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Simple, colourful themes

Mural artist Manikandan has experimented with acrylic on canvas and the result is a pleasing combination of both.

"THE KOHL drawn eyes in mural paintings are always done last. When I do the murals in a temple, I have a small ceremony and my Guru inaugurates by drawing one eye. It is called `unmeelanam'or opening the eyes." Says mural artist Manikandan Punnakal who had exhibited this genre (with acrylic on canvas) recently at the Durbar Hall Art Centre.

Simple themes

Manikandan chose simple themes of village life that are fast disappearing to experiment and amalgamate the various types of Indian murals to arrive at his own distinct style. The painting titled `Pulluvathy' depicts the wandering musician plucking her instrument while singing praises to snakes. "The Pulluvan and his wife, the Pulluvathy, are rarely seen nowadays and soon they will cease to exist." Says the 23-year- old artist who hails from Palakkad. The scenes of the solemn Anakaran, the umbrella twirling, smiling kudakkaran and the happy farmer enjoying his job are captured almost poetically on canvas. The body movements have a fluidity- the dance like postures take these ordinary village scenes to an elevated plane.

Unlike the mural paintings Manikandan's acrylics are bereft of the alankaram but the yellows, reds, greens and blacks, which are the predominant colours, are markedly similar to the murals. In the background clouds and the rivers curl to a subdued alankaram and the fish swim vertically giving the river another dimension. What is interesting is that the very genre that is used to capture these dying moments was itself on its deathbed a couple of decades ago.


The Kerala Mural Paintings, which once richly adorned the palaces and temples, was given a fresh lease of life only when the Devaswom Board, at the behest of Mammiyoor Krishnankutty Nair, put up the Institute of Mural Painting at Guruvayur just 15 years ago. However, quite unlike the canvases on exhibition, the process of mural painting is long and arduous- the walls have to be prepared, the natural dyes made by grinding mud and plants and even the grass brushes boiled in milk and handmade before it is ready for use. But Manikandan says that the method of polishing the murals has been lost and it would probably take decades to discover what the mural artists of ancient Kerala used.

Manikandan, who charges Rs.1,000 per square feet to do a mural, says, "Cement is never used on the walls. I apply a mixture of ground sand, lime and Unjal valli gum to the brick or granite. After it has dried for two weeks the second coat consisting of a paste of lime, sand, `poodapanji', jaggery, and kadduka is applied. Finally lime and tender coconut water is brushed on very lightly at least 30 times before the wall is ready. The dyes used to paint the murals are all natural and no synthetic material is used. Oil lamp soot is carefully scraped off to make the black dye that emphatically gives the outline of the murals and capture the expressive eyes in the paintings." Manikandan points out that these murals will never get spoilt and the colours will only grow brighter with passing years.


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