Dhrupad Yoga - Singing to God and Kerala's Mural Treasures

Sacred Music

Dhrupad Yoga -- Singing to God

The Gundecha brothers carry forward an ancient musical yoga tradition of sacred song rooted in the Vedas that invokes God as Nada Brahma and awakens the soul

By Dr. K.K. Chawla, Alabama, USA

There is little that can prepare one for the musical genius of the Gundecha brothers. They sit cross-legged on the stage in elegant, matching Indian outfits, framed by a pair of tamburas that rise from behind, their drummer by the side. The experience starts with quiet vocal ornaments, first from one and then the other, gentle liltings passed back and forth with exquisite subtlety. They are two, yet one, so attuned, so aware of the other. Hand and arm gestures, like graceful mudras, seem to summon the sounds from impossibly deep, athletically trained inner chambers. The opening complete, they take flight, soaring into a spiritual space that has them singing, now together, now alone, back and forth, carrying us on wings of astounding synchronicity and soul-stirring devotion. If that seems hyperbolic, simply sit in the presence of the Gundecha brothers (or hear them sing to God Siva on YouTube (bit.ly/shivashiva). If this be not sacred sound, it's as close as embodied beings will ever get. Where does this melodic magic have its source? In the ancient tradition called dhrupad.
Until about two centuries ago, dhrupad was the main form of North Indian classical music. It was sung in temples from early times and later in royal courts. Some consider it India's oldest musical form. Its patrons were the kings of the Indian princely states; the name Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior stands out as one such regal patrons.
In the first half of the 20th century, dhrupad was in danger of extinction. With the loss of royal patronage, it gradually gave way to a more free-form style called khayal. Around the 1940s, Hindu music shifted paradigms from being a form of worship and yoga to a performance/entertainment art. Few recordings of religious artists were made. By the late 90s most great geniuses of dhrupad and other schools of sacred music had passed on. A vast repertoire of Hindu music and the knowledge of the intricacies of the art went with them to their funeral pyres.

Saving an Ancient Tradition

Fortunately, efforts by a few proponents from the Dagar family have led to the revival and popularization of dhrupad in India and in the West. The Dagars trace their brahminical lineage back twenty generations to the 16th century, to one Brij Chand of Daguri village near Delhi (hence the name Dagar). But the grandsire of them all, everybody seems to agree, was Baba Gopal Das Pandey of Jaipur, who broke caste rules by accepting paan from Mohammad Shah Rangeel. Ostracized by his community, he converted to Islam. Thus, all the Dagars are the progeny of Pandey Brahmins.
The Dagars are credited with reviving dhrupad music with distinction. They are known for the deeply spiritual and meditative quality of their music. In particular, they have sparked a revival of the Dagarvaani (sometimes spelled as Dagarbani) style of dhrupad. Their disciples, though few, are continuing the tradition. Today's leading exponents are the three Gundecha brothers, who are direct disciples of Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha are the two vocalists; the third brother, Akhilesh, plays pakhawaj, the long drum.
A performance of two musicians together is called a jugalbandi. This art form was perfected by Moinuddin and Aminuddin Dagar, two brothers who changed the technique from a counterpoint to a harmonious blend of both voices. The Gundecha brothers are masters of jugalbandi. They sing with eyes usually closed, their voices exquisitely matched in tone and range. A listener cannot tell where one starts and the other leaves. The result is an incredibly spiritual and satisfying experience.
Continuing the age-old tradition of guru-shishya parampara, the brothers have set up a residential gurukul-type institution called Dhrupad Sansthan (Institute) in Bhopal, India. The basic philosophy is that true teaching cannot be achieved just through formal lectures, books, distance or online learning. Teaching has an important nonverbal component, learning by osmosis, transmission from the guru to the student when both live under the same roof. I visited the gurukul in December, 2011, met with the brothers and witnessed a public performance by them and their students. These students, some from overseas, undergo a rigorous and intensive training. They observe a vegetarian diet, get up at 5am every morning and go through a strict regimen throughout the day. It is an arduous, total immersion in dhrupad virtuosity.

