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Portrait of Parumala Thirumeni

As you enter the St. John’s Attamangalam Church at Kumarakom, the first thing that catches your attention is the portraits of holy men that adorn the walls of the church. Among them, the most notable one is that of the Parumala Thirumeni. Thirumeni is the Malayalam word for Bishop.

The famous portrait was drawn by the renowned painter Raja Ravi Varma of the Travancore royal family. The portrait, kept on the northern wall, attracts a lot of visitors and connoisseurs to the church.

The painting was commissioned, in 1905, on the request of a parishioner, Dr. M. I. Philip Muripurakal (M. I. Philip Appothikiri) for Kumarakom hospital. After his death, the portrait was presented to the church by Dr. K. J. Joseph Kalapara, in 1932.  According to the church website, some years back, the British Museum authorities had expressed their interest in buying the painting.

The portrait of the holy man wearing a pectoral cross and holding the pastoral staff, speaks volumes about the genius of Raja Ravi Varma. The life-like picture reveals details like the sharp eyes and the intense look. The beard covering part of the ears, the red cassock, the black outer robe, the headdress and all the other elements in the painting are so proportionately arranged that it looks like a photograph of the Thirumeni. The painter’s skill in the use of colours is also evident.

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