijing Biennale in 2012. The exhibition, titled ‘Lore of Belief’ will be on at the Nanappa Art Gallery till January 13.