Restoring Heritage

Restoring Heritage

A remarkable attempt to record a rich chunk of the art and the heritage of Tamil Nadu

Rupika Chawla
May 05 , 2014
02 Min Read

Beginning with Ajanta, and then down the centuries, mural paintings in India have always been the most powerful examples of religious and secular visual art. The South Indian tradition of wall paintings is by itself quite impressive, traversing as it does from the eighth century Sittanavasal wall paintings, to the eleventh century Brihadeshwar temple, as well as the later Nayak paintings. To the west are the temple murals of Kerala, dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.


The extraordinary tragedy of all these stupendous wall paintings is their irrevocable deterioration, not because of time but due to human negligence and indifference. What exacerbates the tragedy is inadequate documentation and, in some cases, no documentation at all of much that is threatening to disappear.

It is precisely for all these reasons that The Mucukunda Murals on the seventeenth century Nayak murals in the Tyagarajaswami temple in Tiruvarur is such a path-breaking venture. It negates all the cynicism that has become our response to the treatment meted out to great artistic and architectural heritage.


Such a book, based on the conservation of the murals, and the careful study of these paintings would not have been possible without the dedication of certain essential people. Ranvir Shah, the Founder Trustee of Prakriti Foundation, signalled his intent by dedicating years to this project. Of similar devotion was the research that went into decoding the story of Siva as Vitivitankan and Mucukunda the monkey-faced Chola king. V.K. Rajamani and David Shulman delve into specific poetic works that pertain to the temple to explain and analyse the narrative and religious fervour that accompanies the story.


They examine the various facets of the story, perfect for the curious mind in search of detail. Maya Tevet Dayan, in a sub-heading called ‘Pirouetting with murals’, instructs the viewer on the correct way to follow the ceiling panels in order to understand them, as they are painted in a way that the uninitiated would otherwise find difficult to understand. Spatial reality follows its own momentum in these murals. Projects such as these, which translate from dreams to practical reality, can gradually bring a change in our social framework. An enterprise with a happy ending such as this needs to sprout and flower in other hearts and minds.

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