Preserving Antique Murals

Vidhya Vijayan | Jan 01, 2013 to Jun 30, 2013 | Vol. 5, Issue 1 & 2
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The one man effort of Artist KK Warrier to identify, preserve and display the ancient murals from temples of Kerala is truly praiseworthy. The first exhibition of Warrier's collection which included 18th and 19th century murals were showcased at an exhibition at the Durbar Hall Gallery in Ernakulam, Kerala in 2012.

True wealth of a civilization is the collective inheritance of knowledge and skill developed and perfected over centuries by several thousands of people, in the past and present. A country as rich and diverse as ours has immense wealth of knowledge. It is our duty to ensure that this wealth is preserved and conserved for the future generations to experience. However, the vagaries of day to day activities prevent most of us from contributing in any substantial manner towards conservation of our culture, tradition and knowledge. It is in this context that the one man effort of Artist KK Warrier to identify, preserve and display the ancient murals from temples of Kerala is truly praiseworthy. The first exhibition of Warrier's collection which included 18th and 19th century murals were showcased at an exhibition at the Durbar Hall Gallery in Ernakulam in 2012. The second exhibition of these invaluable paintings was held in the first week of March 2013 at Kozhikode.

The traditional mural style in Kerala involves developing frescoes on a pure white background using natural pigments and vegetable colours. The remarkable effort by KK Warrier in collecting and preserving the antique murals from temples across the length of Kerala comes as a refreshing and welcome contribution. These, centuries old mural art work would have been lost but for the dedicated and diligent work undertaken by this lover of art and tradition. A large number of temples and heritage structures across Kerala were in highly dilapidated state and maintenance or restoration of these buildings was almost not possible.

Probably in the last century or so, we have already lost immeasurable wealth of such traditional mural wall paintings. There was a fire in Guruvayoor temple in 1970 which resulted in the loss of large number of paintings and also peeling off of paintings in the near vicinity due to the heat generated by the fire. The after effects of the fire was substantial in the sense that the remaining mural paintings on the Srikovil (Sanctum Sanctorum) were gradually peeling off and any delay in attempts to conservation would result in loss of all paintings on the walls of the Sanctum Sanctorum. The story of mural conservation in Kerala probably could find its origins here. Although the job was to trace the original paintings before they were completely lost, it is the foresight and vision of KK Warrier and his dedicated efforts for several decades that resulted in extracting large number of paintings across Kerala and preserving them in frames for posterity.

In 1986 three teams under KK Warrier, MK Sreenivasan and Krishnan Kutty Nair along with Pattambi Krishna Warrier undertook the task of redrawing wall paintings in the temple. It is at this stage of removing the old paintings that KK Warrier developed a special method to remove the old wall paintings and preserve them in special frames. The innovative techniques developed by him for the first time in the world is in the process of being patented and has since been extensively used in preservation of large number of paintings.

KK Warrier continued preservation of murals in frames in right earnest resulting in successful preservation of 98 paintings in 65 frames from eight different destinations in Kerala. Thirumandhamkunnu Mathrusala Devi Temple, Kannur Karivellur Puthoor Siva Temple, Alathiyoor Hanuman Perumthrikkovil Temple, Kumaranalloor Devi Temple, Thrissur Tahikkattusseri Vamanamoorthy Temple, Vypeen Pallathankulangara Siva Temple and Guruvayoor Nharakkattu Pisharam  are the temples and architectural buildings from where these paintings have been framed and preserved. The largest amongst the conserved paintings was retrieved from Nhrakkat Pisharam depicting 'Srirama Pattabhishekham' sized 155cm by 115cm, a pious scene from the Ramayana. The oldest amongst these paintings is from Thrissur Tahikkattusseri Vamanamoorthy Temple dating back to the 15th century. All the preserved paintings have been registered with the Archeological Survey of India under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972.

The exhibition was jointly organised by Chithragehem, Guruvayoor, a school of mural arts by KK Warrier and the Indianart Gallery, Ernakulam headed by KK Warrier's son, Shri. Sasi K Warrier. The objective of these exhibitions is to take the art work to the general public and increase the awareness of the mural arts, since most of the mural works in Kerala are in temples and cannot be seen by general public.  The mere fact that the conservation of paintings in such dilapidated state is possible was in itself a revelation to most people. The long standing goal is to set up a museum for mural wall paintings where research on mural painting and public display could go hand in hand. For the time being, all these paintings are preserved at Chitragehem Guruvayoor and authorities welcome artists, scholars, researchers and foreign tourists whoever interested to visit and understand Kerala's mural tradition.

Born in 1934, K K Warrier is a Mural artist and Teacher who have done many murals in Kerala, other parts of India and abroad. The outstanding contribution of KK Warrier and his team in identifying and preserving mural wall paintings in Kerala as well as depicting many new murals has been recognized at state and national level presenting him with several awards. Yet, the true recognition for his efforts and the satisfaction of a job well done is the realisation that he has contributed immensely towards preservation of history and art for the generations to come.

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