Murals -A Brief History
Kerala Murals
Murals in Temples
Murals in Palaces



A mural is a painting on a wall, ceiling, or other large permanent surface. Painting applied to and made integral with the surface of a wall or ceiling. A mural is art painted directly on a wall, making it a visual component of a building. Throughout history, murals have been created for a spectrum of environments, including caves, churches, state capitals, factories, corporations, schools, libraries, post offices, courthouses, and residences. By nature of the medium, mural painting is typically restricted by several conditions, including scale, orientation, fixed spatial requirements, the purpose of the architectural structure, and the appropriateness of its subject matter for its patron or audience. Unlike an easel painter, the muralist must consider and overcome all or several of these factors in the construction of his or her imagery.

Mural painting involves inherent social obligations and formal strategies that extend beyond the scope of a purely personal vision to a broader form of communication that is often rooted in shared social beliefs. Its roots can be found in the universal desire that led prehistoric peoples to create cave paintings — the desire to decorate their surroundings and express their ideas and beliefs. The Romans produced large numbers of murals in Pompeii and Ostia, but mural painting (not synonymous with fresco) reached its highest degree of creative achievement in Europe with the work of such Renaissance masters as Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.




Kerala Murals

Kerala holds the second place, with a large collection of archeologically important mural sites in India. Evolved as a compliment to her unique architectural style, these wall paintings are characterized by their liner accuracy, the adherence to colour symbolism elaborate ornamentations and sensitive portrayal of emotions. The art of painting on walls in Kerala dates back to prehistoric era. Paintings found in the Anjanad Valley of Idukki District are believed to be the oldest. Archaeologists opine that these belong to different periods from early Paleolithic era to recent past that the history can reach. Rock engravings belonging to Mesolithic era also were unearthed in Edakkal in Wynad and Perumkadavila in Thiruvananthapuram District.

The source and inspiration of Kerala style mural painting may be the Dravidian temple devotional art of Kalamezhuthu. Mural tradition of Kerala influenced by the Pallava art can be traced back to seventh and eighth century AD. The oldest murals in Kerala were discovered in the rock cut cave temple of Thiruvandikkara, which is now in the Kanyakumari district of Tamilnadu.

Ancient temples, churches and palaces in Kerala, South India, display an abounding tradition of mural paintings mostly dating back between the 9th to 12th centuries AD when this form of art enjoyed Royal patronage. The subjects derived from religious texts were highly stylized pictures of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, not a fanciful representation but drawn from the description in the invocatory verses or 'dyana slokas'. Flora and fauna and other aspects of nature were pictured as backdrops, in highly stylized manners.

The murals of Thirunadhikkara Cave Temple (now ceded to Tamil Nadu) and Tiruvanchikulam are considered the oldest relics of Kerala’s own style of murals. Fine mural paintings are depicted in temples at Trikodithanam, Ettumanur, Vaikom, Udayanapuram, Triprangode, Guruvayoor, the Vadakkunathan temple in Trichur and the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram. Other mural sites are in the churches at Edappalli, Vechur, Cheppad and Mulanthuruthi, and at palaces such as the Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam and the Padmanabhapuram Palace.

The murals of Kanthaloor Temple in Thiruvananthapuram (13th Century), Pisharikavu and Kaliliampath in Kozhikode distict (14th Century) are the oldest temple frescoes of Kerala. Representing this prolific period of mural arts (14th and 16th centuries A.D), are the Ramayana murals of Mattanchery palace, the paintings in the Chemmanthitta Siva Temple, Kudamaloor and Thodeekkalam in Kannur district. The wall paintings at Panayannarkavu, Thichakrapuram, Kottakkal, Padmanabhapuram and Krishnapuram palaces and those in the inner chambers of Mattanchery palace, represent a much later period in the evolution of medieval mural tradition.

The traditional style mural art form, using natural pigments and vegetable colours, is being revived by a new genre of artists actively involved in researching and teaching mural art at the Sree Sankara Sanskrit College in Kalady and also at a mural art school associated with the Guruvayoor temple.






Murals Paintings

The Murals of Kerala bear the stamp of uniqueness in aesthetic composition and technique. Murals came into vogue in Kerala as early as the 8th century AD.

The most antique Murals of Kerala are found in the Thirunandikkara Cave Temple in Thiruvananthapuram district, now a part of Kanya Kumari district of the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. The temple and palace murals of Kerala are invariably sagas of Hindu gods and goddesses and visual poems of their heroic deeds.

The Murals in Padmanabhapuram Palace offer a feast of colours and motifs for the connoisseur of art. The triple storeyed 'Uppirikka Malika' houses the retiring chamber of the king and the heir apparent. An important feature of the palace is the exquisite wood work of the ceiling and fine murals on the walls.

The murals in subdued brownish tints were executed on wet wall plaster depicting themes from Ramayana, Bhagavatham and Kumarasambhavam of Kalidasa. The main chamber has its inner walls decorated with fine Murals of gods and goddesses. The central motif is Anathapadmanabha, the chief deity of the erstwhile Travancore Maharajas.

