Compared to the ornate, sculptured marvels in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the temples of Kerala are simple and almost austere. The only concession to colour and vivid art in the shrines are their unique murals, unlike any you will see elsewhere. Not celebrated enough, the Kerala Mural paintings are truly fantastic and historic.
The Kerala murals present a highly stylised version of the gods, with wide open eyes, elongated lips and exaggerated eyebrows, which can be compared to forms depicted in the classical theatre of Kerala. Also, the figures along with animals and vegetation are executed in a technically unmatched manner. The colour palette consists of just five colours – Panchavarna or red, yellow, green, black and white and the colours are derived from natural sources.
The earliest of these mural paintings adorn the walls of the Thirunanthikarai Cave Temple in present day Tamil Nadu (the region was once a part of Kerala) and are dated to the 10th century. From here, the mural made its way across Kerala, peaking between the 16th and the 19th century, with the rise of the Bhakti Movement.
The Kerala Mural painting tradition has its roots in Kalamezhuthu, the tradition of drawing on the floor, using colours. The mural paintings are usually found on the exterior walls of the inner sanctum, the mandapas and the circumambulatory path of temples, and were a means to experience the deity outside the sanctum.
The Kerala Mural paintings are counted among the most iconic artworks in the country. But there is a crying need to preserve this fragile tradition in Kerala. We are working closely with traditional artisans from far corners of India and helping preserve and popularise the legacy of our crafts. At PeepulTree, you can find a beautiful range of Kerala Murals, made by Prince Thonnakkal, a mural artisan from Kerala.