Replication of mural art to mobile, non-mural spaces as the means to conserve the murals is the fundamental basis of the proposed project. It is based on the perception that mural paintings do not have much of a future in their own space, conserved or otherwise.

I began to see, dimly at first, and much more clearly subsequently, that if there was one non-mural space that mural art could almost be at home, it was in the space of the kalamkārī cloth. For centuries, mural art and kalamkārī were parallel and cross-over art forms. Today in Kerala and Orissa where the the mural painting tradition is still alive, it can be observed that the same artist works with the same theme on either media, lime plaster or cloth / canvas. Whereas, in Tamilnadu, which has more mural paintings than most states, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, a disconnect has become an historical truth. But there live hundreds of kalamkārī artists in Kalahasti, only a few hours’ drive from Chennai where I live, and so I decided to approach one of those artists with the intention of replicating to cloth, in actual size, one of the mural paintings that I had digitally traced. I was also encouraged by the knowledge that kalamkārī paintings can survive for centuries as attested to by the multitude of centuries-old kalamkārī cloths in the possession of museums all over the world (Click here to see samples from the Victoria and Albert Museum). I began to see, in kalamkārī, that I was looking at probably the best archival medium. I began also to see what a big compromise a photographic archive is in comparison. The best preserved, cold-stored colour film/print does not weather well beyond a few decades, does it? Black and white film is more durable but nothing compared to a kalamkārī cloth.

Featured above - Left : A picture of a mural from 17th Century c.e. as it exists in the Narunbunathaswamy temple at Tiruppudaimarudur, Ambasamudram Taluk, Tirunelveli District, TamilNadu. In the walls inside the temple tower of 5 tiers of this temple, there are mural paintings. Among the mural paintings is a series of paintings of Arab/Portuguese traders selling horses to the Pandya king ahead of his war with the invading army of Krishnadevaraya. This mural is from this 'horse-trading' series. Size is: 2' x 6' (w x h). Middle: A digital tracing of the mural, outline only. Right: A cloth replica produced by powder-tracing the line drawing and then by drawing and dyeing it using kalamkārī techniques.

Above, work in progress on a faithful reproduction on cloth of a digital line master of one mural in actual size (about 18’ x 10’ ), in the kalamkārī idiom. Below: The life-size outline drawing on cloth held in front of the source of the painting, the main tower at Tiruppudaimarudur.

The utility of the kalamkārī output is four-fold. 1. An immovable wall becomes a durable, travelling exhibit. 2. It returns heritage art to the artist. 3. It opens up an alternative channel for conservation, the craft of mural restoration being scarce and expensive. 4. The cloth painting becomes the setting for a stage performance of the story/sequence depicted in it.

I have been working with kalamkārī artists from Kalahasti in an effort to restore these murals to cloth and have jointly produced half a dozen actual size kalamkārī replicas of the murals. Sri. Ramachandraiah, an Andhra State awardee and the record-holder for the world’s largest kalamkārī ever produced is the artist who is making the replicas. Aside from producing the kalamkārī art, Ramachandraiah’s intuitive grasp of how a missing line should be filled in for, and his awareness of the grammar have been of great help in the reconstruction.

It is one of the aims of this project to realise the ceiling piece at Chengam as an actual size canopy executed with Ramachandriah’s incredible sense for colours and his unusual comfort in handling large pieces.