Rooted in the Vedas

Indian classical music traces its roots to the chanting of the Vedic hymns. The earliest Vedic chanting used only three notes. Eventually this evolved into the present system of seven notes, points on a continuum of microtonal variations. The term used for classical music in Sanskrit is shastriya sangeet--music that is based on fundamental traditional principles found in the shastras. It is rooted in the spiritual concept of Nada Brahma, God (the Absolute) in the form of sound. The primordial sound, Pranava, is Om. So, dhrupad is a form of yoga--namely nada yoga, merging with the Divine through sound.
The word dhrupad is derived from dhruva and pada. Dhruva means "fixed." For example, the pole star is called dhruva tara; its position in the night sky is fixed, while other stars move across the sky. Pada means a part, composition or a stanza. Thus, dhrupad translates as a fixed musical composition.
Many dhrupad performers make the point that they do not perform to entertain the audience; their singing is more a never-ending quest toward the Godhead.

Understanding Dhrupad

The Dagar school teaches that the artist must master nada yoga, which includes unfolding through the chakras, our spiritual force centers. In the alap (or improvisational, part of the singing), the attentive listener will notice that the sound, or nada, starts from the navel region and moves upward through the throat to the palate. Dhrupad singing requires intense practice and a mastery of nada yoga to produce a palette of sounds, like the palette of colors a painter uses to produce a painting.
Proficiency in nada yoga enables singers to produce vast combinations of notes and tones, by flowing the sound freely along the navel-to-head axis (the navel, heart, throat, lips, tongue, teeth and the head). This art comprises both aadhar nada (sound produced by vibration of vocal chords) and niradhaar nada (inner sound of the body developed by breathing). These two sub-sounds are produced in union. This elaborate cultivation of the niradhaar nada makes dhrupad unique among all of India's musical forms. The master of nada yoga uses these energy channels and plays his entire navel-to-head vocal instrument, called gayatri veena, to produce divine sound.
A person accustomed to Western classical music, where rhythm and harmonics are the main characteristics, should leave that baggage behind when listening to Indian classical music, especially dhrupad. Here the notes are not treated as fixed, discrete points, but as fluid entities with infinite microtonal shades, resulting in deep melodic nuances. My suggestion for anyone wanting to really experience dhrupad music is to sit comfortably in a quiet place with eyes closed, paying attention to the subtle variations. I listen to it when I do hatha yoga. Dhrupad should not be played as mere background music.
A typical performance of dhrupad, like other forms of Indian classical music, starts with the alap, a slow, non-rhythmic, contemplative development of the raga, the basic modal form or scale. Gradually the tempo increases, and faster passages often include playful and vigorous ornamentation. In the Dagarbani style of dhrupad, compositions begin with a relatively long and cyclic alap, where syllables ti, ta, ri, ra, na, na, and nom are used to improvise. These syllables are derived from "Om taran taarani ananta hari narayan om."
Trained dhrupad singers and instrumentalists can express a wide range and variety of emotions in the alap by linking notes in different ways. These ornamentations are called alankars. Some of the alankar names used in the Dagarbani school are dagar (path, like a meandering road on a hill), dhuran (pulling), muran (turning), kampit (a kind of vibrato), kampan (shivering), and andolan (swinging). These also appear in other forms of Indian classical music, both vocal and instrumental.
The alap may occupy as much 50 minutes of an 80-minute dhrupad recording. After gradually unfolding into its more rhythmic jod and jhala sections, it is followed by a formal composition, usually verses in praise of particular Deities. At this stage the pakhawaj, a one-piece, barrel-shaped drum, traditionally enters to accompany the singing. The split-second understanding between the vocalist(s) and the pakhawaj player is unbelievable.

