One of the greatest painting traditions of the ancient world will be claimed by India. It is obvious that even in those very early times in history, a high degree of excellence as regards to technicality of arts was achieved by the exponents. These were definitely products of the profound philosophy of the land – so graceful as well as sublime.
Ajantha cave paintings are the earliest surviving mural paintings available in the sub-continent. Realised in two phases, the oldest of the paintings here date to around BC second century. The astounding latter phase then occurred around AD fifth century, arguably under the patronage of the erstwhile rulers of Deccan, the Vakatakas. Ajantha paintings subjected the scenes from the Buddha’s life as well as the Jataka tales, emitting profound beauty of form coupled with extremely precise rendition imparting a sense of rotundness and volume.
Karnataka’s Badami is a historical spot where paintings of early Hindu culture were found. However, not many of these pieces survive today. Meanwhile, the Pallava Kings of the domains that come under the present Tamil Nadu in 7th century rendered glorious as well as exuberant expression to themes linked to Lord Shiva in the paintings found at the temples of Kailashanathar and Panamalai in Kancheepuram.
Then even at the dizzying altitudes of more than 3,000 metres, Ladakh’s barren desrt plateau strangely became a spot highlighting transfixing crucible of cultures; reflecting the possibility of the place being an active trade centre of those times. An oasis of colour and beauty in the midst of Ladakh’s barren landscape is the monastery of Alchi with its gorgeous paintings. Kashmiri style of mural arts has been brilliantly exhibited in the wall paintings of Alchi, Mangyu and Sumda monastries of Ladakh.
Uttar Pradesh’s Lalitpur district, deep in the heart of her plains houses the temples of Vishnu and Shiva that are known as Kacheris. The ceiling if the Choti Kacheri bears some exquisite paintings of the thirteenth century, holding extreme value as the oldest surviving northern plain paintings of India after Nalanda’s fragmentary remains. Also belonging to this genre are the paintings of Satdhara.
Meanwhile, in Kerala, the walls of temples and palaces have been painted primarily with the symbolic representations of Krishna, Rama and Shiva-Parvathi legends. These range from 16 th to 19th centuries as regards to occurrence. Kerala is special as regards to its mural paintings since they tend to reflect a fresh sense of majesty and power. The style of shading attributed to the pieces here reminds a lot of Alchi and Ajantha. The figures are larger than life with strong limbs and full and firm bodies. Pride, vigour and authority replete the expressions of Gods here.
This is where the one-man effort of KK Warrier to preserve and display the ancient temple murals after identifying them claims significance. It was in 2012 that Warrier had conducted an exhibition showcasing 18 th and 19 th century mural paintings. The venue was Ernakulam’s Durbar Hall gallery. Following the appreciation gained by this initiative, he was encouraged to do the second; this time at Kozhikode in the first week of March.
The exemplary effort from Warrier in collecting and preserving these antique mural paintings from palaces and temples across Kerala comes as a welcome contribution considering the fact that these centuries old works would have been lost but for this diligence and dedication exhibited by him for securing them. Noteworthy is also the fact that a large number of heritage structures in Kerala including temples have been in gravely dilapidated state with the scope of maintenance of restoration of those almost an impossibility.
The story of the conservation of mural treasure of Kerala starts in 1986 with three teams under Warrier undertaking the task of redrawing or retouching the temple wall paintings. The other team leaders were MK Srinivasan, Krishnan Kutty Nair and Pattambi Krishna Warrier. It was during this stage that Warrier had conceptualised a special method for removing old paintings and preserving them in dedicated frames. This turned out to be quite a success as it became a first time in the world as well. Presently, this method is being extensively followed by many other entities that are involved in preservation of old paintings.
As the earnest campaign of old mural painting preservation of Warrier and his teams advanced, 98 paintings from eight different locations in Kerala were successfully preserved in as good as 65 frames. The largest of the lot has been the Shrirama Pattabhishekham painting sized 155 x 115 cms retrieved from Njarakkat Pisharam and the oldest one dating back to the fifteenth century from Thaikkaattusherry Vamanamoorthy temple in Thrishoor.
Warrier, born in 1934, is also a mural artist and a teacher that have created many a mural presentation in not just Kerala, but elsewhere in India as well as locations abroad. The striking contributions of Warrier and his teams in this segment have been ideally recognised at both state and national levels to be rewarded with several accolades.