Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Scaling The Heights

The Kochi-based Sasi Warier has done an 18 feet high painting of Lord Shiva. It is the tallest work done on a single theme-based canvas in Kerala mural art

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

A few months ago, Sasi K Warier got a call. It was from a man called Hari Raveendranath. They had been batch mates in college at Kochi. Thereafter, for the next 30 years, they had gone out of touch. But a mutual friend, Rajasree Varma, enabled Hari to contact Sasi.

Hari, a Bangalore-based businessman, wanted to see the works of Sasi, who is Kerala's leading mural painter. So he came to Sasi's studio at Kochi and observed the paintings. He liked what he saw. Then he told Sasi that he had a 20 ft. high wall inside his house in Bangalore. He wanted to place a painting on it. “Hari has a lot of foreigners and VIPs who come to his house,” says Sasi. “So he wanted them to have a look at traditional Kerala art.”

As for the subject, Hari had seen a painting of Lord Shiva and wanted something along those lines. Not surprisingly, Sasi did a lot of research. In fact, when a relative, Ajith, heard about what Sasi was working on, he presented him with the best-selling novels on Shiva written by Amish Tripathi.

Sasi then set to work. During this time, he was helped by the students of the Indian School of Arts, of which he is the principal. They included Divya Gopi, Gilda Edward Rozario, Pappini Dinesh, Manoj Mathaserry, Meera Menon, and Sasi's wife Usha.
They would work on one section, of a long roll of canvas, finish it, and fold it, before they began work on the second section. It took 50 days to complete the work. The end result is a stunning mural of Lord Shiva, 18 feet high and 7 feet in width.

When the painting, titled ‘Shivam’, was displayed at the Durbar Hall gallery, visitors were enthralled. Two old ladies prayed in front of the work, as if they were at a temple. Many sat on the floor and kept staring at the work. The painting is also going to be on display at the Alliance Francaise in Bangalore from March 7-9.

The work, indeed, is a sumptuous sight. There are 48 elaborately drawn figures, spread across five panels which flow one into the other. At the topmost panel, Shiva is portrayed as Dakshinamurthy who is surrounded by the sages of the Vedas. In the next section Shiva is sitting on a sofa with his wife Parvati, and children Ganapati and Subramaniam. Beside them is Nandi the bull and Narada Maharishi.

In the central section Shiva is surrounded by gods and goddesses, including Vishnu, Devendra, Saraswati, Kali, and Brahma. Just below that, in another panel, there is another avatar called Mritunjay. The final panel shows a group of priests who are doing puja in honour of Lord Shiva.

So, in the end, Sasi had a good idea of Lord Shiva's character. “Shiva destroys only when there is a need to do so,” says Sasi. “He has a lot of energy and is far more vibrant than all the other gods. Shiva has rapid changes of mood -- he gets angry and suddenly becomes happy. Shiva also makes decisions quickly. That is why He is my favourite God.”
Mural painting is also his favourite art form, thanks to his father, the renowned mural painter, KK Warrier. “I have been painting from my childhood,” says Sasi. “My father has been my mentor all along.”
And both follow the ancient method, when it comes to painting on walls. Initially, the wall is plastered. Following that, lime and tender coconut water are applied. In fact, there are 28 coats. It becomes thicker than paper. It is on this base that the painting has done.

Sasi's most recent restoration work – a 'Dance of Siva' painting – was done at the Paalnaari temple at Palakkad. Earlier, with the help of his father, they salvaged a major work from the Karivellur Puthoor Siva temple at Kannur, before the building was demolished. “The painting was 400 years old,” says Sasi. “I was so happy that we could save it.”

He is also happy that the government is showing keen interest to preserve this ancient art form. “The only problem is the dearth of mural restoration experts,” says Sasi. “But many youngsters are getting trained. So the future looks bright.”

In fact, as a result of regular exhibitions, and exposure in the media, the mural art form is gaining in popularity. Sasi has held exhibitions on scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the life of Jesus Christ, and vignettes of life. Many Malayalis, in America, Europe and Singapore, have got in touch with Sasi. “I have done a lot of commissioned work for them,” he says.

The artist says that he gets his inspiration from the murals at the Ajanta Caves as well as the Lepakshi paintings in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh. “The Veerabhadra temple [at Anantpur] has some of the best mural paintings in India,” he says.

Meanwhile, Sasi's Shiva painting has set tongues wagging in the art community at Kochi. Most feel that Sasi has been paid about Rs 25 lakh. Sasi laughs it off and says, “Hari is a friend. I did it for far less money than what has been mentioned. In fact, I was more excited that I got a chance to do such a large mural.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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