Monday, June 27, 2011

The life and times of Jesus Christ

For the first time ever, Sasi K Warier, a leading Kerala Mural artist, has done a large canvas painting on a Christian theme

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, Sasi K Warier, one of Kerala's leading painters in mural arts, was approached by a Christian family. They wanted him to do a mural about scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. Sasi was intrigued. This was the first time he was asked to do a large canvas painting on a Christian theme. Usually, he did Hindu gods and goddesses, and scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Sasi accepted the commission and proceeded to read chapters from the Bible. “It was very important for me to know the character of Jesus Christ,” he says. Then he began doing sketches. Finally, two months ago, he sat down to do the actual painting, with the help of his assistants, Divya Gopi, Michael Manoj, and Gilda Rozario.

Right at the centre of the painting is the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger in Bethlehem. Jesus's father, Joseph, is portrayed as wearing a long saffron cloak with a shawl placed over his left shoulder. He also has a black moustache and beard. Mary also has black hair and a blue veil over her head.

“Mary has been drawn like the typical Indian woman, with long eyebrows, and a docile attitude, her palms held together in a namaste,” says Sasi. Below this section are the Three Wise Men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. “I have painted the boxes like the jewellery caskets we see in Kerala,” he says.

To show the halo over the head of the baby Jesus, Sasi drew a crown. “This was my only concession to the Kerala mural art style,” he says.

But Sasi had to do other adjustments. “When I draw Hindu mythological characters, I use a lot of ornaments, necklaces, and bangles,” he says. “I could not do that in this painting, because people from the Bible do not wear these things.”

Also, in Hindu mythology each character is depicted in a particular way. For example, Krishna is always in blue, while Vishnu wears yellow clothes. “But in the Bible there are no such descriptions,” says Sasi. “So I have Indianised all the characters, within the parameters of the mural style.”

The other scenes are equally interesting. In the washing of the feet of the disciples, a kneeling Jesus is bare-bodied, and wears a white dhoti, as he uses a small towel on one of the disciples. Eleven of them are standing behind. Right in the centre of this group is Judas. “He is portrayed in green, because he is about to betray Jesus,” says Sasi. “In mural art, bad characters are usually depicted in a blackish-green colour.”

The other scenes include the baptism of Jesus by John The Baptist in the Jordan River, where John looks like a sadhu. Then there is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, three days after he had died on the cross, and Jesus' first miracle: that of changing the water into wine at a wedding feast at Cana. In all, five incidents have been depicted in the 7 x 2 1/2 feet painting.

When asked about the predominance of red in the painting, Sasi says, “In mural art, we only use five colours: white, black, green, red and yellow. But, usually, the painting is of an ochre colour.”

There have been positive reactions by many of the visitors at the Indian Art Gallery at Kochi where the painting had been exhibited. One of them, Prof. C.P. Unnikrishnan, says, “Sasi has represented the characters in the way we would have imagined them. I am glad he has avoided painting it like the Hindu deities. There is a nice feel to it.”

Adds Sasi: “Hopefully, this will be the first of many.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala, Chennai and Delhi)