Back then, the gods gazed at you from sacred spaces, their life stories finding expression amidst a riot of colours, a painter’s deft strokes capturing their many moods for posterity. Kerala mural painting has today descended from its rather lofty perch to invade our everyday life. And the one person we can thank for popularising this beautiful art is Sujith, a Kerala mural painter from picturesque Wayanad, whose work reflects his passion and devotion to this traditional art.
The soft-spoken Sujith first stumbled upon this art when he participated in a mural painting workshop in Wayanad, conducted by Mr Azhikode way back in 2004. Since then, under his guru Azhikode’s tutelage, Sujith honed his skills. Says he, “This traditional art harks back to the 15th century, bringing alive visually the epics, examples of which one can see in the Mattancherry palace, the Padmanabha temple at Thiruvananthapuram and many other temples and churches in Kerala,” and then after a pause adds, “Today, the art has become popular all over the country.”
Talent and creativity are well met in this young artist. Sujith does not restrict himself to any one medium, which is why a canvass is as good as say bamboo, paper or wood. Lifelike and divine on canvass, on bamboo the creator (God) and his creation (man) seem to be on an even keel!
Imagination is all right but for the work to be executed on bamboo one needs a healthy dose of patience and knowledge. Explains Sujith: “Firstly, a certain type of bamboo—elephant bamboo—has to be sourced, after which processing the same takes roughly three weeks. The bamboo pieces then have to be whitewashed 30 times to get the right kind of texture.”
There’s no mistaking his devotion to his art. “Just five colours are used in this style ... yellow, red, ocher, blue and green,” he says before going on to rate the pictures at the Shiva temple in Ettumanoor and those at the Sree Sankara Sanskrit College in Kalady as the finest examples of the Kerala mural.
Completely under its spell, Sujith along with his wife (also an artist) started a school called Bhavm to promote and teach Kerala mural-style painting. That the art is catching on is evident from the many Kerala mural painting workshops being conducted in different parts of the country. Sujith is a constant visitor to Bangalore where he conducts workshops and exhibits his wares at various fairs and exhibitions.
Last year in October, he had the opportunity to participate in one of the biggest art and craft exhibitions—Kaivalam—held in Chennai. And it was there that one got to see his imaginative skill and expertise. Along with his students, Sujith had created a large body of work for the exhibition. There was an interesting mutation as well—the images of Gods peeped out of necklaces, earrings and some even out of paper weights, attracting curious stares and more times than not a sale. His imagination ran riot to encompass sarees and dupattas as well. He had, undoubtedly, unlocked these divine and mystical figures from their ivory tower of sorts! Says he: “We got a good response from the exhibition as our price range... from Rs 100 to Rs 35,000... seemed to suit all budgets. The best sellers being, of course, the Radha-Krishna paintings which sold like hot cakes.”