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Mural Paintings & Stone Inscriptions

Mural Painting
Mural Paintings and the inscribed Aadhisthana



Tools & Techniques: The dominant colours in Kerala murals are ochre-red, ochre-yellow, white, bluish-green and pure-green. Colours are prepared from vegetables and mineral pigments -- white from lime, black from soot of oil-lamps, red is derived from vermilion (mercuric sulphide), lac and red lead, yellow from realgar (arsenic sulphide), blue from plants like Neela Amari (Indigo ferra) and green from a local mineral called Eravikkara. Wooden utensils are used for mixing the colours and the binding media used is derived from a tender-coconut-water and extracts from the Neem tree (Azadiracta indica).

The painting brushes used are of three types - flat, medium and fine. Flat brushes are made from the hair found on the ears of calves, medium from the hair on the goats belly and the fine brushes were made from delicate blades of grass. Mural paintings in which the lime-plastered walls are painted over only after they are completely dry. Lemon juice is used to mellow the alkalinity of surface before starting. An outline is first sketched by the artist using charcoal or dung crayons, which is then painted in with appropriate colours.

Mahishasura Mardini

Stances & Color Codes: The five stances recommended for depicting human figures are - frontal, half-frontal, askance, one-and-quarter-eyed and profile. Colouring of the characters goes by their virtue -- the divine and noble characters (Saatvik) are depicted in shades of green. Those inclined towards power & wealth (Raajasik) are painted in shades of red to golden yellow. The lowly, evil and mean characters (Taamasik) are generally painted in white or black.

Damage: According to Prof. A. Ramachandran (retd. faculty, Sahitya Kala Akademi, Delhi), the mural paintings at Thrikodithanam are among the finest and oldest in Kerala. But they have suffered more damage in the last 20 years than in the ~400 years preceding it! Most of the damage was caused by:

  1. Touching and scratching by careless hands
  2. Burning oil-lamps and camphor too close to the walls
  3. Structural damage resulting in seepage of rain-water and chipped plaster

According to Prof. Ramachandran, for all practical purposes, the painting technique is a lost art - even though there are claims to the contrary. So no restoration is possible. Rather than making half-baked, experimental attempts, it is best to leave the paintings untouched. According to him, what can be done is to:

  1. INFORM / educate the visiting public (multi-lingual information plaques outside the temple)
  2. Request temple employees / attendants prevent damage from carelessness
  3. Discourage devotees from burning incense/camphor/lamps too close to the murals
  4. Carefully repair any structural damage to prevent seepage and dampness on the walls
  5. Create a barrier (NOT closed glass-cases as they trap moisture for fungus)...especially during festival season

Unfortunately, a vast majority of visitors to the temple are not aware its antiquity. Perhaps the first step in conservation at Thrikodithanam could be to request the Temple Advisory Committee to install an information-board outside the temple, with a plea to devotees, to avoid touching the mural paintings.

The Thrikodithanam Murals: 16 panels of beautiful mural paintings adorn the circular wall around the sanctum. In most of the large panels, the lower portion have been damaged by careless hands and soot from the oil-lamps. However, the following paintings can still be traced:

(PLEASE NOTE: Some of the following descriptions are likely to be incorrect. In case you happen to know better, do let me know .)

  • 1. & 2. Dwarapaalakas (guardians to the entrance): Two large panels flank the door leading into the sanctum-sanctorum. Since these painting are on the walls of the Mukhamandapa-platform, they have suffered severe damage from grimy hands, soot and dirt. The natural colours have all but dissapeared and the outline forms of two armed, male guardians is just visible.

  • 3. Rajarajeshwari

  • 4. Dakshinamoorthy : Deity of the South - Shiva

  • 5. Appam-Nercha : Women carrying poles on their shoulders from which is suspended a vessel full of Appam (Namboodiri ladies used to make a ritual offering of Appams to the temple)

  • 6. ??? (yet to be confirmed)

  • 7. & 8. Arjuna's Penance

  • 9. Pashupataastram: Arjuna receives the weapon Pashupataastram from Shiva

  • 10. Kiraat-Arjuna: Combat between the fearsome Kirata and Arjuna - with a formidable pile of arrows on either side

  • 11. Indra welcomes visitors: The king of gods - Indra - depicted with 'eyes' all over his body, welcomes four visitors (Pandavas?)

  • 12. Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula & Sahadeva visit a king

  • 13. Sree Krishna: Sub-panels on a mock-door over the Pranala depicting Kalika-mardanam (defeat of Kalika, the demon) and fight with an elephant

  • 14. Sree Rama Pattabhishekam: The coronation of King Rama. An unusual mural of the Mula Puja ritual, with rows of Kalasha

  • 15. Shiva Parvati and Mahishasura-Mardini: Slaying of the buffalo-headed demon - Mahisha

  • 16. Anantashayana: Mahavishnu reclining on Ananta, the snake-god


  • Undated, on Northern base: Gift of land by Kandankumaran of Kilumalai for maintenance of a lamp. This was entrusted to the temple in the presence of 300 citizens of Nanrulainattu

  • North-western base: Inscribed during the time of the Chera King Koupaakkara Iravi Verma Thiruvatti. Uraalars and others designated to positions in the temple not to interfere with some specified rituals. Also rules regarding management of the temple also included.

  • Southern base: Six inscriptions relate to period of the famous Chera King Bhaskara Ravi Verma Thiruvatti. One of which is an order to the people of Naranumangalam town to send 2 padi of oil to Trikodithanam temple, every month. Any lapse in quantity and timing would result in doubling of the fine and additional payment in gold.

  • Restrictions regarding mortgage of land to temple servants.

  • Rules of conduct of temple staff, gift for enabling feeding of 12 brahmins, gift of lamps etc.

  • South-Western base: Gift of paddy for sacred offerings by the chief of Nanrulainattu, appointed by Kothaverma Marthandam of Venadu.

  • An inscription of 977 AD has the ornate insignia of Kothaverma Marthandam, who refers to himself as the ruler of Trikodithanam.

  • Inscription have also recorded the contributions of another king of Venad - Sri Vallabhan Kotha during the month of Meenam (March-April)

  • Details on administration of the kingdom and on matters related to administration of the temple.

  • Percussion instruments (Chenda, Thimila, Chekandi and Kahalam)were organised by THENCHERIL CHENNAN NAIR for the temple events: Uthra-Ganam and Kalia-mardanam

  • MANALMANDATHU JAYAKAN KOVINDAN was another leader who once organised the events Panachikkaletta, Kaimani Uzhicchil, Karthika Deepam .

  • MARAM and KARADIKA were ceremonies to be performed exclusively by the Urar (executive) and Idai-issar (managers) of the temple.

  • VAIKUNNI Utsavam was shifted to the month of Karthika so it could be celebrated alongside the main temple festival.

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