I am besotted with murals.
It all started long back when I was about thirteen years old. Aware of my interest in painting, my uncle took me to the house of the musician S Rajam (elder brother of Veena maestro S Balachander). If my memory serves me right, it was a small house close to the Madras Institute of Engineering. When I entered the house, I was enveloped in a profusion of murals which adorned the walls. I was awestruck. Mr Rajam took me by hand and showed me each and every mural and explained to me as to how he did it. The melange of colors and the symphony of images are still deeply etched in my memory.
In my travels, I always seek out places to recapture that experience. I have sought murals in the streets of San Francisco, in an ancient village in Switzerland, in the bylanes of rural Rajasthan www.profraguram.com/musings--reflections/where-people-dwell-amidst-artsome-glimpses-of-mural-art and in an unknown temple in Kerala www.profraguram.com/musings--reflections/murals-of-pundareekapuram.
On a recent visit to Hampi I was keen to have a glimpse of the murals of the Vijayanagar Empire. In addition to their prowess in temple architecture, the Vijayanagar kings had a keen interest in paintings. Many of their temples had exquisite murals painted on the walls and ceilings. Unfortunately these have been callously treated and painted over by people who were unaware of their beauty and significance. The murals at the Virupaksha Temple are the last remaining examples of the creativity of the Vijayanagar artisans. Even the ones at Lepakshi are in varying states of decay.
The murals at Virupaksha are on the ceiling of the Ranga Mantapa, in front of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The murals are arranged on the high ceiling within rectangular panels having richly decorated borders. Sadly many of the painted panels have faded away. Only the panels on the central portion of the Ranga Mantapa are now visible and they are the rare remains of the Vijayanagara mural art.
The themes depicted in the paintings are mainly from the puranas and the epics. As regards the technique adopted, I gleaned from the literature, that the surface was prepared with three or four layer of plaster and finally with soft lime plaster or the paste of the conch shells. Then, sketches were made on the smooth surface of dried plaster. This method of preparation of the surface I understand, was quite different from the one adopted by the artists of Ajanta, which was more elaborate and spread over much longer stages of preparation. The sketches were made in red ocher and the colors of the paints used were delicate and sometimes soft and smoky. Only three or four colors were used and they were mostly earthy, sometimes mixed with glue or other vegetable binders.
The Vijayanagara style of painting, as it came to be known later, is a combination of the Chalukya, Chola and Pandya styles. The characteristic features of the Vijayanagara art are the simplicity and vigor in their depiction. There is an attempt to capture the sense of movement and energy in the painted figures. Absorbing the local artistic traditions and customs, the Vijayanagar school of painting gradually evolved into the Mysore and Tanjore schools of painting.
Let me now describe each of these murals in detail.
Combine these descriptions with the images hosted in Google Photos. Once you click on each image on the right hand corner there will be an i icon. Clicking on it will give the details of the particular image.
One of the most popular narratives in Hindu mythology is Girija Kalyana, which is the story of the marriage of Parvati or Girija (daughter of the Mountain King Giriraja who is also referred to as Parvataraja/Himavant) and Shiva. This story is depicted in different Puranas, including the Shiva and Linga Puranas. It has also been popularized through Kalidasa’s epic poem Kumara-Sambhava, wherein he describes the scenic beauty of the Himalayas, the grace of the mountain king’s daughter as well as her devotion and love for Shiva who is absorbed in deep meditation.
Worried about the power of Tarakasura, the gods request Manmatha the god of love to kindle love in Shiva towards Girija who has dedicated herself to Shiva, so that they may unite and beget a warrior god who would be able to destroy Tarakasura. Manmatha is burnt by the wrath of Shiva for disturbing his meditation, but is successful in achieving his goal of awakening Shiva who falls in love with Parvati and subsequently marries her.
The portrayal of the Girija Kalyana scene has great significance in the Virupaksha temple as it is related to the local myth of the marriage of Pampambika with Virupaksha, the presiding deities of this temple. The tank adjacent to the temple, which is called the Manmatha Kunda, is believed to be the exact place where Shiva set ablaze Manmatha for disturbing his meditation.
