Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mysore Paintings in World Wide Web

I have come across few web sites and web pages about Mysore style paintings and even websites of artists who practice this art form. Following are the links.

Comparison between Tanjore and Mysore styles
Artist B.B. Raghavendra of Bangalore
Artist Anu Pavanje of Mumbai

I will be updating this post as and when I come across new and informative websites.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Traditional Mysore Style Painting

Mysore school is a part of the great Indian tradition in painting, as described in ancient works like the Vishnudharmottara-purana, Manasollasa, etc. and also it was practised in ancient Karnataka. Caves at Ellora, Ajanta, Badami contain some specimens of such paintings by ancient Chitrakars or painters from this region. The present forms were developed at Vijayanagara under the patronage of several enlightened monarchs. After the fall and destruction of the Karnataka Empire at Vijayanagara, painters who had flourished under the Rayas' patronage migrated to more peaceful and hospitable places in South India. They found shelter in several kingdoms, royal principalities and also institutions and were instrumental in propagating and popularising those ideas and forms in the entire South India.

In due course, the traditional art of painting acquired some sub-regional influences too, leading to the emergence of various schools like Mysore, Tanjavur (Tanjore), Surpur, Kerala and so on. Though the painters of these schools followed the concepts and techniques originally developed at Vijayanagara, on closer scrutiny one could also discern slight differences which give a sub-regional tone something like different dialects of the same language to the paintings.

Though there is a marked resemblance between Mysore and Tanjavur (Tanjore) paintings (because they are born of the same roots) a careful observation reveals a difference between the two in many respects. Though artists of both schools start the base with wood covered with cloth, Mysore painters further cover it with paper. White lead carbonate (safeda) and gambose (distilled from vegetable sources and which gives the golden hue) are used by Mysore painters in the gesso work. The gesso work of Mysore painters is in low relief. And instead of gold coated over leaf, Mysore painters use pure gold leaf itself to cover the gesso work. The process of fixing gold leaves is very old. It is described in the monumental work Manasollasa written by the Chalukyan Emperor Bhulokamalla Someswara in the 12th century.

Thus the gold leaf covered portions like jewellery, dress, etc. in Mysore paintings are always lustrous. And this lustre is long standing and will not fade even after centuries. Faces of figures whether Gods or human beings are mostly round in Mysore paintings. But there is slight departure in respect of major Gods and Goddesses whose faces are slightly oval. The architectural details resemble the palaces and mansions of old Mysore of the 18th-19th century and the throne in some of the paintings is a prototype of the Simhasana used by the Mysore rulers and which is believed to have come from Vijayanagara.

The term 'traditional' in relation to painting means a continuity of time honoured practise based on ancient concepts, themes and bound by canons of Chitra as enunciated in ancient texts.

The subjects are mainly mythological, religious and most of the works are treated as objects of worship. The distinctive feature of the traditional painting is the harmony of ideology and form; creation of a superhuman atmosphere not seen in the non-traditional paintings.

Technique - Colours
Colours used are mostly of natural sources and of mineral origin. They are prepared through a process whose knowledge has been passed on from one generation to the next. The colours are ground to form paste like substance and applied on the base. The base itself is formed by first pasting a cloth on a wooden board which is again pasted over with paper in the second stage. After this it is coated with a thin layer of white lead (safeda). On this board the painter draws the outline of the picture he has to prepare.

After finishing the drawing, he starts the gesso work which is to cover all those parts depicting jewellery worn by the Gods and other figures and also the architectural details to bring up an elevation to make those parts conspicuous. Next he starts applying the colours in a particular order again following the process transmitted from generation to generation.

The Painters
The migrant painters who came towards Mysore arrived at Srirangapatna which was the capital of the kingdom. The kingdom was then ruled by Raja Wodeyar (1578-1617). He gave shelter to these painters, provided facilities for practising their vocation and also built a temple for their tutelary deity - Goddess Nimishamba. Under his patronage they carried their vocation, by decorating temples, palaces and mansions with murals, preparing paintings of gods and goddesses for worship and also decorating the interiors of homes. They seem to have prospered fast, because of poetical work written a century later during the reign of Kanthirava Narasimharaja Wodeyar mentions an area in the capital, Srirangapatna, exclusively populated by Chitrakars or painters. This must have continued without any hindrance during the rule of successive Rajas.

But unfortunately no works of this period (barring one or two murals) have survived because the state became a virtual battlefield of the armies of the British, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, the Nizam, and Marathas. The kingdom was ravaged and suffered enormous destruction. It was only after the death of Tipu Sultan (1799) and the restoration of the kingdom to the Wodeyar royal family, peaceful conditions returned as to stimulate the development of arts.

Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar who was restored as the Maharaja of Mysore State, was a scholar, lover of art and literature. His rule ushered in a cultural renaissance. He built many temples and restored old ones that had suffered damage. And he got their walls decorated by murals depicting episodes from mythology and epics. In addition he built or enlarged old palaces and got a large number of works on various subjects relating to ancient knowledge written by scholars. Most of them were illustrated with drawings and some with colourful paintings. Naturally there was a demand for a large number of skillful painters who worked in the palace under his direction. Emulating the Maharaja, many nobles and rich patrons and lovers of art in other important towns also encouraged painters. In turn this led to the development of a distinct Mysore style of painting.

B.V.K. Sastry
Former Member & Art Critic
Sangeeta Nataka Academy
Lalita Kala Academy, New Delhi
The author was an advisor to the Ramsons Kala Partisthana.