Friday, March 26, 2010

Mysore Traditional Paintings

The history of traditional Mysore paintings begins in the second half of the16th century during the rule of Raja Wodeyar (1568-1617), the first powerful ruler of the rising Wodeyar dynasty. It is known from literary sources that a large number of artists and their families, made homeless after the fall of the mighty Karnataka Empire of Vijayanagara in 1565, were rehabilitated and employed by him.  An old temple dedicated to the goddess Nimishaamba, family deity of the Chandravamshi Arya-kshatriya Raju community to which most of the artists belonged, still stands on the banks of the Cauvery (Kaveri) near Srirangapattana, the then capital of the Wodeyar dynasty. Raja Wodeyar's successors were also generous patrons of the arts and employed artists to decorate palaces, temples and manuscripts. Unfortunately very little is known of this early phase of Mysore paintings as very few examples have survived the constant battles and generations of neglect and vandalism.  But one can safely presume that this early style followed the Vijayanagara idiom, perhaps with minor changes to suit the taste and culture of the new patrons.

The Mysore style was again revived in early years of the 19th century under Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1799-1868). Some of the most beautiful and refined work was produced during his rule as the king himself took a very keen and personal interest in the art of painting. The illustrations in the manuscript of the famous cultural encyclopedia 'Sri Tattva-nidhi' are examples of the king's sophisticated taste and patronage.

By the middle of the 19th century, traditional paintings became quite popular. Many rich merchants and palace officials wanted paintings to decorate their homes and domestic shrines. To meet this demand, traditional artists began to paint small, intimate groups of gods and goddesses set within decorative niches in the manner of portraits. Mysore paintings of the 19th century were generally done on paperboard or cloth using both mineral and vegetable pigments. Jewellery, textile patterns and architectural features were done in low relief using gesso work covered with gold leaf.

The subject chosen were mostly from the rich heritage of Indian mythology. Some of the favourite themes were: the coronation of Sri Rama  (Rama pattabhisheka), wedding of Shiva and Parvati (Girija kalyana), Sri Rama with bow and arrows (Kodanda-Rama), Sri Krishna with his foster mother (Yashoda-Krishna) and the goddess Chamundeshwari, the family deity of the Mysore royal house. Occasionally portraits of the king and his family were painted.

Though the subjects were religious and mythological, the models were from real life. The delicate and fleshy oval faces depicted in the paintings can still be seen among members of the old nobility. And the architectural backgrounds of many paintings are faithful copies of the architectural features of the Mysore palace.

Though a dying art form now, a few artists still paint in the traditional Mysore style even though the technique involved is long and labourious and the market limited.
- Swami Sivapriyananda

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Surpur Style Painting

The painting above is that of 'Mahisha Mardini' in traditional Surpur style (size: 20"x24"). Noted artist in this style, Vijay Hagargundgi said that this must have been painted by Banayya Garudadri.

This painting is housed in Bharat Kala Bhavan, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi. But interestingly this painting has been wrongly listed as being a Mysore style painting. When we were there in 2007, we gave an oral complaint and brought the discrepancy to the concerned authorities there. But they were least bothered and asked us to write the complaint in the visitor's book. We did write but I doubt if anybody would even bother to read our complaint.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Today is Ramanavami, the birthday of Lord Sri Rama. Following is a finest specimen of Mysore style painting depicting coronation of Rama 'Rama Pattabhisheka'. This painting (size: 24"x20" ) is in the collection of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana, Mysore.

Starting from today, Mysoreans celebrate Lord Sri Rama's birthday with music. Many Rama mandiras and bhajana mandiras across the city organise week long or 10 day music concerts by well known artists of classical carnatic and hindustani music.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Private Residential Museum

If one wants to look at the private collection of Mysore paintings of royal family of Wodeyars, then the best place in Mysore is the Private Residential Museum. This museum is inside the premises of Mysore palace, just behind the main palace, near Kille Venkataramana temple.

I went there yesterday after a gap of almost 12 years to have a look at the paintings. The entry fee is Rs. 25 (Rs. 200 for foreign nationals, I find this ridiculous). Exhibits there contain many things, objects, furnitures etc., that were used by the royal family. But my main interest was Mysore paintings which are in quite a good number.

The first gallery is around an open-to-sky hexagonal thotti. At the far end of the thotti, the walls are adorned with paintings from Bhagavata illustrating the childhood and leelas of Krishna. Unusual thing is that these are done on canvas with oil colours. The sizes of canvas vary and seems to me that these were made for decorating the walls of a temple.

Adjoining this thotti is a big quadrangle, once again the center is open to the sky. All four walls have wooden galleries for royal ladies to sit and see the proceedings in privacy. Royal robes, accessories, palanquins are on display in this hall. Two narrow rooms adjoining this central hall have Mysore style paintings. The first of these two rooms have smaller paintings. There are two paintings which are round in shape which is quite unusual. One of the corner room has a painting by palace painter Y. Sundaraih which depicts Bheema receiving the blessing of Shiva. One painting depicts Nagas (snakes) which is very unusual. All snakes bear names.

In the second narrow room there are three paitings. One is Chakra which depicts Ramayana in small niches within. The second is Tripundra with Dashavatara and Lakshmi. Third painting is Shankha depicting Krishna leela from Bhagavata. As you move away from this painting I was awe struck with a painting of Saraswati. My mind is still reeling with the minute detailed work all over this painting. Artist has not stopped with the canvas, he has painted even the frame with same finesse and detail. Undoubtedly this is a masterpiece done by a master artist. Hats off to the artist. Another painting (Mahisha Mardini) of the same artist adorn the next frame. My day was made by these two paintings.

After this I just glided through to the exit.