Artist K. Eswaran interprets the Thirukkural through his paintings

Dear Mr. Eswaran,

I received your letter and your paintings and poems based on the Thirukkural couplets. Thank you. I was impressed by your interest in Thirukkural. My best wishes to you.

Affectionately,

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

K. Eswaran has framed this letter and displayed it in his living room. It was sent to him when Abdul Kalam was the President of India. “I mailed him some of my paintings and he wrote back to me in a month,” smiles Eswaran.

Eswaran has spent 20 years of his life giving Thirukkural a new form. Look around his tile-roofed house and you can see the Thirukkural on the walls, on the table, on his cot… They are there in the form of paintings. The 48-year-old artist from Vadambacheri, Sulur taluk, has depicted each of the 1330 couplets as paintings. He started doing this in 1993 when he moved to Vadambacheri to become an art teacher in S.C.M Hr.Sec School.

Eswaran wanted to make the Thirukkural interesting to the youngsters. What better way than through paintings? One look and the meaning of even the complex kurals becomes clear. “I wanted to dedicate my art to this profound work,” he says. Eswaran sat down to his first kural one evening after school. The couplet he first worked on was “Agara mudhala ezhuthellam aadhi/Bagavan mudhattre ulagu” from the Kadavul Vaazhthu chapter. He painted the earth surrounded by planets and satellites. He took a week to complete the painting, and gradually proceeded to paint each of the couplets in the section.

Eswaran constantly mulled over the Thirukkural — when he taught his students to paint in school, when he sat planning lessons in the staff-room, when he rode his TVS-50 along the narrow mud-road leading to his school…It was all he could think of.

Apart form individual kurals, he has also done paintings summarising each of the 133 chapters, such as Iniyavai Kooral, Virundhombal, Anbudaimai and Adakkamudaimai. Eswaran has also taken the sayings of Buddha, Gandhiji, Aristotle and Shakespeare and illustrated them. He is currently working on Avvaiyar's Aathichoodi.

But, Eswaran is yet to find an appreciative audience for his art that is stacked high on his living-room table. It's only on rare occasions that his paintings are taken out for the odd exhibition in a near-by school or college. “It requires a lot of money to organise exhibitions,” he says. “I'm doing everything I can to take my work to students. But more than anything, I paint for my mana thrupthi.”

Eswaran is from a family of weavers from Kumbakonam. He also weaves. His dream is to weave a length of fabric that encompasses his paintings of the Thirukkural.

He is also planning to bring out his paintings in a book next year. He says, “Hopefully, they will get a better reach that way.” Eswaran can be contacted at 99656-61032.