Burst of colour

STRIKING STROKES: A few examples of Kerala mural art.

STRIKING STROKES: A few examples of Kerala mural art.  


Kerala mural art gets a contemporary expression in the hands of artist O.P. Ravi.

Talking to O.P. Ravi about the mythology-inspired and stylised Kerala murals or Suvar Chitra is a learning experience. The artist has been an ardent advocate of this 1,500-year-old art form which has adorned the temples and palaces of the State. The art is distinct for its use of images of gods and goddesses, flora and fauna done in bright and earthy hues.

The earliest Kerala murals can still be seen at the Nedumpuram Tali temple in Thrissur, the Kanthaloor and Trivikrama temples in Thiruvananthapuram and Kaliampalli temple in Kozhikode district. In the 16th and 17th Centuries, the art got a fillip from the royal patrons; the Ramayana murals found at the Mattancherry palace stand witness to this.

Natural hues

Done in panchavarna or five colours sourced from natural dyes — red, indigo, yellow ochre, green and lamp black — these murals cast a spell on the viewer with their compelling images, all painted with stylised facial expressions and gestures, wide open eyes, elongated lips, exaggerated eyebrows and excessive ornamentation.

Ozhukkan Para Ravi (ozhukkan para means ‘dripping rock’) may not belong to a paramparik family of mural artists, but he has taken up this art form, which used to be done on rocky walls, with commitment and single-minded devotion. An alumnus of the School of Arts, Trichur, he learnt Suvar Chitra from Guru Achana Appu Kuttan at the School of Arts, Ernakulam. Ravi has tried both the traditional and contemporary techniques on the walls of many homes, temples and hotels.

Talking about the art, Ravi says, “The preparation of the panchavarna is a laborious process. Preparing the wall is the most important part of this art. Lime powder mixed with coconut water is used to prepare the wall, which has to be washed with this solution at least 17 times!” The colours used are sourced from natural pigments and dyes. Since the themes are invariably mythological and religious, it is imperative for artists to understand the meaning of the Dhanya shlokas, says Ravi.

Ravi used the medium of wood and canvas to create arresting murals. A colourful Krishna dancing with Radha, Ganesha, Siva and other gods and goddesses, birds and flowers… each of the themes is expressed in a burst of colour.

Ravi’s Kerala murals along with Thanjavur paintings, kalamkari panels and woodcuts are on show at Raasi Art Foundation’s Summer Art Show, Anna Avenue, Bakthavatsalam Nagar, Adyar, till May 2.

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