Variations on a Theme

Besides Dagarbani, there are other styles of dhrupad singing, such as ashta chhap sangeet or haveli sangeet. These devotional songs in praise of Lord Krishna are also known as Pushtamargiya kirtans. In this style, the Gundecha brothers recently released a two-volume CD set called Krishna Rasamrit. They have also recorded some modern Hindi poetry by Nirala, Mahadevi Verma and others.
Dhrupad music does not require a vocalist; it can be purely instrumental. The rudra veena is renowned for its deep and profound tones. Some excellent rudra veena recordings of Z. M. Dagar are available on YouTube. Dhrupad recordings on violin and cello have been made by Nancy Kulkarni (nee Lesh), a Canadian and erstwhile professional cellist who now lives and performs in India. Another instrument that I find very moving is surbahar, a bass sitar of which Pushpraj Koshti is a great exponent. The Gundecha Brothers have recorded with him.

A Satsang of Devotion

Though they are rising stars in the field of music, the Gundecha brothers maintain the Hindu artists' tradition of being humble devotees of God. At a big function in India, while VIPs were droning on the stage before the music performance, the brothers invited me and my wife backstage to sit with them and their students as they practiced for their performance: "We were sorry you had to wait to hear the music, so we thought you could come and listen while we practice." On a recent US tour, on their way from Houston to Washington, D. C., they took time out to visit me and my wife. I got a call out of the blue and they came over for breakfast with us at our home in Alabama, before continuing on their way to their performances.
I encourage each of you to search the web for "dhrupad," "Dagar" and "Gundecha Brothers," and incorporate this music into your life and spiritual practice.PIpi
(Dr. Krishan K. Chawla is a professor of Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Those interested in collaborating to support dhrupad may contact him at: krish.chawla@gmail.com )


Kerala's Mural Treasures

New Indian wealth spurs renaissanceof remarkable wall-painting tradition

By G.K. Nair, Kerala

For decades the great tradition of mural painting in the South Indian state of Kerala stood on the precipice of extinction. It was old stuff, museum stuff, Keralites thought, and ready to recycle. Who would miss it, anyway? Turns out, lots of people. The art that inspired kings and temple priests for thousands of years has been resuscitated, this time by wealthy individuals and corporations who recognize its genius and can pay for the privilege. This is one of the unexpected perks of India's economic resurgence. Huge mural paintings, once found only on the walls of temples and palaces, now adorn five-star hotel lobbies and the homes of India's rich and famous--with 55 billionaires, India ranks fourth in the world. Art lovers are motivated by aesthetic value, but others purchase art as a status symbol. It's cool to be a connoisseur.

Golden Age

Kerala's murals stand tall in India's artistic history, with their technical excellence, spiritualized storytelling, bold strokes, bright colors and uniquely idealized people, animals and trees. Only the Indian state of Rajasthan has more murals than Kerala.
Experts tell us Kerala's mural tradition evolved as a complement to her unique architectural style, originating with the prehistoric rock paintings found in the Anjanad Valley. Archaeologists believe these paintings belong to different epochs, from the upper Paleolithic (before the last ice age) to the early historic period. Rock engravings dating to these ancient times have also been discovered in the Edakkal caves in Wayanad and at Perumkadavila in Tiruvananthapuram district.
Recent mural history can be traced to the seventh and eighth century ce. It is not unlikely that the early Kerala murals and architecture came heavily under the influence of the Pallava dynasty. During the 13th century the first frescos were created at Kanthaloor, Temple in Tiruvananthapuram district. From then to the sixteenth century, hundreds of works blossomed in palaces and sacred chambers throughout the state, a treasure trove of imagery depicting the many manifestations of Siva, Vishnu in His various incarnations and the beloved Ganesha.
Archaeological evidence indicates the most prolific period of mural art in Kerala began in the mid-sixteenth century. Many of the most exquisite murals were painted during the 15th and 16th centuries, when the second Bhakti movement swept through Kerala. That revival was lead by great literary geniuses like Melapattur Narayanan Bhattatiri (1560-1646) and Putanam Nambudiri (1547-1640), pure bhaktars whose devotional literature kindled spiritual art. It is probable that the leading names of the movement, like Ezhuthachan, Melpathoor, Poonthanam, the venerable sage Vilwamangalam and the eighteen poets of the Zamorin's court, were instrumental in reviving the tradition of religious arts in those years.
The finest illustrations of this period are considered to be the Mattanchery Palace panels, depicting the Ramayana and the marriage of Parvati, and the temple paintings at Thrissur, Chemmanthitta and Thodeekkalam. Of all the ancient works, only two are dated: one in 1691 in the Pallimanna Siva Temple at Trichur, and a second in 1731 in the Sankaranarayana shrine of the Vadakkunatha Temple complex.
Srikumara's Shilparatna, a sixteenth century Sanskrit text on painting and related subjects, must have been enormously useful to early artists. This treatise, which discusses all aspects of painting, aesthetic as well as technical, has been acclaimed as a rare work on the techniques of Indian art, the like of which has never been published.

