Situated on the south-western coast of India is Kerala, which is referred to as “God’s own country” for its rich assortment of religious art and crafts that represent the culture and historical traditions of India. It’s the second largest collection of significant mural sites just after Rajasthan.
If you ever visit Kerala in South India, you’ll see many Kerala mural paintings in ancient temples, churches and palaces that depict legends and mythology. Many of the frescos date back between the 9th to 12th centuries CE, which was a time when this particular art form prospered because of royal patronage. These types of paintings are known for their clarity, beauty and symmetry and feature religious and mystic themes.
Many of the subjects are from Vedic texts, with flora and fauna, as well as other aspects of nature, are usually used in the backdrop, but are in a stylized manner. Creating each Keala mural took a lot of devotion and dedication, making sure that each visual wonder told a story of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The oldest Kerala murals are found in the Thirunandikkara Cave temple that’s part of the Kanyakumari district. But the largest mural panel in the region is the Gajendra Moksha at the Krishnapuram Paalce.
The tradition of these paintings is unique to the region and all are always rich with symbolism. They are created using only natural mineral pigments, with each color representing the qualities of the three guans: raja, sattva and tamas. Those in rajas, or the spur to activity, are mostly painted in a golden yellow, while sattva represents purity that is represented by green. Figures that are painted in this color usually mean that knowledge is their chief characteristic. Then those in tamas, or inertia and the least pure are painted in white. Usually, traditional colors used in this type of art include: yellow, green, red, white and black. Blue is also sometimes used.
Another highlight of Keala murals is that they are not only aesthetic in appearance, but they are also eco-friendly since all materials used to create them are gathered from the earth. Paints are created from mineral pigments and vegetables, fruits, ore, stones and leaves. The colors are blending all together in a wooden bowl with coconut water and Neem tree extracts. Even the brushes are created using natural materials like hair taken from the back of calf ears, hair from a goat’s belly, tails of muskrats and bamboo sticks.
The traditional style of mural art from is now being revived by a completely new generation of artists that use natural pigments and vegetable colors, in addition to acrylics and other mediums. These new artists way are involved in teaching and researching Kerala mural art. The art has evolved from walls of caves to canvases painted with acrylics and many artists are creating their own type of Keala murals to preserve the art’s beauty and rich traditions.