In Kerala, one can find cave paintings belonging to the Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic periods, which have been found at Edakkal in Wayanad and Marayoor in Idukki. The murals of Kerala evolved through the significant influences of ancient Dravidian rituals like Kalamezhuthu and Patayani. Between the 15th and the 18th century; the characteristic murals of Kerala began to evolve further with regard to their unique linearity, subtlety, sharpness and ethereal beauty.
Those interested Kerala murals would invariably find a predominance of religious themes. Murals as part of the palaces, temples and churches have highly stylized paintings of themes and characters based on stories and situations from religious texts. One can also observe in these murals, representations of flora and fauna and other aspects of nature.
For finding exquisite mural works in Kerala, you will have to make sure that you do not miss the three big centres viz. Padmanabhapuram, Krishnapuram and Mattancherry palaces.
Noted for its architectural splendour and the sheer volume of wood that has gone into its making, the Padmanabhapuram Palace, located in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu was once the seat of administration of the southern princely state of Travancore. Managed by the Government of Kerala this palace houses grand mural works like that of Ananthasayanam, where Lord Vishnu reclines on the serpent Anantha. Other noted murals that you would come across here are that of Lord Krishna playing the flute amidst gopikas and that of Lord Shiva as Ardhanareeswara; a form that is half male and half female. Believed to have been created during the middle of the eighteenth century, the style of the murals at the Padmanabhapuram Palace later influenced the mural works done at other palaces in Kerala.
We now move towards north to reach the Krishnapuram Palace at Kayamkulam in Alappuzha district of Kerala. Stepping into this 18th century built palace, like so many other visitors, you would be awed, as soon as your eyes fall on one particular mural here, titled Gajendra Moksham. Meaning, salvation of the elephant, this mural is considered as the largest of mural panels in Kerala.
As we bid goodbye to Krishnapuram Palace and move further north to Kochi, the Mattancherry Palace here, awaits you with more outstanding murals. The palace was originally built by the Portuguese in 1557 and presented to Raja Veera Kerala Varma of the erstwhile Kochi Kingdom and later was renovated in 1663 by the Dutch. The palace features more than sixty murals with themes from the epic Ramayana alone. Acknowledged widely as the most beautiful of murals at the Mattancherry Palace are the ones found in the ladies' chamber. These murals display various stages in the life of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi.
Continuing with your probe in Kerala for murals, apart from palaces, you would also find murals in some of the churches in Kerala. For instance the murals at the Cheriya Palli in Kottayam district of Kerala are fairly large ones and portray themes; both biblical and non-biblical.
A visit to the St. George Orthodox Church at Cheppad in Alappuzha would allow you to take a look at Christian mural art. Here, you would find nearly 50 odd frescoes dealing with the early medieval period. Frescoes are also found at the Kanjoor St. Mary's Church in Angamaly. The frescoes here, besides having themes from the bible also have works featuring events from Indian history. You can also find here a fresco commemorating Tipu's defeat after he failed to plunder the church in 1790.
The mural tradition of Kerala, at one stage was on the decline. It was revived by the altruistic efforts of a few dedicated artistes. Among them the name of Mammiyur Krishnan Kutty Nair, considered as the doyen among modern day mural artistes, stands out. Kerala now has dedicated centers for learning the discipline of mural painting. Among these are the Mammiyur Krishnan Kutty Nair Institute of Mural Painting at Guruvayoor and the Vasthuvidya Gurukulam at Aranmula, which continue to sustain the glorious mural tradition of Kerala. For those who are keen to understand the artistic school of thoughts pertaining to Kerala murals, visiting these centres would be worth the effort.