The Girija Kalyana panel on the ceiling of the Ranga Mandapa in Virupaksha temple, Hampi is just below the portraits of the Trimurtis. The scene of the mountain king Giriraja/Himavant giving Girija in marriage to Shiva is shown under an iconic tree. In a separate arch behind Shiva stands four headed Brahma and behind Himavant, in a separate arch, we see two women standing, one of whom is probably his wife Mena. Three more women of similar status are painted in the section on the right of the central section. Two of them could be Sridevi and Bhudevi. On the extreme right section in the middle we can see Bhringi, Nandi and Ganesha. Bhringi seems to be playing an instrument and Nandi is on the mridangam. To the left of Brahma, we can see Vishnu and behind him is a goddess with a veena who is probably Saraswati. The remote left panel comprises of Veerabhadra, Tumburu and Narada.
This panel shows Manmatha shooting his arrow at Shiva. Manmatha and Rati are on a chariot pulled by a parrot. He holds a bow made of sugarcane and his arrow is aimed at Shiva. Behind him is Rati. Shiva is painted as a yogi and is seen sitting in padmasana. The snakes that flank him trail down his body to form a loop at the end.
Brahma had granted the three sons of demon Tarakasura – Tarakaksha, Kamalaksha and Vidyunmali, three impregnable cities (tripura), which could be destroyed only by Shiva on a day when the three cities met. The demons had corrupted their cities with immorality. On an exceptional day when the three cities merged, Shiva destroyed them with an arrow. Because of this exploit Shiva is acknowledged as Tripurasamharamurti.
In this panel, Shiva is standing on a chariot yoked to horses and driven by Brahma. He is aiming his arrow at the three cities represented as three small circles. He is Chaturbhuja. His left hand is handling the massive bow made of the Sumeru mountain and the other left hand is supporting the heavy arrow which was constituted of the bodies of Agni, Vishnu and Vayu. His right hand is pulling the arrow at the string and the other right hand is holding a damaru. Vasuki, the celestial serpent forms the bow string. Shiva wears a blue dhoti and is surrounded by various figures. Behind him are naginis. Shiva’s chariot is pulled by the four Vedas which are portrayed as horses.
This composition is divided into small frames. In the centre are Sita and Rama standing under a tree, with their hands enjoined. Both are clothed in royal garments and are adorned with jewelry. A grand kirita mukuta crowns their heads. Rama is accompanied by his parents Dasharatha and Kausalya, and Sita by her parents Janaka and his wife Sunayana. In the left vertical unit, adjoining the central image, are Lakshmana and the sage Vasishta. In the right vertical unit are Vishvamitra painted in the characteristic red and a female figure. The small square above them houses the royal audience of the wedding. The raised hand of the male figures in the panel indicates their blessing the couple.
The episode of Rama lifting the mighty Shiva dhanush and thus winning the hand of Sita is illustrated in this panel. In the center is Rama. He is standing with his legs stretched on a pedestal. He is wearing a white dhoti with red floral design. In his left hand he has lifted the bow and his right hand is pulling the arrow. To his left is Sita with a garland in her hand. She has assumed a delicate tribhanga pose. She is clad in black lower garment and a blouse. To the right of Rama is brother Lakshmana with an arrow in his hands. A large arch encloses the trio. A pair of conjoined peacocks rest on either sides of the arch.
Occupying the cubicle below the main section is a group of kings who have come to participate in the swayamvara. One among them is Ravana with ten heads and ten pair of hands. He is painted horizontally to fit the limited space. In the left vertical unit is a royal couple. In the right vertical unit are king Janaka and his wife Sunayana. In a small square on either side above the vertical units are the saptarishis.
VIDYARANYA IN PROCESSION
Vidyaranya was a Shaivite philosopher and a spiritual leader who motivated the brothers Harihara and Bukkha to establish the Vijayanagara Empire. He was also the chief pontiff of the Sringeri matt. Vidyaranya was an important royal preceptor of the Vijayanagara kings. Epigraphic accounts suggest that somewhere around the 14th c, after the capital of the Empire was decisively established, the saint was welcomed into the city in a royal procession. This panel is a vivid recreation of the same.
