Manikandan Punnakkal is a muralist with a difference. If he restored the centuries-old murals at Vaikom Sree Mahadeva Temple using natural colours over a two-year period and etched murals on the ‘mahakanikka’ wall of Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, he now draws upon the genre in an experiment to find another dimension of creative expression.
‘Anandini’, literally meaning a woman who enjoys and entertains, is a series of mural-style paintings currently being done by the artist employing leitmotifs from nature and imaginary village life. The works featuring folk art, traditional musical instruments and implements from rustic life in a mix of mural-Rajasthani styles are remarkable for their sensuality and definitive postures.
“The idea is to take the series to a different level,” says Manikandan. For instance, he borrows an old-world image of a potter woman and renders it a mythical quality by way of the decorative patterns while intricately but boldly-sketched flowers with long stalks and bamboo poles embellish the nudes in the series.
A solo exhibition of his paintings before the ‘Anandini’ series is currently under way at the saffron Art Gallery in Delhi.
Manikandan, a native of Chalissery in Palakkad, was in 5 standard when his mother took him to study art in the Gurukula fashion under artist Ganapathy Peringode. After securing a five-year national diploma from Guruvayur Devaswom’s Institute of Mural Painting, he did his MFA in painting at Sri Allamaprabhu Lalithkala Academy (Sala), Mysore.
The assignment to redo the murals at Vaikom Siva Temple offered him a chance to prove his mettle. “The paintings were over 350-years-old, but touched up with enamel some 60 years ago. I removed the entire thing without damaging them, I realised they bore resemblance to the murals of Mattancherry. It would have been done by the same set of artists. The temple authorities could have set up a museum to exhibit the ‘pulled out’ originals,” says Manikandan.
Even the work he did at Sabarimala is in a bad state, thanks to apathy on the part of the Travancore Devaswom authorities. “Works done using natural dyes are prone to damage unless protected.”
A high point in Manikandan’s artistic career was when he was invited to Italy for three solo exhibitions curated by his friend Sara Andres.
Manikandan has done a cement relief on ‘Chilapathikaram’ at a house in Palakkad and a 15x10 ft ‘Ganapathy prathal’ mural at the dining room of the famous Poomully Mana, now an Ayurveda centre.
Deeply inspired by the works of A. Ramachandran, Manikandan aspires to remould murals, giving them a certain mythical-folk touch through his ‘Anandini’ series.