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kerala mural painting


Etymology: The word mural is a derivation of the Latin word ‘murus’, which means ‘wall’. Murals can be painted on any large surfaces similar to walls, like ceilings, caves, etc.

Origin: The origin of mural paintings can be traced back to the 2nd century BC caves of Ajanta, Bagh, and Sithanavasal. Some of the oldest mural works in Kerala date back to the 8th century and were completed between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Location: Kerala, also known as “God’s own country,” is located on the Indian subcontinent towards the southwestern coast. Murals from Kerala were first discovered in a shrine at Thirunandikkara in the 8th century, which is now located in Kanyakumari district in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Relevance: Indian mural painting dates back to early medieval times, from the 2nd century BC to the 8th – 10th century AD. The first mural paintings were in the form of rock engravings, which are still visible in the caves of Edkkal and Wayand today. In later years, rock paintings evolved into rock art, which can be viewed in Anjanad Valley, Idukki district. Many people are unaware that Kerala Murals form a distinct school of art. There are over 150 temples in Kerala with ancient mural paintings.


Significance: This art form was influenced stylistically and geographically by its predecessor Kalamezhuthu, the Dravidian ritualistic art form. According to archaeologists, Kerala mural paintings date mostly from the Upper Palaeolithic and Early Historic ages, while the engravings date back to the Mesolithic ages. 

Culture and societies: Earlier, the social hierarchy created such a strong divide that stone structures were reserved for Gods and their representatives (Brahmins), wooden houses for Kshatriyas, clay houses for Vaishyas, and huts for Sudras or the downtrodden. 

Religious significance: Stylised depictions of reality and illusion in religious literary texts at places of worship such as temples and subsequently Kerala churches, automatically allowed some space for visual art, not only for adornment but also for conveying moral principles through visual forms.

Understanding the Art

Style: The main deity is drawn as the central motif with vibrant colours and heavy ornamentation. The facial features are simple yet powerful. The rest of the painting shows human and animal figures, these characters represent the devotees of ‘Maata’.

Central motifs: The central figure of these works contains a portrayal of one of the Hindu mother Goddesses in a temple or a similar structure. Other figures include mythological characters, human figures, musicians, sacrificial animals, and flora and fauna.

(Mandana art, Mandana Painting in India, 24/02/11, Indigenous Jesus: Mandana Painting in India)

new outlook

Kerala murals are often painted on plywood, cloth, paper, and canvas these days, to meet the demands of clients and to be displayed at exhibitions.

kerala mural blogs