A hundred Kerala saris are awaiting their journey to Palakkad at a house at Bilathikulam in Kozhikode. The saris, embellished with traditional Kerala mural paintings, were made by three women over almost a year upon an order received from weavers in Palakkad, who in turn will sell them to customers all over India.

Not just saris, but flower pots, pen holders, kurtas, photo frames, file folders and jewellery, adorned with Kerala murals are in great demand globally.

The bright colours and intricate designs make them eye-catching, and they have woven their way to the fashion circuit quite effortlessly.

The art form has become so popular that not many are aware that the paintings were originally meant to be on walls.

“I had a hard time explaining to a woman in Bangalore that Kerala murals had a history of centuries and they used to decorate temple walls. She was not ready to believe that what she was wearing was a poor imitation of a great art form that requires years of dedicated effort and talent to master,” said Sasi Edavarad, a noted mural artist, known for his venture ‘Dhyanasankalpam,’ which is on a mission to reclaim public spaces for mural paintings.

The entry of women into the field of mural painting and making the art form the in-thing in fashion happened over the last decade. The art form that saw a revival only by the end of the last century was given a huge boost by these enterprising women, who played a major role in globalising it just like the Madhubani or Warli paintings. But didn’t quality suffer?

“People with just enough painting skills or a two-month basic training in mural painting have started working on saris and other mediums. These paintings do not have the beauty of real murals. The esteem and value of the Kerala murals is lowered in this case for commercialisation,” Mr. Sasi said.

However, the ‘sari artists’ have a different view. “A perfect mural painting takes months to complete and cannot be sold for anything less than Rs.8,000, though there aren’t many buyers. But in the case of saris, the work is completed in a couple of days as the customer does not expect the kind of detailing required on a canvas-based work. A sari with a good work on the pallu fetches around Rs.3,000 and is in great demand,” said Seena Vijayan, a sari mural artist who has completed four years of training in the art form.

Mr. Sasi too shared her view, but wished the artist would take time to master the art form before setting out to make a living out of it, for their sake as well as that of the art form.