Ancient murals ravaged at Kuttralam temple

Ancient murals ravaged at Kuttralam temple

Ancient murals ravaged at Kuttralam temple

Ancient murals ravaged at Kuttralam temple : Several hundreds of ancient murals at Kuttralanatha Swamy temple, at Kuttralam, Tamil Nadu, have been ravaged using gaudy colours by local artists engaged by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), New Delhi, allege art historians.

The temple in Tir

unelveli district comes under the Tamil Nadu Government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments’ (HR &CE) Department. The latter handed over the project of restoration of these murals to INTACH’s Indian Council of Conservation Institutes (ICCI), New Delhi.

The 400-year old murals, belonging to the Nayaka period, are located in a mantapa called Chithra Sabhai, in the temple.

Conservation norms

They were originally painted using plant pigments and natural dyes. Art historians allege that most of these murals have now been repainted between 2010 and 2013, using modern garish colours, violating conservation norms.

Electric blue has been especially used as a favourite background colour for many of these totally repainted murals.

G. Chandrasekaran, former Principal, Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai, alleged that “local sign-board artists from Shencottah” repainted these murals, using “enamel” paint.

“They had no empathy with the original murals. They have killed all the paintings. The murals cannot be restored now,” he said.

Mr. Chandrasekaran blamed the executive officers of temples, where such murals are located, for their “destruction.”

The murals at Chithra Sabhai dealt with episodes from the lives of 63 Saivite saints, Nayanmars, based on the Tamil work called “Periya Puranam” sung by Sekkizhar.

There were also big panels of Nataraja, Ganesha, Siva and Parvati seated on Rishabha, the wedding of Siva and Parvati, Ananthasayana Vishnu etc.

The murals were repainted with enamel in the 1960s. The enamel was removed in 1978 and the original murals exposed. But the murals started deteriorating in the 1990s and 2000s

So a three-member committee, comprising Professor Chandrasekaran, an art historian himself, gave a report to the Tamil Nadu government in 2008, suggesting the procedures on how to conserve these paintings, using traditional methods.

The report said traditional artists, art historians and those conversant with Tamil epics should be involved in the restoration of the murals at Chithra Sabhai.

“But all these were thrown into dust-heap” when the murals were “repainted” and ravaged from 2010 to 2013, Professor Chandrasekaran said.

For instance, when a mural showing an arrow lodged in a warrior’s chest was repainted now using modern colours, the arrow has disappeared.

K.T. Gandhirajan, who specialises in art history, said many murals had been repainted by introducing new colours and even 3-D techniques!

The faded portions of some murals had been re-touched, Mr Gandhirajan added. A mural buff alleged that “atrocious colours” had been used in “repainting” the murals.

A top officer of the Kuttralanatha Swamy temple said “north Indians worked on INTACH’s behalf” and only “natural colours were used.” Local artists merely “assisted” the north Indians, the temple officer claimed. A donation of Rs.18 lakh, given by a single person, was used to execute the project.

When contacted, Nilabh Sinha, Principal Director, ICCI, INTACH, said the ICCI did the work at Chithra Sabhai but “no repainting was done.” Chemical cleaning of murals was done and they were restored to their original glory. “Those areas, which had faded away, were re-created within conservation norms.” The painting material “introduced by us are 100 per cent compatible with the original materials” and “we used actual plant pigments and natural dyes,” Mr. Sinha said. He said that it was “wrong” to say that enamel was used. “All the conservation techniques we used are compatible with the original material. Whatever that has been introduced by us is reversible without causing harm to the original,” he added.

Asked why local artists from Shencottah were used, Mr. Sinha replied, “The local, traditional artists were also employed at Kuttralam because they know the iconography of the images. We told them what to do and what not to do. They were employed because they could get more business elsewhere.”



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