The Trissala Bhagavathi Temple gets a mural as part of the initiative to claim public spaces for an ancient art
It is the day of black. Sasi Edavarad and a handful of students are giving final, confident black strokes to the 6 x 4 foot mural of Trissala Bhagavathi. The scene of action is the entrance of the Trissala Bhagavathi Temple in Mankave. The goddess is shown in all her glory and around her are the other Gods – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, the sages and finally near her feet are the ordinary mortals. The mural is a tribute to the temple's reigning deity, a page from mythology and finally an attempt at restoring a traditional Kerala art struggling to find its space in contemporary times. The unmeelanum, a formal unravelling of the painting, will take place on June 22.
Murals once proudly spread out on our temple walls, says Sasi. “Primarily a temple and palace art, examples of it were found since the 8th century AD at Thirunandikkara Shiva Temple. It flourished from the 14th to 18th century AD. Even now about 150 spaces in Kerala have surviving mural art – the Mattancherry Kovilakom, Triprayar Temple etc,” informs Sasi.
Sasi along with Hari Kumar spearhead Dhyanasankalpam, an endeavour to reclaim public spaces for traditional mural art. “The art stagnated during the British era when western art became the norm. We want murals to reclaim its lost place and also turn it to a sustainable part of our community,” says Hari Kumar.
The Trissala Bhagavathi mural is the second project taken up by Dhyanasankalpam at the Mankave temple complex. The mural gives company to Sasi's first project at the temple – a work depicting the Krishna Geethi.
Though the traditional Kerala mural is done with five natural colours – red, yellow, green, black and white – made from stones, leaves and lamp soot, the murals at the temple are in acrylic. Escalating costs and the extensive tuning a wall needs to become the canvas to a painting in natural colours prompts artists like Sasi to turn to acrylic. “It is difficult to prepare an already existing wall to be a canvas,” he says.
Sasi did his five-year diploma in mural painting from Guruvayur and his works adorn ashrams, temples, houses, hotels and even a jewel shop. Of late, he says, there is perceptible interest among people in mural art. His works on canvas has been part of various exhibitions. His creation “The Flute Recital” is the cover of Devdutt Pattanaik's book “The Seven Secrets of Vishnu.”
A firm believer in the Kerala School of mural art, Sasi says, the style has a few distinct features. “One is our lines. We use a lot of fine, black lines in our painting. The body posture of the subjects tends to have a slight tilt. Traditionally, only five colours were used. In the Ajantha murals, about 10 colours are present, while in the Rajasthan murals the blue is pronounced. Tanjavur murals too were done with five colours. However, the Kerala style bears the closest resemblance to the Vijayanagara paintings,” says Sasi.
Though murals traditionally adhered to myths - often a representation of the tales linked to the deity of the temple, experiments too have their space in the art, says Sasi. He himself has painted Kumarasambhavam for a private project. “Similarly, you can do Shakunathalam may be by depicting three vital scenes from the story,” he says. His works on canvas are flourishes from a mural base. The largest mural he has done so far is at the Chinmaya Mission, Palakkad, spread across 4,000 sq.ft.
Opportunities of working with natural colours may be few, but Sasi is adept at making those colours himself. He shows off tiny packets and jars filled with the red ground from stone, the black scooped from soot and the green taken from neelamari plant. “There are only a few skilled people left who know how to make these colours. I mostly make my own colours,” says Sasi.
As for his next project–the walls around the smaller Krishna temple in the complex is waiting. At Dhyanasankalpam, they also conduct classes in mural painting.