Decline and Resurgence

With the invasion of the Muslim warrior Tippu Sultan (1766-1782) and the later takeover of the Travancore temple trusts by the British (1811), wall-painting art fell out of favor in the 18th century. For 150 years it languished, and those who knew the art grew fewer and fewer.
It took a disaster to halt the decline. In 1970 a fire broke out in Guruvayur Temple, burning down the walls and obliterating the murals. Faced with replacing the masterpieces, temple authorities realized, to their dismay, how few competent mural artists were available. Only three veterans could be summoned for the recreations: Mammiyur Krishnankutty Nair, M.K. Sreenivasan and K.K. Varier. "It is because of them that we are able to enjoy the wonderful works of art in the temple today," said a devotee of Guruvayoorappan.
The incident awakened the Guruvayur Devaswom to the urgency for revival of this traditional and uniquely Keralite art form. Driven in part by the prodding of Dr. M.G. Sasibhooshan, the Institute of Mural Painting was established in 1989. Today it thrives, offering a five-year course inside the temple premises (see sidebar this page). Institutions for learning and research in mural arts have also come up at the Sree Sankara Sanskrit College in Kalady, the Malayala Kalagram in Mahe and the Vastu Vidhya Gurukulam at Aranmula. Mural painting is also taught in the Banaras Hindu University in north India.
Even local Christian churches, recognizing this revival and the importance of mural art in Kerala, have employed this art form to depict the Last Supper and other Christian stories, in the attempt to give their imported history a distinctively local look.