In the painting Vidyaranya is seated on a decorated palanquin. One of his hands is holding a rope of the palanquin and the other hand is in abhaya mudra. He is sitting with his legs crossed. A plain cloth drapes his body and covers his head. The arms of the palanquin are supported by a pair of attendants on both ends. In the foreground are two attendants of the saint carrying his kamandala, danda and kalasa. Vidyaranya is flanked on both sides by four chauri – bearers and two banner – bearers.
The sage is accompanied by a large entourage of elephants, camels, cavalry, infantry, trumpeters and others. The procession is led by a white elephant, on which are seated a mahout and a soldier carrying the regal flag and a horse ridden by a soldier beating the royal drum. In front is a soldier who appears to be guiding the way. They are followed by four foot soldiers hauling their spears, and a pair of attendants holding the royal insignia. On the top are three trumpeters. Following the saint is a fully caparisoned mighty elephant guided by a mahout. Behind the elephant is a stately camel on which is seated a soldier beating the drum. The musicians in the panel seem to be announcing the arrival of the spiritual leader.
This panel illustrates almost thirty human figures and four majestic animals. All the figures are painted in profile, and are marching to the capital, Hampi. This sense of movement gives the panel a unique dynamism. The Virupaksha linga in the neighboring panel, which illustrates the royal shrine of the capital, is their destination. The entire painting is done against a red background.
Vishnu is sitting on a simhasana with Lakshmi. The two hands at the back are holding a shankha and a chakra. The front right hand is held in abhaya mudra and the front left hand encircles Lakshmi. He is wearing a dhoti which falls on the pedestal in a semi-circle. He is also wearing a blue cloth and uttariya, the ends of the uttariya are flapping on his sides. Vishnu has a round face with wide open eyes, thick eyebrows, big nose with flaring nostrils, red lips and a pronounced chin. A tilaka appears on his forehead. Two mythical birds with stylized tails are painted on the sides of the arch. Flanking Vishnu on both sides are Garuda and Hanuman in different vertical units.
Shiva is sitting on a simhasana in the lalithasana posture. Enthroned on his lap is Parvati. Shiva has four arms. The back left hand is carrying a damaru, the weapon in the back right hand is hard to determine. The front right hand is held in the abhaya mudra and the front left hand enfolds Parvati. He is dressed in a pink dhoti. A cloth is tied at his waist. A blue uttariya stylistically drapes his body. Parvati sits on his thigh. Her lower garment has red and white horizontal stripes. A large cusped arch frames the central figures. On the sides of the arch are two parrots. Flanking the central figures on both the sides, are Tumburu and Narada. Tumburu is equine-faced and he carries a tambura. Narada appears as an ascetic. He has a long beard and his hair is tied in jata mukuta.
Brahma is portrayed with his wife Saraswati sitting on his lap. Here, he has three faces. Moustaches appear on all the three faces. He is dressed in a white dhoti, blue cloth and an uttariya. Saraswati who is seated on his thigh wears a black lower garment with chequered and spangled motifs and a blue blouse. They are enclosed within a cusped arch and pair of mythical birds appear on the sides of the arch. Flanking Brahma are the two dvarapalakas painted in the two vertical zones.
Drupada, king of Panchala, who held a contest for the purpose of choosing a suitable match for his daughter Draupadi. Contestants were required to string a heavy bow and then use it to hit the eye of a wooden fish rotating above a pool of water. They were allowed to take aim at the eye of the fish only by looking at its reflection in the pool of water. Many princes and noblemen vied for the hand of the princess of Panchala; some, including Karna were disqualified. With his famed skills of archery Arjuna shoots the fish in the eye by looking at the reflection in the water below and wins the hand of Draupadi.
There is a wonderful panel illustrating all the ten avatars of Vishu, the God of Preservation.
Monuments are anchors in time.
Epochs pass, weather erodes these murals, but the myths surrounding these depictions still remain alive in these paintings.
And as for my lasting memories...
Light gently caresses
These intricate murals
Thickly coated with time
Their haunting beauty
In the corridors
Of my mind . . .
Glimpses At: photos.app.goo.gl/9h7PvjzwFS8h8u5j2