Murals that depict history & faith

Murals that depict history & faith

Murals that depict history & faith

Known to be equal to sculptures in their artistic value, attractive murals that decorate the temples and heritage structures in Mysuru region depict the socio-political and religious life of an era gone by, writes Gouri Satya


The origins of Mysore paintings, an important wing of South Indian classical painting, date back to the early days of the Wadiyars of Mysore. Krishnaraja Wadiyar III is credited with nurturing this style, helping it gain a unique place in art history.

Mysore paintings are mostly artworks representing mythological scenes, figures and the royal family. Either they were executed as individual paintings or as murals for display on the walls of  palaces, mansions, temples and other religious places. The Mysore tradition is an offshoot of the Vijayanagar school of painting.

Though similar to Tanjore paintings in designs, Mysore paintings come with less decoration. Though they look simple, they are elegant and graceful with attention to details. With the fall of the Vijayanagar empire, artists from there migrated to places like Mysuru, Tanjore and Surapura, absorbed the local artistic traditions and customs, and developed new styles, the famous ones being the Mysore and Tanjore styles. In those days, the artists used vegetable dyes and minerals with gesso and gold, displaying innovation both in theme and technique. They made these colours themselves, and also the brushes. The gesso paste was made with zinc oxide and gum that made the paintings long-lasting. As a result, these paintings have survived even after 150 years in palaces and temples of Mysuru region.

Narrative panels
The paintings in most of these places, except in Dariya Doulat Bagh, the summer palace of Tipu Sultan at Srirangapatna, are of the period of Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, the author of Sritattvanidhi, a ready reckoner on Mysore style of painting. The frescoes of Dariya Doulat are of an earlier date. The entire palace is fully decorated with paintings. Its two walls, the east and west, are painted with frescoes. On the left side of the west wall, two panels show kings Hyder Ali Khan and Tipu Sultan leading their troops.

On the right side, the defeat of British army, led by Colonel Bailee, at Pollilur near Kancheepuram in 1780, is painted. The panel above shows the Nizam of Hyderabad and his army. The eastern wall has five rows of paintings of kings and chieftains, who were contemporaries of Tipu Sultan. The painting of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, among the rulers of Tanjore, Coorg, Arcot, Cuddapah, Benares, Balaji Rao Peshwa, Magadi Kempegowda, Queen of Chittoor and the nawabs of Oudh and Savanur, indicates that some paintings were later additions, after the British captured Srirangapatna. The frescoes here have been restored a couple of times. Though described as “grotesque,” these paintings throw light on Mysuru’s history.

Coming to Mysuru city, Jaganmohan Palace has an attractive Ranga Mahal in the second floor, with rich and elaborate wall paintings of the days of Krishnaraja Wadiyar III. A number of traditional paintings and other artefacts are on display at the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery in the palace. On the east wall of Ranga Mahal is a panel spread across three walls covering the Dasara procession in detail. On the side walls are the paintings of traditional games like Devi Sayujya and Srikanta Sayujya that are described in Sritattvanidhi. On the west wall, the genealogy of  Mysore kings, their relatives, officers and rulers of other provinces, have been
depicted as paintings.

Shweta Varahaswamy and Prasanna Krishnaswamy temples located within the palace fort walls, and Prasanna Venkataramanaswamy Temple in Krishnavilasa Agrahara are three temples that are worth a visit to see the paintings. The Shweta Varahaswamy Temple, a Hoysala structure, has a decorated navaranga. Paintings representing scenes from the Ramayana and Bhagavata adorn the walls of the navaranga. While these paintings are in good condition, the painting of Srirama Pattabhisheka on the south-eastern enclosure wall is badly damaged.  Below the panel, a painted inscription describes that it was executed on Monday, the bright half of Magha in the cyclic year Bhava of Saka Era 1797, corresponding to 1875 AD.

Similarly, the navaranga of Prasanna Krishnaswamy Temple is richly decorated with paintings depicting stories from the Bhagavata. The murals here too are in a good condition. The entire navaranga looks aesthetically colourful with paintings all around, including on the pillars of the hall. Beneath the scenes, explanation is given in Kannada script. This temple was built in 1829 by Krishnaraja Wadiyar III.

Unlike the murals in these two temples, which mainly depict mythological stories, the murals in the chitra mantapa (painted hall) of Prasanna Venkataramanaswamy Temple relate to varied subjects of the period. The entire interior of the mantapa, a room on the ceiling, is fully decorated with traditional style of wall paintings. On the right wall, holy places like the birth place of Nammalvar, Nava Tirupathi, Hampi Virupaksha Temple, Melukote, Srirangapatna and Ganjam are executed.

On the left wall are paintings of structures at Kumbhakonam, Chennapattana (Chennai), Belur, Nanjangud, Sivaganga, Kanchi, Chamundeswari Hills etc. The ceiling depicts places, rivers and mountains of North India. The paintings here carry labels. On the wall are paintings of twelve rulers of Mysuru with their names and periods of reign inscribed below. In the lower portion of these paintings are the figures of elephants.

In Chamarajanagar, the Chamarajeswara Temple, also built by Krishnaraja Wadiyar III in memory of his father, Chamaraja Wadiyar, in 1826, has traditional murals. The paintings and stucco-coloured mythological images are taken from Girija Kalyana, Samudra Manthana etc. However, the paintings have deteriorated due to poor maintenance. The murals in these temples stand out as best examples of 19th century Mysore paintings.

Artists of yore
The Dasara paintings, done on canvas and displayed on the walls of the kalyana mantapa of Mysore Palace, record the grand procession of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV. These beautiful panels were executed between 1934 and 1945. The work began in the period of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV and was completed during the period of Jayachamaraja Wadiyar. Renowned artists K Keshavayya, S N Swamy, Y Nagaraju, Y Subramanyharaju, S Nanjundaswamy and S R Iyengar were assigned to do the series. As the carefully executed paintings were based on photographs, the paintings in these panels have come alive.

Govinda Vaidya, the court poet of Kanthirava Narasaraja Wadiyar I mentions in his poetical work, Kanthirava Narasaraja Vijaya, that a large number of painters lived in Srirangapatna. After the fall of Srirangapatna, families of these artists moved to Mysuru along with Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, a patron of arts, and decorated the Ranga Mandira in the Jaganmohan Palace and the interiors of temples.

There were master painters like Javagal Narasimhayya, Nagunalli Naranappa, Yalllayya, Viranna, Alasingrayya, Sundarayya and Venkatasubbu who produced religious paintings. These paintings decorate the walls in the form of murals and individual works depicting how art flourished in those days.