New Year, Mural Arts and Ornithophobia — Stories from a Solo Trip
This New Year’s eve, I found myself alone at home. An impromptu solo trip seemed to be the best solution for my unexpected and unplanned solitary state. Day 17 of “One Day, One Blog” — a challenge I set for myself for the month of January 2019
When you sit outside in the evenings, at Malakkarethu house, you see the river Pamba flowing. In December, there is a cool and gentle breeze that blows carrying with it a sweet fragrance . I know this smell. It triggers a slew of childhood memories . In the dark, I cannot see the flowers, but searching among those memories, I get the name of the flower — Ylang-Ylang( pronounced as EE-lang-EE-lang).
It is the New year’s eve of 2019 but the homestay is deserted. It is just me and 3 of the staff whose New Year plans I have interrupted. If they are upset about it, they definitely do not show. The hospitality I receive is above par.
Next door to this wonderful home (a property that sits on the banks of river Pamba, surrounded by an abundance of greenery ) is the famous Paarthasarathi temple.
It is believed that the main Idol of Shri Krishna was installed by the Pandava Prince Arjuna to atone for his sins during the Kurukshetra battle.
I expect a large gathering on January 1st but it appears that the little village of Aaranmula and God have been deserted for better opportunities in the city. I can’t complain. I am enjoying this peace and quiet way too much.
There is a strange dichotomy in this village. During the weekends, especially around auspicious dates and Onam the flurry of people to this village makes it look like a tourist haven. And then come weekdays and off-season, it is as sparsely populated as any village in India where the people have left to make a living in the towns.
This is my third visit to this part of the world. I know one or two people here — makes me almost a local, I tell myself.
I walk around the village. If it weren’t for the fact that I am in trousers and a mickey –mouse T shirt I could really be someone who lives here.
To every person who asked me why I chose to spend New Year in relative isolation I have given lofty “gyaan” on the need to switch off, introspection and what not. But the truth is, New Year or Not, I love these solo sojourns.
I have no agenda and no expectation when I start on these trips. And that makes each turn a discovery, each discovery awe inspiring.
One of the gems I discovered in this trip is the renovated Mural Arts Gallery which is just a stone’s throw away from the Malakkarethu house.
Vasthuvidya Gurukulam — A gallery of Mural Arts
At the gallery, there are artists at work. I notice this young artist, engrossed in his task. His paint brush moves carefully over the canvas, the black ink creating definition to his subject. I hesitate to disturb but he notices that someone is standing beside him watching. He smiles at me. It is when I try to make small talk that I realise he is both speech and hearing impaired. When he figured out that I am asking his name, with the paintbrush dipped in blank ink, he wrote his name on his palm — “Balu”.
I left him to create a thousand tales with his paint brush.
A bit about Mural Art and Kerala:
Mural paintings are a ritual art form of Kerala. Most of the mural works done in Kerala dates back to the 15th and 19th centuries ( of course, some even dates further back to 8th century).
In its original form, the mural artwork is applied directly onto walls, ceiling or any such permanent surface. The colours used are prepared from leaves and stones in accordance with processes detailed in ancients texts.
- Yellow and Red are made from natural stones
- Green colour is extracted from the crushed neelambari leaves
- Blue-green colour is made by adding indigo flowers to the above extract.
- Black is created the same way we create “Kajal” at home — a traditional lamp is lit and the flame is covered with a mud plate. The soot that accumulates in the plate is used as paint.
- Sea shell powder is used for white
The Paint brush for murals
The mature “Arrow grass” are collected and boiled in cow milk , dried ( but not in direct sunlight) and tied to shafts made from aracknut or bamboo tree to make the brushes.
According to the caretaker at the gallery the Vasthuvidya Gurukulam is the only remaining institute in Kerala that promotes the use of these natural colors. Most of the other centers now use synthetic colors for mural paintings.
The walls are plastered, coated with lime and then the artist uses “panchavarnam” ( the 5 primary colours used are black, white, yellow, red and green) to create the artwork.
The artist first sketches with yellow, then red is applied, then the other colors ( green, yellow, etc) as needed. Where white is needed, the empty space of the background is used and black is used for definition.
To purchase: The gallery sells paintings made on canvas. You can purchase the ones on display or get custom made ones. Cost is INR 3000/- per Square foot.
To Stay: Please book in advance at the Malakkareth House. You can contact Advocate Joy on whatsapp (+91 98473 53056). He will help you decide on the things you can do in Aranmula based on your tastes and time.
Food: Saji chettan is the cook at this homestay and he can whip up delicious veg and non-veg meals
Tour Guide: The caretaker Mr Reju or Gokul, the young man who helps around the homestay, will act as your tour guide. Extremely helpful folks they are.
How to reach: The nearest Railway Station is Chengannur. From there take an auto to reach Malakkarethu House. If you are traveling from outside Kerala, you can reach Ernakulam or Trivandrum by Flight and then take a train or cab to Chengannur. (Just search for Malakkarethu house on Google Maps if all else fails).
About Ornithophobia (I almost forgot about that bit in the title…… and yes, its a real thing)
I was about 3 years old when I saw a rooster swoop down from the roof of a coop and peck my aunt on her forehead. She still has 3 indentations on her forehead standing testimony to the viciousness of the bird race.
As I grew older the fear grew with me. Today I am petrified of any bird bigger than a sparrow.
I hope you noticed the picture at the beginning of this blog? The one where I sit gleefully unaware of the dangers awaiting me once I got down from the raft.
With Gokul as my tour guide, I had gone wandering around the village of Aranmula. The cool breeze and the almost deserted river banks were very enticing and I could not turn down the offer to cross the river in a raft.
We walked around and found a small farm on the other side. There was a rabbit hutch with some gorgeous looking rabbits that caught my attention.
I was busy clicking pictures to send to my little niece when I heard that dreaded gurgling noise. Gobble. Gobble.
Very slowly, I turned around. And there it was. Standing tall like an evil force of nature — a full grown turkey.
I ran. No, I flew. I ran screaming my guts out, waking up a village full of people from their siesta.
And that’s me standing in utter embarrassment after the fear had subsided. I am sure the villagers are still laughing over the crazy tourist who is scared silly of a bird 🙁
(The Aranmula stories cannot be complete without speaking off the Aaranmula Mirror. Chandu and I discovered this on a road trip in 2018. More about that tomorrow.)