Color and Content

The subjects for murals are typically derived from religious culture and texts, peopled with highly stylized pictures of the Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Other common subjects are rishis and sages, their exploits and those of kings and warriors, as well as royal attendants, processions and the significant events which define the history of the place.
Dr. Subbanna Sreenivasa Rao, a leading writer on the subject (see his work at Sulekha.com) told us, "The human and the godly figures depicted in Kerala murals are strong and voluminous, drawn in running, smooth curves and subtle darkening of colors. The exquisite shading depicts the fullness and roundness of their form, resembling the paintings of Ajanta.
"The figures are highly stylized and rendered with elongated eyes, painted lips, exaggerated eyebrows and explicit body and hand gestures (mudras), decorated with elaborate headdresses and exuberant, overflowing ornaments. The strong and voluminous figures of Kerala murals with their elaborate headdresses have a close association with the characters from the dance dramas of Kerala.
"The expression of the emotions, too, comes out rather strongly. As compared to these figures, the animals, birds and plants drawn in the pictures appear closer to life. The wild and erotic scenes also are overtly shown without much reservation. The Gods, humans and animals are shown in combat and lovemaking. The murals take a holistic approach to existence, almost obliterating the thin dividing line between the sublime and the mundane, between religion and art."
These subjects are not fanciful representations of the artists' imagination but motifs exactingly drawn from the Dhyana slokas, which are not mere prayers or hymns but word-pictures or verbal images of the Deities. These verses describe precisely the Deity's form, aspects, countenance, the details of facial and bodily expressions, posture, the number of arms, heads and eyes, ornaments, objects held in the hands, etc. Suresh Muthukulam estimates there are more than 2,000 such verses which help artists like him to visualize and paint the sacred forms. These slokas also lay down the theory of proper color schemes, the skillful management of which provides stylized balance and rhythm to the paintings.
Murals depict the epics, like Ramayana, and the classic frolics of Krishna as well as the mystic forms of Siva and Shakti. They recount the Hindu myths and the Kerala forms of worship and lifestyle. As backdrops to these highly stylized works, flora and fauna and other aspects of nature are also pictured.
In his Mural Paintings in Travancore K.P. Padmanabhan Tampy writes, "The great and distinctive art displayed in these paintings reveals a wonderful vitality and intensity of feeling, meditative charm, divine majesty, decorative delicacy, unique verisimilitude, subtle charm of color, fine texture and marvelous draftsmanship. The Kerala murals blend harmoniously with their surrounding architecture, wood carvings and decorative art."
Unlike the temple wall-paintings of nearby Tamil Nadu, which relate to either Siva or Vishnu, Kerala murals present Siva and Vishnu rather evenly. There are paintings of Siva worshiping Vishnu, and Vishnu offering worship to Siva. Kerala especially adores the depiction of Siva and Vishnu as one Being in the form of Hari-Hara, a common subject on the fresco walls.
Unique to Kerala murals is the Pancha-mala (five garlands) system, in which borders are decorated with relief-figures of animals, birds, flowers, vines and such: the Bhootha-mala depicts goblins and dwarfs; Mruga-mala, animals such as elephants and deer; Pakshi-mala, rows of parrot-like birds; Vana-mala, floral motifs; and finally, the Chithra-mala is composed of decorative designs.
Kerala murals are also typified by their rich, warm and loud colors. A traditional Kerala mural strictly follows the Pancha-varna (five colors) scheme, using only red, yellow, green, black and white. In fact, it is this adherence to a limited earthy palette that gives the murals much of their distinctive look and feel.
White, yellow, black and red are the pure colors, according to Shilparatna. The ocher yellow, ocher red, white, bluish green and pure green are the more important colors.
All pigments are derived from natural materials, such as minerals and stones, oils, juices., roots and herbs. The yellow and red colors are mixed from minerals (arsenic sulfide and mercuric sulfide), green from the juice of a plant locally called Eravikkara, black from the soot of oil lamps. White, the base, is prepared with lime. Colors are mixed in a wooden bowl with tender coconut water and exudates from the neem tree. Other methods, minerals and herbs are occasionally used, but always natural.
The colors relate to the gunas, or attributes, of the subjects. For instance, green is employed for depicting the sattva (balanced, pure or divine) divinities; red and yellow for rajas (active, irascible) characters, and white for tamas (inert or base) events and creatures.
The brushes used are of three types--flat, medium and fine. Flat brushes are made from the hair found on the ears of calves, medium from the hair on a goat's belly and the fine brushes from delicate blades of grass.

