Temple Art of Kalamezhutu
The ancient art is re-entering into the spotlight in Kerala.
Sitting on the floor, with a half-coconut shell in hand, a saffron mundu-clad artist is busy working. As he works, we can see that he is trying to visualize a form. We can see that the temple is filled with devotees.
He starts to pinch a small portion of white powder from the shell and begins to spread it on the sandy floor. With precision, he draws the outline of a crown. Before long, the form of Bhagvathi attains its final form.
It is decked up with embellishments of all color from yellow and green to red and orange. Soon, the artists will sing along in praise of Lord Bhagavathi to the crisp tunes in the background of nanthuni, a traditional string instrument.
The art form of kalamezhuthu is an hour-long process, and a performance in itself. It is a ritualized tribal art that was molded in Kerala. It is usually performed in temples as means to impress the deities.
The start of the traditional art form
Hareesh in his heavily accented Palakkad dialect of Malayam, explains the process. He learned the art at the age of 11. As a child, he used to go to temples with his guru Baby Kurup(an artist who has been practicing this form for more than 35 years) to observe.
He belonged to a community of ‘Kallattu Kurup’ that practices the form exclusively for Shaivite gods like Bhagavathi, Ayappan and Vettakkorum(Sivputra).
They tend to almost 18 gods, and continues the artistry in ancestral homes. A legend says that after slaying Darika, Bhadrakali visits Shiva in anger, and draws a figure at Kailasha. This is recreated in several paintings. Kalamezhutu is normally practiced in Mallappuram, Thrissur and Kozhikode.
The stage is set
After the paattu mandapam (performance space) is prepared, a four metre-long silk cloth is run across its centre — this is the first ritual. Then, the singing and puja called ‘uchapaattu’ is carried out. The illustration process begins only after that. Some of the rituals may change, depending on the deity. “The songs are a mix of Malayalam and Tamil — what some words mean, are still not clear,” he says. He is also part of a group of artistes who travel across the country.
The artiste now begins to explain the process of drawing a kalam: beginning with one line from East to West. The thirumugam (divine face) is drawn first. The crown is fleshed out next, following which half the face is filled out. “After finishing the detailing on the face, we move to the embellishments and ornaments, and then to the body of the deity,” he says. A linear vertical pattern (from top to bottom) is followed. The outlining is done with rice powder while the colours are filled out with turmeric, umikkari (charcoal from rice husk), dried manjadi (lucky red seed) powder, and a mix of turmeric and lime.
After all the rituals are carried out, the kalam is erased by the artistes themselves. Hareesh says that most people comment on the temporality of the form, but the erasure, according to him is part of the ritual. “It doesn’t affect us as artistes, and with more people calling us for displaying the form in colleges and schools, kalamezhuthu is getting more exposure. This makes us happy,” concludes the artiste, who is currently under a two-year scholarship provided by the Central Government where he is experimenting with the Dasavatara forms in kalamezhuthu.