The Murals of Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam are visual wonders of artistic perfection. Gajendra Moksham, the largest mural panel in Kerala is a major attraction. The Murals of Mattancherry Palace are dramatic picturisations of the Ramayana and the Bhagvatha.

The Murals of the Shiva Temple in Ettumanoor provide an insight into the earliest forms of the Dravidian mural art. The mural of Shiva as Nataraja, symbolic of the eternal cosmic dance, is the most outstanding Mural here.






Temple Murals

Indian temples have not only been centers of worship, but have also been venues for expression of the creativity of the human spirit using a range of media. Thus, temple culture has promoted art in a variety of shapes and forms. Examples include and are not restricted to music and dance, architecture, sculpture, woodwork and paintings. Paintings form the focus of this brief feature on Templenet.

The dictionary meaning of the word mural is a very large image applied directly to a wall or a ceiling. Indeed, ornate murals are seen several temples all over India as a part of the complex tapestry of decorative work that have evolved through the ages. It may be a little known fact that one of the largest murals ever painted in Asia happens to be on the ceiling of the shrine at the Veerabhadreswara temple at Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh in South India.

The phrase Indian murals, immediately brings the Ajanta paintings to one's mind. The Ajanta paintings date back to the earlier part of the 1st millennium CE and are primarily Buddhist in religious affiliation. These murals painted with vegetable and mineral dyes in caves were discovered in early 19th century.
The murals at Ajanta represent the Buddha as well as instances from the Jataka tales. The Ajanta and Ellora caves form part of well visited tourist circuits in the state of Maharashtra.

The 6th century Chalukyan rulers of South India also used painting as a medium in expressing their creativity, as seen in the murals of Badami in Karnataka depicting for instance the royal court of Indra the King of the Devas. Badami, also known as Vatapi was won over by the Pallavas later, and an image of Ganesha brought back to the Chola empire by Sirutonda Naayanaar is enshrined at Tiruchenkaattankudi in Tamilnadu.

Sittannavaasal near Pudukkottai (near Tiruchirappalli) in Tamilnadu has Jain murals from the Pandya period.

The Brihadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur which dates back to the 11th century CE has many murals within. The enclosure surrounding the sanctum here has brilliant works of art, both in terms of sculpture and painting. The ancient Chola murals once covered all the walls and ceilings of this enclosure. Later 17th century paintings of the Nayak period were added over them; however some of the older Chola murals have been restored. Seen in this enclosure around the sanctum is an image of the monarch Raja Raja Cholan who was primarily responsible for temple centered cultural growth shown with his preceptor Karuvoor Devar. . It is to be noted that this monarch renovated (and rebuilt with stone) several of the temples in the Chola kingdom that had been visited and praised by the Tamil Saints of the Bhakti movement of the 2nd half of the 1st millennium CE.

Mention must also be made of a mural (in this enclosure) that depicts grand cosmic dance of Nataraja at Chidambaram. Depicted in this mural are images of Rajaraja Chola and his queens. There is also a gigantic painting of Shiva as Tripurantaka, depicted on the northern wall of the enclosure.

A large circumambulatory passage (prakaram) surrounds the main temple. It is bounded by fortress like walls lined with a pillared cloister. At the back of this pillared cloister that lines the entire stretch of the walls, there are several cells filled with Shiva lingams, and on the walls are paintings belonging to a much later period.

The Vijayanagar rulers were amongst the greatest of temple builders. Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh houses the Virabhadreswara Swami temple. This temple is known for its exquisite carvings in the unfinished Kalyana Mandapam as well as for its collossal Nandi and its elegant murals which depict the various manifestations of Shiva. The murals here are full of vitality. Mention must be made of depictions of Kirataarjuneeyam, Dakshinamurthy and the divine wedding of Shiva and Parvati. The mukhamandapa has an 50 feet long panel, which bears paintings narrating the legend of Manu needhi Cholan (also portrayed in Tiruvarur which incidentally also houses murals depicting the legend of Mucukunda Chakravarti). The mukhamandapam also bears paintings depicting Krishna as a child, and scenes from the Mahabharata illustrating Draupadi's wedding.

The ardhamandapam of the Lepakshi temple bears paintings of 14 of the manifestations of Shiva (Dakshinamurti, Chandesa Anugraha murthy, Bhikshatana, Harihara, Ardhanareeswara, Kalyanasundara, Tripurantaka, Nataraja, Gowriprasadaka, Lingodbhava, Andakaasurasamhaara etc.) The sanctum's ceiling bears a large painting which is said to be Asia's largest mural. This large painting of Veerabhadra measures about 23 feet by 13 feet. Elsewhere in the Lepakshi temple are paintings depicting the incarnations of Vishnu. The Lepakshi temple is an unfinished temple (in part), but is a perfect synthesis of architecture, sculpture and painting.

The Vijayanagar ruler's patronage extended deep into Tamilnadu and the brilliant murals in the Srirangam temple are yet another feature in the never ending display of art treasures in a vast temple complex that is also a repository of ancient worship traditions. In the innermost circumambulatory passage in the Srirangam temple are 300 year old paintings depicting scenes from the epics.

