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Updated: December 2, 2011 20:06 IST

Reviving ancient art

RATNIKA SHARMA
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A NEW DIMENSION Veena Srinivas has brought a 3D mural form onto canvas Photo: R. Eswarraj
A NEW DIMENSION Veena Srinivas has brought a 3D mural form onto canvas Photo: R. Eswarraj

Kavi Kale is an elaborate form of wall mural etching and painting that is largely ignored in the Dakshina Kannada region. But artist Veena Sreenivas is trying to revitalise the art, although she's experimenting with the more modern canvas

Kavi Kale, an art form originating in Goa from the Saraswath Brahmin community is a dying art now. There are artisans but no demand for these monochromatic wall murals anymore. Veena Srinivas, a renowned artist from Mangalore comes to the rescue and endeavours to revive this almost extinct art form by reproducing it on canvas. She tells the tale of her artistic journey and how she chanced upon this ancient technique, along with some insight provided by Mukund Prabhu, eminent historian. She specialises in oil and figurative painting and runs classes for students. She specially likes to teach women, because then they will teach their children!

What is Kavi Kale?

Started by the Goan Saraswath Brahmins, it spread along the Konkan coast of Dakshin Kannada when they fled from Goa around 16{+t}{+h} century and settled in this region. This art form was depicted in the form of murals on the walls of temples with mythological and historical themes. It is a reddish brown, three dimensional mural against a sandblasted background with minute details of costumes, ornaments and decorations.

How is it made?

In the ancient technique, the artists used to collect seashells, burn it and add washed sand from the riverbed. This white colour mixture is allowed to ferment for two weeks. After that it is hand pounded to get a homogenous mixture and applied on the wall. Then lime is mixed with the Kavi colour also known as “ura manju” in Kannada, which is a mixture of maroon or Indian red-coloured earth pigments and natural binding material, and applied on the white base. Then the figures are etched with a pointed instrument, while the base is still wet. This allows correction of any mistake while drawing. Etching the red base reveals the white background which is the most striking feature of the art form. After the drawing is done it must be kept for a day and should be watered every four hours before polishing with a smooth pebble to prevent it from cracking. This should be done for a week before the mural is finally ready. This art form is monochromatic because it had to withstand the torrential rains in this region, and the humid weather.

Where is this art form found today?

According to the book given to me by Mukund Prabhu, these murals are found in the temples of Ankola, Hanumatte, Batkala, Gokarna, Shirali, Honnavara, Kumta, Mangalore, Kavali, and nearby places. Sadananda Kamath is the only person who has done extensive research on Kavi Kale and it is only through him that we know about this art form as much as we do.

What made you pain a Kavi Kale series?

Over a year ago I happened to go to Honnavara and Kumta to find subjects for my next series of tribal paintings. It was there that I saw these beautiful murals on the walls of Mahalasa Narayani Temple in Kumta. I just fell for the art and wanted to do it. I couldn't do a mural without training so I decided to reproduce them on canvas and exhibit them so that people of this region are at least aware of this fast-disappearing form. Out of the many people who will come to watch my exhibition, at least one or two of them might take interest and pursue it.

What do the murals generally depict? What is your series about?

They are usually mythological stories inspired by Mahabharata, Ramayana and Bhagvata Gita. The drawings have a typical body structure and ornament style. My series are also reproductions of murals that I photographed in the temples. I have made Saraswati, Ganapati, Dasahavatar, Lakshmi Narayan. My favourite is that of Krishna and Arjun on the divine chariot with Hanuman on top. My second favourite is that of Karna and his charioteer that has excellent detailing. The arrows are portrayed as being blunt but ornamental, unlike their usual portrayal of sharpness. I have been working on this series of twelve paintings since the last one-and-a-half years.

Veena Srinivas is holding an exhibition of Kavi Kale from December 6 to 9 at Prasad Art Gallery, Ballalbagh, Mangalore. It will be inaugurated on December 5.


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