Team of city-based artists is recreating Sittanavasal murals on canvas

Lotus ponds, elephants and dancers painted on caves more than a millennium ago may make a re-appearance in drawing rooms of 21{+s}{+t}century households, thanks to a team of city-based artists who have taken up the task of recreating murals of Sittanavasal on canvas.

Seventh century

Sittanavasal, a cave temple, was an abode for Jain saints, excavated around the seventh century. The paintings here are regarded among the finest examples of murals in caves and said to resemble the works in Ajanta and Ellora. “When we talk about talk about cave paintings in India, we immediately think of Ajanta and Ellora. But closer home we have Sittanavasal, whose frescoes resemble the famous caves in Maharashtra,” says Suresh, proprietor, Kalanjiyam, Tiruchi-based art gallery that is sponsoring local artists to take up the project.

“The monument has been the focus of maintenance and restoration only recently. Many of these paintings have been vandalised by shepherds and sundry visitors and only traces of some paintings remain,” rues artist Village Mookaiya, who earned his sobriquet owing to rustic themes of his paintings. The paintings have been done using vegetable dyes and include lotus ponds, birds, women dancers.

“These paintings are yet to come to light as few visit the site and photography is not permitted,” says Kumar Shankar, an artist who reproduced three works, exhibited at a city expo recently.

30 paintings

Kumar along with the team hopes to familiarise art lovers and households with the works of antiquity. Around 30 paintings have been planned, according to Mr. Mookaiya. Apart from recreating the murals, the team comprising four Tiruchi-based artists would sketch the Jain stone beds and caves that Sittanavasal is known for.

The paintings have been done on acrylic as it dries faster than oil colours, said Kumar. “I did a small pencil sketch on the spot and did the painting later. As the paintings are barely visible, they can be recreated only by artists who have studied them and possess in-depth knowledge of anatomy and techniques used,” says Mr. Kumar, a Kumbakonam Arts College graduate who spent time researching the murals. The artists have invested a touch of imagination in the choice of colours.

“I was keen on reproducing the murals on canvas but I did not have the opportunity or backing to do so until Kalanjiyam offered support,” says Kumar, underlining the necessity of support for local artist.

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