Kerala mural painting is a traditional form and famous folk painting in India.

So, art originated in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

It is a highly intricate and vibrant style of painting that is known for its use of bright colors, detailed brushwork, and depiction of mythological and religious themes.

Key features and information about Kerala mural painting

kerala mural painting

Historical Significance of Kerala mural painting

Kerala mural painting has a rich history dating back to the 9th century CE.

It was initially practiced in temples and royal palaces, where it adorned the walls as a form of visual storytelling.

Influences of Kerala mural painting

Kerala mural draws inspiration from ancient Indian art forms like Ajanta and Ellora cave paintings, as well as the frescoes of the Pallava and Chola dynasties. It also shows the influence of Dravidian and Tantric art traditions.

Subjects of Kerala mural painting

The paintings primarily depict Hindu mythological stories, legends, and religious figures.

The most common subjects include scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, and episodes from the life of Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva.

The iconography of Kerala mural painting

Kerala paintings follow a set of conventions in terms of iconography. Gods and goddesses are portrayed with specific attributes and postures, adhering to established norms. The figures are usually shown in a three-quarter view, with ample ornamentation and elaborate costumes.

Color Palette of Kerala mural painting

The color palette of Kerala mural painting is vibrant and distinctive. Traditional colors such as red, green, yellow, white, and black are used, often with a gold or silver backdrop. These colors are derived from natural mineral pigments and vegetable dyes.

Technique of Kerala mural painting

The technique of Kerala mural painting involves meticulous brushwork and attention to detail. The paintings are executed on specially prepared walls using natural pigments mixed with lime water. The colors are applied in layers, with intricate lines and shading techniques to create depth and dimension.

Revival and Contemporary Adaptations

In the 20th century, there was a decline in the practice of Kerala mural painting. However, there has been a revival of interest in recent decades, and efforts have been made to preserve and promote this traditional art form. Today, you can find Kerala mural paintings not only on temple walls but also on canvas, paper, and other mediums. Contemporary artists have also explored new themes and experimented with different techniques while staying true to the essence of Kerala mural painting.

Kerala mural painting is a beautiful and culturally significant art form that showcases the artistic heritage of the region. It continues to inspire artists and captivate art enthusiasts with its intricate detailing and vibrant storytelling.


Origin and evaluation of  Kerala mural painting

kerala mural painting
kerala mural painting

The origin of Kerala painting can be traced back to the 9th century CE during the reign of the Kulasekharas of the Chera dynasty in Kerala, India. It flourished as a form of art primarily in the temples and royal palaces of the region. The art form was patronized by rulers and priests, who commissioned artists to create magnificent murals depicting mythological stories and religious themes.

The early mural paintings in Kerala were heavily influenced by the Dravidian art tradition and the mural traditions of neighboring regions like Tamil Nadu. The art form also drew inspiration from other ancient Indian art styles, such as the Ajanta and Ellora cave paintings, and the frescoes of the Pallava and Chola dynasties.

Evaluation of Kerala mural painting 

Over the centuries, Kerala mural painting evolved and underwent various changes in terms of style, techniques, and subjects. It continued to thrive under the patronage of successive rulers and dynasties, including the Zamorin kings of Calicut and the Travancore royal family.

During the colonial period, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a decline in the practice of Kerala painting. With the advent of British colonial rule, traditional art forms suffered due to changing patronage and cultural influences.

However, a revival of interest in Kerala painting began in the early 20th century. Artists, scholars, and enthusiasts recognized the importance of preserving and reviving this unique art form. Efforts were made to document existing murals, study the techniques, and train new artists in traditional methods.

In the 1960s, the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi (Kerala State Academy of Fine Arts) played a crucial role in promoting and preserving Kerala mural painting. The Akademi established a mural painting department and provided training and resources to artists. This led to the resurgence of the art form, with artists creating new murals in temples and other public spaces.




Type of Kerala mural painting

There are several types or themes of Kerala painting that have emerged over the centuries. These themes represent various mythological stories, religious figures, and cultural traditions. Here are some notable types of Kerala mural painting:

Puranic Themes

Puranas are ancient Hindu scriptures that contain mythological stories and legends. Kerala painting often depicts episodes from these Puranic texts, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These paintings portray scenes like the coronation of Lord Rama, Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill, or the battle of Kurukshetra.