Exacting Techniques

Mural artists are not merely illustrators but chemists as well, creating a complex concoction that will not only receive the organic pigments but will then resist the erosion of the elements for hundreds of years. Mr. K. U. Krishnakumar, Principal of the Institute of Mural Painting in Guruvayoor, explains that the walls must be painstakingly prepared with a rough plastering of lime and sand mixed with the juice of kadukkai or of a vine called chunnambuvelli, all dissolved with palm sugar (jaggery). A smooth plaster--a similar mix with ground cotton added--is then applied. After ten days, 25 to 30 coats of quicklime and tender coconut water are applied, creating a thickness of about half an inch. Lemon juice is used to mellow the alkalinity of the surface. The mural is painted only after the wall is completely dry, using the fresco (Italian for fresh) technique of mural painting, which involves the rapid application of water-soluble pigments in a damp lime wash.
The art itself is defined in six stages, artist Muthukulam notes. Lekhya karma is the first, where sketching of the outlines is done in a light yellow color. Second comes the rekha karma which enhances and gives dimension to the outlines. The third stage, called varna karma, breathes life into the subject with the addition of colors. In the fourth stage, vartana karma, shading is added for depth and definition. Lekha karma is the tedious outlining of all forms, usually with black. The final stage is called dvika karma, where life is given to the eyes of the Deities and people, "awakening or stirring the work to life." This is also called samarpanam, which means an offering from the artist. A fine coat of resin is then painted on the surface to give it a glossy look.
While the ancient procedures remain fairly intact, modern times have brought changes. To meet the demands of clients and for display at distant exhibitions, Kerala paintings are often executed these days on plywood, cloth, paper and canvas. But the old genius is still evident in the work of Suresh Muthukulam and his students, in their renderings of modern Kerala village life, of contemporary Indian biographies and of the eternal Divinities. The old Kerala masters might be startled to see the murals in the lobby of the Mumbai Hyatt or on pillars in Delhi's Imperial Hotel; but even the most irascible of them would smile to know that his craft is alive and well in the 21st century.PIpi

Mural Art Around the Globe

Murals have adorned walls as long as there have been humans to scratch, paint, etch and carve them. From the prehistoric cave art at Lascaux, France, to the ceremonial wall paintings of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, India and Mesopotamia, the history of murals is rich and varied. The oldest mural communications, in Europe, date back 40,000 years. Preserved by the rocky shelters they inhabit, they typically depict religious ceremonies, hunting scenes and food gathering. New ones are continually being created while old ones are being discovered and restored--such as the 100 bce Mayan wall art in Guatemala, discovered in 2001.
The function of murals varies from culture to culture. In Tibet they are part of meditative Buddhist practices. During the Baroque period in England, Germany and France, royalty and rich patrons had allegorical and Biblical murals lavishly painted on palace walls and ceilings. In modern urban environments from Berlin to Brooklyn, graffiti has become a form of mural art exhibiting the angst, rebellion and narratives of disenfranchised city youth. From China to Russia and from New York to Milan, wall art has been used to spread political propaganda and, in counterpoint, to perpetuate the culture of mass consumerism. Chairman Mao and Calvin Klein alike have found the mural to be greatly useful and profitable!

Against All Odds: Keeping the Tradition Alive

When a temple fire destroyed historic wall masterpieces and only three living artists could be found, the Guruvayur Temple Devaswom Board founded the first school for muralists in 1989. Today dozens of youth live and work at the Sri Krishna Temple complex, preparing plasters, mixing pigments and making brushes. Funded by the government temple board, the five-year course hand-picks students showing extraordinary aptitude and provides them room and board and Rs. 500 a month for personal expenses. The rooms are austere pilgrim quarters and the food is the bare-bones free meal, called prasadam oottu, which the temple gives twice a day to visiting devotees. In small classes, the mostly twenty-something boys are taken step by step through a disciplined course under the rigorous tutelage of resident artisans.
In keeping with the spiritual roots of the craft, students bathe at dawn in the temple tank, then offer worship and prayers at the first puja of the day. This and other religious disciplines assure that the young artists regard their work as a gift to the Gods and to humanity, an inner attitude considered crucial to attaining the highest levels of prowess and grace.
Sanskrit scholars are commissioned to teach the famed Dhyana Slokas, the hoary holy text which describes the Deities and legends of the art. The verses include exquisite descriptions of the navarasas, the nine traditional emotions expressed by the face: love, laughter, fury, tragedy, disgust, horror, heroism and wonder.
The first class graduated in 1994, with Suresh Muthukulam (see page 67) ranking at the head, trained by Mummiyur Krishnankutty Asan, who passed away shortly thereafter.
Recently the Kerala government has added mural painting to its vastu science courses. The programs are much sought after. A gifted artist today can earn substantial sums selling through exhibitions. The best are earning millions of rupees a year.

