Kerala Murals are a Legacy in Colours

  • Article tells you about Kerala Murals in some detail.

The traditional mural paintings of Kerala are a fine art of skill and creative excellence. Most of the noted mural works of Kerala were done between the 15th and 19th centuries. They bear a stamp of uniqueness in techniques used and aesthetics.


A mural is an artwork painted or applied directly onto walls, ceilings or any other permanent surface. In murals, architectural elements of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into its creation. Among murals, the ones from Kerala stand out for their finesse.


With the largest collection of murals based on ancient Indian traditions, Kerala is at par with the state of Rajasthan. Some of the Kerala murals date back to the 8th century. Today the trend has shifted from wall murals to those painted on canvas and paper.



A Unique Treasure

The materials used in mural art work like pigments, brushes, gum etc. are made of natural materials like minerals and plants. The most frequently used pigments in Kerala murals are saffron-red, saffron-yellow, green, red, white, blue, black, yellow and golden-yellow.


Every mural is a testament to the depth of dedication the artists have to their art. The temples and palaces of Kerala are a visual treat wherein the sagas of ancient Hindu Gods and Goddesses unfold. The murals of Kerala evolved through the significant influences of ancient rituals like Kalamezhuthu and Patayani. The murals of Kerala are unparalleled in their subtlety, sharpness and ethereal beauty.


The oldest of the murals found in Kerala are those in the Thirunandikkara Cave temple now a part of Kanyakumari district in the neighbouring State of Tamil Nadu. The largest mural panel in Kerala called the Gajendra Moksha is at the Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam in Alappuzha district. Extensive murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Bhagavatha are preserved at the Mattancherry palace in Ernakulam district. The murals of the Shiva temple at Ettumanoor provide insights into the earliest forms of Dravidian mural art.



Kerala Mural Art: Traditional Procedures to Paint on Walls By Using Natural Materials

Mural paintings are usually seen in the walls and ceilings of temples and churches. Earlier Mural forms used natural materials and vegetative colours such as herbal dyes, fruits juices, and also chemicals obtained from stones and roots etc. Five colours majorly used are red, yellow, green, black, and white. Painting brushes are prepared by taking from grass and bamboos. Wooden utensils are used to mix colours and roller stone is to grind the mudstones to make pigment paste.


Wall for traditional murals is done in three stages. The brick wall is a plastered mixture of lime and clean sand, different treatments are applied to get a perfect wall for drawing. Yellow outlining is the primary step in sketching which after followed by a colour filling. The complete space of art is occupied with different elements and overall painting is symmetrically presented by using components. Each character depicts the stories of god and goddesses and coloration for different characters based on three symbolism.


Traditional mural paintings are mostly prepared at older palaces and temples of Kerala. Life of mural painting art is practiced and followed by generations with the support of mural institutes.


Making of a Kerala Mural Painting

Mural painting was traditionally done on walls of temples. It follows a long process of preparing the wall for the painting, extracting dyes from leaves, flowers and vegetables after sun drying them for days, and applying each layered coat of painting, and giving time before the next coat.


These days Mural painting using natural dyes can be done on wooded planks and transported. They are also done using Acrylic paints on canvas. 


Here is how a Mural Painting is done on Canvas.

1. After the Mural Painting is conceptualised and drawn out with pencil on canvas, it is prepared with shades of yellow.

2. The first set of colours are filled in a certain prescribed order.

3. The darker shades are filled last and that completes the Mural painting.



Visual Appeal

A Mural Painting has a lot of visualisation, theory, vastu principles and rules. These are learnt by the artist over the years. There are proportions that human body and face are to follow, and rules for the skin colours of various characters. An artist innovates within these boundaries. It eventually gives a unique and mesmerising feel to Kerala Mural Paintings. 


Motifs of Kerala mural paintings

Usually Kerala mural paintings depict Hindu traditions and there are certain motifs that can be seen on all these paintings. These motifs add a traditional touch to these mural paintings.



Techniques of Modern Kerala mural paintings

The technique of Kerala mural painting is quite simple but time-consuming. There are six stages in Kerala mural painting.


First stage is the sketching a design on a white fabric. The second stage is enhancing the outline of the sketch. Third stage is colouring the painting. The only step that needs to be followed while painting a Kerala mural is the order of applying the Panchavarna colours (yellow, red, green, blue). Fourth stage is applying gradation. Fifth stage is the application of black outline. Sixth stage is the final and finishing touches to the painting


Materials and Methods for Modern Application

The materials used are Acrylic paints, Medium 1 (prevents spreading when mixed with paints), Fabric, Fasteners – Velcro, zipper, magnetic buttons, plastic buttons, Paint brush, Stationery items such as pencil, CD marker, eraser, sharpener and A3 paper.



Commercialization (How can it be done?)

Through exhibitions – Craft related exhibitions can be conducted like Craft Bazaars to showcase mural products and their beauty to the public. 


Online websites –Having an online presence also helps to create awareness about mural paintings and also helps get international exposure.  


Retail shops – Collaborate with retail stores to showcase, promote and sell these mural products. 


Conduct Government funded workshops – Government funded workshops can be conducted for home makers and unemployed people to widen the opportunity of the craft. 


Street murals – Initiatives can be taken by college students and mural artisans to spread the awareness of the mural paintings through street art, wall art etc.


Online classes – Online classes can be conducted to spread the techniques of mural paintings. 



Indian Mural paintings embarked on its existence in Ajanta caves, Bagh caves and Sithanavasal caves and later evolved into various forms of murals across India. The reach of Mural paintings is wide and is found to be an irreplaceable art form in many states of India.


Each state uses different techniques for Mural painting. Comparing all other states, Kerala Mural painting stands out for their vibrancy and elegance. The order of applying colour is one of the unique characteristics of Kerala Mural Painting (starting the painting with yellow colour followed by red, green, blue followed by black outline).


Way Forward

The latest products of application include wall hangings, shawls and laptop pouches. These products were made using Kerala Mural painting techniques and collaboration with other art forms. Kerala mural painting well known not only through traditional products but also diversified innovative products.


An ideal souvenir to be treasured for a lifetime, Kerala Murals are a symbol of natural beauty and grace, elegance and simplicity and of pious devotion. It is this humility that helps this art form overcome the ravages of civilization and time.




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The purpose of this compilation is to document and promote. We have given credits and reference links in this compilation. In case some are missed, it is not with malafide intent. 


See pictures of 

1. Ajanta Caves

2. Bundi Fort Paintings

3. Bundela Paintings Orchha

4. Paintings Brihadesvara Temple Tamil Nadu


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