Krishna Leela

Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is a popular subject in Kerala mural painting. The paintings portray Krishna’s divine and playful activities, such as his childhood pranks, Raas Leela (divine dance with the Gopis), or his exploits as a cowherd in Vrindavan.

Shiva Parvathi Kalyanam

This theme depicts the celestial wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. The paintings showcase the divine couple adorned with elaborate jewelry and surrounded by gods, goddesses, and celestial beings. The marriage ceremony symbolizes the union of masculine and feminine energies.

Devi or Goddess Paintings

Kerala mural painting often portrays various forms of goddesses, such as Devi (Durga), Saraswati (goddess of knowledge), and Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity). These paintings capture the beauty and grace of the goddesses, showcasing their divine attributes and symbols.


Navagrahas are the nine celestial deities representing the planets in Hindu astrology. Kerala mural paintings depict the Navagrahas in a specific order, each associated with a planet. These paintings are to bring auspiciousness and harmony to the surroundings.

Cultural and Folk Themes

In addition to religious and mythological subjects, mural painting also encompasses cultural and folk themes. These include depictions of traditional art forms, folk dances like Theyyam and Kathakali, and scenes from daily life in Kerala, showcasing the region’s vibrant culture and traditions.

It’s important to note that these themes are not mutually exclusive, and artists often incorporate multiple subjects in a single mural. The choice of theme depends on the context, the purpose of the painting, and the artistic vision of the creator.


The technique of Kerala mural painting

The technique of mural painting involves meticulous brushwork, careful preparation of the surface, and the use of natural pigments. Here are the key aspects of the technique:

Surface Preparation

The surface on which the mural will be painted is typically prepared by applying a mixture of lime and sand. This creates a smooth and durable base for the painting. Sometimes, a layer of herbal paste made from various plant extracts is applied to enhance the longevity of the mural.


Once the surface is prepared, a basic outline or sketch of the subject is drawn on it using charcoal or chalk. This serves as a guide for the artist during the painting process.

Natural Pigments

Kerala painting traditionally uses natural pigments derived from minerals, stones, and vegetable sources. These pigments include colors like red (derived from red earth), yellow (from yellow ochre or turmeric), green (from indigo or green leaves), and black (from lampblack or charcoal). So, White is from a powder seashell called a conch shell.

Layering of Colors

The colors are in a specific order, starting with the background and gradually building up the layers.

The paint mix with a binder from the sap of the jackfruit tree to create a thick paste-like consistency.

The first layer is typically a reddish-brown base, with subsequent layers of colors.

Brushwork and Detailing

Kerala mural painting requires intricate brushwork and attention to detail. The artist uses brushes from natural fibers, such as squirrel hair or bamboo, to achieve precise lines and shading. So, Add Fine lines and delicate details using a single-hair brush called “ponnambalam,” which allows for intricate and intricate work.

Three-quarter View

Figures in Kerala mural paintings are often in a three-quarter view, showing the front and one side of the subject. This gives a sense of depth and dimension to the painting.

Shading and Highlights

Shading techniques create depth and give a three-dimensional appearance to the figures.

This is by using gradations of color and subtle blending.

Gold or silver leaf is sometimes to highlight certain elements, adding a touch of opulence to the painting.

Ornamentation and Costumes

Kerala paintings are for their elaborate ornamentation and intricate costumes. The artist pays close attention to the details of jewelry, clothing, and accessories, enhancing the visual appeal of the figures.

Overall, the technique of mural painting requires patience, skill, and a deep understanding of the art form. It is a labor-intensive process that demands precision and a keen eye for detail, resulting in the vibrant and captivating murals characteristic of this traditional art form.


Today, painting continues to evolve and adapt, while remaining rooted in its rich tradition and cultural heritage. It serves as a visual testimony to the artistic brilliance and spiritual ethos of the region, attracting both artists and art enthusiasts from around the world.

Artists have also adapted the traditional style to contemporary mediums like canvas and paper, allowing for greater accessibility and wider audiences.

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