Pedestrians stop to gape at walls on the roadside and walk away smiling. Cheeriness is in the air of Kottayam. Passersby cannot help but admire the colourful murals painted on the city walls as part of the Mural City Project, an initiative of the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi.
In just 13 days in May, close to 350 artists from world over made over 60 paintings across the town and turned Kottayam into the first unique mural city in India. Be it the traditional murals of gods and goddesses on the four gopurams of Thirunakkara Temple or those made with contemporary techniques at the civil station, the landscape of the city has become two shades brighter.
The walls of the Kottayam railway station, painted by several artists, now tell the story of Indian railways. The painting at the entrance, done mostly in a yellow palette, is a combination of several snapshots showing the first railway line in India. At one section, a team of artists led by Ajithan Puthumana, has recreated metro rail stations by using a contemporary style.
“Since the younger generation does not know much about mural art, we tried to incorporate the traditional elements as well as techniques of contemporary art,” says renowned mural painter, Suresh K Nair, who is an assistant professor at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi.
Suresh worked on a water tank which is located at the district panchayat office. “When I saw the space allotted to me, I hit upon the idea of water as an element,” he says. “I have been trying to introduce the concept of music into paintings. In this work, I have given a symbolic white colour to water. I have also tried to paint it with a sense of rhythm.”
The murals across the city are a potpourri of several art styles. The other styles which can be seen are the Kurumba paintings of the Nilgiris, the Gond tribal paintings of Madhya Pradesh, the Warli of Maharashtra, the Madubani of Bihar, the Pata of Bengal, and the Kasauli of Kashmir. Artists from Portugal, Canada, Germany, Italy and South Korea opted for modern and contemporary themes.
South Korean artist Jung Chae-Hee surprised many with faces in the Ott style at the Darsana auditorium. This is done by using gum extracted from the ott tree.
The Rs 72 lakh project is aimed at boosting tourism in Kottayam. And the State Cultural Ministry and Kerala Lalithakala Academy seem to have succeeded in doing so. Some resorts in Kumarakom, a tourist hub, have started including a trip to Kottayam to see mural city paintings in their tour package. For a town like Kottayam that hardly has any places to hang out, the project offers some solace.
“Apart from some cultural programmes, there is little scope for recreation here. When I first saw the murals at Thirunakara Temple, I was fascinated. Now whenever I get time I go to see mural paintings done in other parts of the town,” said Biju K Baby, a student of English Literature.
“We sent a team of experts to Shekawati in Rajasthan, which was the first mural city in the country. The team found that all the mural paintings there follow a traditional style. So, we decided that the Mural City Project here should have several varieties of paintings—from tribal paintings to those done using post-modern and contemporary techniques. So we decided to name Kottayam as the first unique mural city in India,” said K C Joseph, Kerala’s cultural minister.