The Nayak and the Maratha period of the mid and later 2nd millennium CE also saw a flourising of art. Seen in the Brihadeeswarar temple are more recent murals were painted over the more ancient Chola paintings.

Many of the temples of Kerala boast of grand murals all around the sanctum in the innermost enclosure. Mention must be made of paintings in the Ananta Padmanabhaswamy temple in Tiruvanandapuram and the Ettumanur Mahadevar temple at Ettumanur.

One of the best displays of murals is the Chitrasabha or the hall of pictures. As the name Chitrasabha suggests, the very structure is a house of paintings. The Chitrasabha is a stand alone structure, that is located a few blocks away from the Kutralanathar temple at Kutralam in southern Tamilnadu. It is a wooden structure , every inch of whose walls are lined with murals depicting scenes from the epics. From the outside, the Chitrasabha resembles mandapams seen in Keralite temples. The Chitrasabha or the hall of pictures is used for worship only during Margazhi Tiruvadirai where an image of Nataraja is brought into the sabha. Chitrasabha is considered to be one of the 5 sabhas, or the Cosmic Dance Halls of Shiva Nataraja in the southern state of Tamilnadu.

The Murals of the Shiva Temple in Ettumanoor provide an insight into the earliest forms of the Dravidian mural art. The mural of Shiva as Nataraja, symbolic of the eternal cosmic dance, is the most outstanding Mural here. This spectacular painting, 217 cms in height and 360 cms in width, is situated on the inner wall of the southern side of the temple tower, called as the 'Gopuram'. Vadakkumnathan temple which is one of the oldest temples in the state, is a classical example of the kerala style of architecture and has many decorative murals and pieces of art. Magnificent murals here explain the epic of the Mahabharata. These magnificent structures that were once the abodes of royal personages today stand as brilliant displays of royal architecture of Kerala. The illustrious murals that can be found in the palaces are episodes and moments drawn from Hindu epics.

Thodikkulam Temple, Kannur is another example for excellent mural work. Temples and palaces were the ancient galleries for mural paintings in Kerala. One such at Kannur district which has been attracting a large number of art lovers from all over the world is the Siva temple at Kannavam. Here there are nearly 150 mural paintings, on an area of 700 sq ft. in about 40 panels, drawn on the four walls of the sanctum sanctorum.

Based on Saivic and Vaishnavic (myths related to Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu respectively) themes, the murals here portray the village life from the 16th to 18th centuries. These are depicted along with scenes like Rugmini Swayamvaram (Vaishnavic), Ravana vadham etc from the epics.

The murals reveal the skill and perfection of the artistes who once lived in this land. In these times mural painting followed certain standards in the choice of colour, proportions, methods etc. Only natural pigments were used in the making of murals. The commonly used colours in the murals of Kerala are saffron-red, saffron-yellow, green, red, white, blue, black, yellow and golden yellow.

The art of painting in Kerala has a tradition, which goes back to the immediate Post-Aganta Period. The murals of Tirunandikkara (Kanya Kumari Dist) are the specimens of this art in Kerala and they are believed to be of Pandiyan origin. Churches of Kerala also contain some valuable pieces of paintings.

The performance of religious rites necessitated the development of a special kind of pictorial art in Kerala known as Kalamezuthu. Raja Ravi Verma is one of the outstanding names in the art of painting in Kerala.

Paintings in Kerala date at least a thousand years back. The earliest of murals, attributing to the kerala's tradition are found in a small cave shrine in the southern part of erstwhile Travancore.

The murals of the temples at Haripad, Aranmula, Vaikom and Udayapuram are exquisite specimens of artistic excellence. The pinnacle of achievements in pictorial art is visible on the walls of the shrine at Sree Padmanabhaswami temple, Thiruvananthapurm, executed in the true native style.







Murals In Palace

Murals of Kerala are classified as "Fresco-secco". They are prepared following special techniques outlined in 'Shilparatna', a principal text on Indian painting techniques. Surfaces are treated with special mixtures and solutions and colour dyes prepared from vegetable or mineral pigments and crude chemicals are used.

Panayannarkkavu Murals at Panayannarkkavu (Parumala), Ettumanoor Murals at the Siva Temple in Ettumanoor (Kottyam), Pundareekapuram Murals at Pundareekapuram temple at Thalayolapparambu (Kottayam), Mattancherry Murals at the Bhagavathy temple in Kochi, Kottakkal Murals at Venkatta Tevar Siva Temple in Kottakkal (Kozhikkode) are the famous examples of mural paintings. Most of these depict lives or instances from sacred books and epics.Intricate carvings, murals and exquisite wall paintings reflect the prolific talent of the sculptors and painters who enjoyed the patronage of Travancore kings.

The Hill Palace Museum, Thripunithura – Hill Palace, the official residence of the erstwhile Kochi royal family, was built in 1865. A full-fledged ethno-archaeological museum and Kerala’s first ever heritage museum are the main attractions. Displayed inside the thirteen galleries are oil paintings, 19th century paintings, murals, sculptures in stones and plaster of Paris, manuscripts, inscriptions and coins belonging to the royal family.
The extraordinary murals, exquisite floral carvings and the black glossy granite floor have withstood the test of time.







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