The two rare paintings, about 350 years old, have been found by ASI

An ASI study of 600 panels of murals in Kerala has revealed paintings that were hitherto covered, and also new details of the existing ones. Notable among them are the two rare paintings which are about 350 years old — a reclining Shiva and a Nataraja with 20 arms found on the walls of Vadakkumnatha temple at Thrissur.

“For long this painting was thought to be a reclining Vishnu, since it was partly covered with soot. Another reason is that a reclining figure is usually associated with Vishnu and it is common in Kerala to paint Vaishnavaite themes in Saivaite temples. When we cleaned the painting, the details became evident and we could establish that it is a reclining Shiva [Panivarai Siva] with Parvati, Ganga and other attendant deities. This is a rare panel,” said M. Nambirajan, Superintending Archaeologist of the Archaeological Society of India, Thrissur circle.

“Adjacent to this panel, another one depicting Nataraja also held a surprise. This panel is considered unusual since it is portrayed with 16 arms. Our study has revealed that there are more arms to it than what were known before. This Nataraja actually has 20 arms and carries various objects,” says Mr. Nambirajan.

This study, which commenced in 2008, looked at paintings spread over six temples, which include Chemmanthitta and Peruvanam, in and around Thrissur. These temples are under ASI protection.

The study also includes paintings in the Mattancherry Palace, Kochi.

“Though there are no labels to establish the date of these paintings, stylistically the work can be placed between the 15th and 18th centuries.

“At a few places, paintings done over different periods can also be found. The popular themes, apart from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are the Kiratarjunya and Krishna Leela,” said S. Suresh, archaeologist and convener of the INTACH Tamil Nadu chapter, who was commissioned by the ASI for assisting it in the study.

“The paintings at the Pallimanna temple are an exception. One of the panels carries a label in an old Malayalam script, which gives the date of the paintings there as early 17th century, and even mentions the name of the artist and his teacher,” says Mr. Suresh.

Such a study was not undertaken earlier because most of the paintings are located within temples that are still under worship. Extensive documentation was difficult.

Many of the paintings face conservation problems. They are often covered with soot emanating from ritual lamps. Suggestions such as placing a plastic or glass cover have not been received well.

“A critical problem facing some of the paintings, particularly the one at Thriprayar, comes from Vedi Vazhipadu or bursting of crackers. Frequent blasts create vibration and produce soot that deposits on the paintings,” says Mr. Suresh.

“We are regularly cleaning the paintings and will come up with long-term plans to preserve them.

“Our objective is also to sensitise other temple authorities in Kerala to protect the rare paintings they have rather than erasing or redrawing them,” says Mr. Nambirajan.