Artist B.D. Dethan’s portraits of the recipients of the Valayar Award will find a permanent place at the Vayalar Memorial Complex in Alappuzha. The portraits will be on display at VJT Hall from June 2 to 5

Thirty-six years and still going strong would be the apt way to describe the Vayalar Award. The list of the litterateurs honoured by the award form a veritable pantheon of Malayalam literature. Taking this to a new trajectory is the setting up a cultural museum in Vayalar, Alappuzha, to house the works of the poet as well as a gallery, which will display the portraits of the recipients of the prestigious award and their works. Before the formal opening of the hall of fame in the Vayalar Memorial Complex, ‘Indradhanush’, an exhibition of the portraits of the 36 awardees, will be held at VJT Hall in the city, from June 2 to 5.

Artist B. D. Dethan is someone who has been closely associated with the Vayalar Rama Varma Memorial Trust since its inception, but this time, he had on his hands, the responsibility of completing the portraits of the awardees. “I took nine months to complete the portraits. Each one of the awardees has carved a niche in public memory, therefore, the major task was getting a portrait which was close to the person, not just in appearance, but one which reflected the personality itself.”

In his studio, taking each frame, he starts describing the journey with each work. “The major exercise was finding the right picture to use as the guide for the portrait. It was tough locating an appropriate picture of Lalithambika Antharajam, who was the very first one to receive the award. Even for a person like M.V. Devan, who is so much a part of our present cultural milieu, I had to search high and low to get the right photograph,” says Dethan.

It was a daunting task doing 38 portraits (including one each of Vayalar Rama Varma and his mother Ambalika Tampurati). The line-up of portraits take us through the distinctive expressions – the dignified matriarch Lalithambika Antharajam, the pensive poetess Sugatha Kumari, a smile lighting up Thakazhi’s visage, the brook-no-nonsense-directness of S. Guptan Nair and poet Vishnu Narayanan Namboothiri, the inimitable Ayyappa Panicker and O. V. Vijayan, to mention just a few. Rather than displaying these portraits for formally paying obeisance to the masters of the written word, these works of art acquire a permanent space in the museum near the Raghava Paramba Kovilakam, Valayar’s home.

The complex will house not just these portraits, but the complete works of the writers and all relevant information associated with them.

As a fitting tribute to the role played by Vayalar’s songs in the agitations against inequities and the large number of his films song that we still hold dear, a space has been set aside in the museum for visitors to sit and listen to the songs at leisure.

Thus, for a Malayali, a visit to this museum of portraits would be a conducted tour through precious moments of political history, literature and music.