Two Bold Contemporary Initiatives

On display at the Gandhi Smrithi Darshan gallery in New Delhi is perhaps the finest artistic exposition of Indian history and culture: an eight-part mural series on India's freedom struggle, created in 2001 by Suresh Muthukulam and his team. Celebrating India's 50 years of independence, it focuses on eight moments from the life of Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation. The main piece, measuring four by six meters, took six months to complete. Done in dry fresco, the perfect medium to immortalize Gandhi's nonviolent vision, the paintings will endure for 2000 years.
Adorning the Mannam Samadhi in Changanassery is a work completed in 2005 by Suresh and team: the 'Saphalamiyathra' murals on the life of Mannathu Padmanabhan, the late leader of Kerala's Nayar clan. Six artists worked for two years to capture eleven moments in this hero's life, revealing a man who dedicated all his life and wealth to unite his community, walking away from luxury and leaving behind even his wristwatch, walking stick, pen and wooden shoes.

Portrait of a Modern Master: Suresh Muthukulam

When next you land at the new Mumbai airport, a massive 10' by 80' mural depicting flight will greet you, the work of S. Suresh Kumar, popularly known as Suresh Muthukulam. Traditionally trained and extraordinarily gifted, Suresh is arguably Kerala's leading muralist. His work can be found in hotel lobbies, museums and temples in 12 nations, and even at the Hinduism Today offices in Hawaii. (Full disclosure: we have been working with him for four years and have no claim of objectivity in telling his story!)
Suresh was born in 1971 in a central Travancore hamlet called Muthukulam in the Alappuzha district of Kerala, the sixth and youngest child of K. Sukumaran and Pulamaja. His aptitude became evident from his childhood when he drew illustrations of the stories of Bhagavatham recited by his father. Encouraged by his teachers, he excelled in school art competitions. "When as a boy I visited the Krishnapuram Palace, which is not far from my ancestral home, I was attracted by the mural painting of Gajendra Moksham drawn on the wall adjacent to the bathing ghat in the palace pond. It inspired me a lot," Suresh told Hinduism Today.
"Father soon took me to Mr. Varier who was teaching painting privately. I was led into a puja room inside the school where Ganapati was installed. To introduce me to art, Mr. Varier took a brush, sanctified it with some pujas and gave it to me with the order to draw Ganapati riding a mouse. With the blessings of the Ganapati, I did it to the satisfaction of my first guru."
He fine-tuned his skills at a school in Mavelikara, took a three-year Diploma in Painting from the Modern Fine Arts at Mavelikara (1986-1989), then joined a five-year degree course (1989-1994) in the Kerala mural tradition under an innovative gurukula system started by the Guruvayur Devaswom. "There I was fortunate to apprentice under the late great Mammiyoor Krishnankutty Nair, a master of the tradition. Together we restored a mural painting at the Padmanabha Swami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram. It took us four years to complete and we stayed at the site happily, only receiving boarding and lodging for our work. To us it was pure, selfless art, and a great opportunity to perfect our skills."
Raw talent and hard work earned him accolades and commissions in India and abroad. In 1995 he became a visiting lecturer at the Ravi Varma Institute of Fine Arts. When the state set up the Vastu Vidya Gurukulam at Aranmula to teach vastu shastra and mural arts, Suresh was chosen to head the mural section. His students are thriving in the field. He senses the traditional arts are in revival, as people discover murals have more color, style and grace than modern works. He half jokes that "Modern art gives me the impression that it is done without bothering much with knowledge of the basics."

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Satguru Bodhianatha Velayanswami ji, Hinduism Today for the collection)

(The Blog  is reverently for all the seekers of truth, lovers of wisdom and   to share the Hindu Dharma with others on the spiritual path and also this is purely  a non-commercial blog)


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