The epic in colours of Koothu
‘Inner Flow’ presents little known stories from the Mahabharatha on canvas
Traditional chithrakathi style of art inspired by scenes from ‘Bharatha Prasangam’, is the story behind “Inner Flow”, an exhibition of paintings at Lalit Kala Academy. This interesting blend of art and culture not only brings out some of the lesser-known stories of the Mahabharatha but also the richness of earthen shades and indigenous art forms.
‘Bharatha Prasangam’ is an annual performance by Bharatha-k-koothu, a folk theatre group that performs at Draupathi Amman temples across the State. This is done especially during the months of Chithirai and Vaikasi, when the temples celebrate a 20-day festival. The exhibition also captures on canvas the performances.
The artists of “Inner Flow” focus on smaller stories from the Epic, and each artist chooses a character whose story he/she narrates. The main characters are always in theru-k-koothu attire, with painted faces and dramatic and colourful garbs. The colours are either pastel and earthy or bright and fiery, depending on the scene and context.
S. Srinivasan’s take on portraits of gods look at the finer details such as the pleats on the sari and the feathers on the fan of the maidens beside Lord Ganesh. The colours on the peacock who garlands Goddess Saraswati are earthy and subtle, but in no way diminish the grace of the bird.
Arjuna and Abhimanyu, the heroes of Vaishnavi Srikanth’s series, are always dressed for a battle. Dusky skin painted with red and white dots, kohl-lined eyes, clothed in intense shades of red and blue, their kshatriya spirit comes through the art. Her series describes Arjuna’s marriage to Subadra, Abhimanyu’s birth and his life as a warrior prince.
The theme of Shobha Rajagopalan’s art also includes Arjuna, but a very different one. Here, his headdress is pompous; he marries Mohini and forgives Perandan when his wife, Perandi pleads with him. All the characters have sharp features and stand out against the vivid backgrounds. There is also a fascinating picture of Yellamma waiting for Arjuna after marrying Pashupathi. A whip lies coiled around a trident, while a garlanded linga sits next to a green maiden, who seems lost in thought.
Rajsri Manikandan’s characters are attired in bright, regal clothes and highlight important episodes of the epic — Draupadi and Bhima humiliating Duryodhana, Dharmaraja losing the game of dice, Dushasana dragging Draupadi out of her chamber and disrobing her. V. Shanmughapriya’s series, on the other hand, has Draupadi at its centre, and talks of her trials and tribulations throughout the story. Shanmughapriya’s style is distinctly South Indian, and has vibrant leaf thorans at the palace entrances.
S. Suresh’s picture story revolves around Aravan, whose death proves a turning point in the Mahabharatha. The Kala Bali, where his depiction (a rust-coloured god dressed in grand jewellery) is larger than life, needs no words to explain. The artist’s depiction of Aravan’s marriage to Mohini, is dramatic, where Krishna seems more like himself than a woman, perhaps indicating the fact that he is both man and woman.
Indira Seshadri celebrates Karna in her art, his birth (when Kunti puts him in a basket and leaves him in the river), to being cursed by Parasurama (with his axe) for lying about his race and his eventual death during the Kurukshetra war, when he is killed by Arjuna.
Duryodhana’s relationship with his mother, Gandhari, comes out in Meenakshi Madan’s paintings. It also brings out some of the twists in the tale; where Gandhari forces herself into labour, giving birth to the 100 Kauravas and strengthening Duryodana with her eyes (while Krishna tactfully covers Duryodana’s thigh which Bhima later crushes to kill him).
The exhibition also showcases sketches of Bharatha-k-koothu artists by Thiru Adimoolam. These men are hidden behind masks and lead twin lives; on stage and off it. There are a couple of pencil drawings by nine–year-old Anupama Rajagopalan as well. The exhibition is on till September 16, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Lalit Kala Academy, Greams Road.