Art historians have depicted Raja Ravi Varma, the World-renowned Indian painter as having been influenced by the classical European tradition of portraits and drawings. But during my research for the documentary film 'The Painted epics' for The Indira Gandhi National Center for Arts, New Delhi, I some hitherto unknown murals in the family temple of Ravi Varma. These wall paintings are in the royal temple of Kilimanoor palace near Thiruvananthapuram the place where Ravi Varma was born and lived till youth.
I found some similarities between Ravi Varma's work and the rich mural tradition of Kerala. Art history books hade no knowledge of these family temple murals. Further research strengthened my belief and I discovered the painting in a haphazard manner. In this temple poojas are hardly conducted now. So these paintings remained almost undetected.
The silent expressions in these temple murals conclusively prove this admiration of classical art forms. Most of the figures appear like sequences from performing arts. So Ravi Varma's creativity must have been influenced by our traditional art forms. Hence I decided to make a documentary on Ravi Varma's creativity, which is highly influenced by the classical art forms in our tradition. It is evident that regular Theatrical art performances were staged in his place. This influence might have been precipitated.
How Ravi Varma portrayed his divine characters? How Ravi Varma was being inspired by the performing arts staged in his palace during his boyhood days? How did his imagination take off from the sequences of divine love in our performing arts? How he could create
'shringara rasa' in his characters and always prefer love affairs and highly sensuous heroines? How he depicted the spiritual feeling and erotic surrender in pictorial narrative? How his imaginative faculty was aroused with the performances like Mohiniyattam, Barathanatyam, Koodiyattam, Kathakali etc.?
The total treatment is inter cutting Ravi Varma's paintings with the performing art forms which influenced him. For example Radha with raised hands and face titled towards the sky is in a spiritual ecstasy - Radha. Ravi Varma is successful in establishing a relationship between women and nature both having the fecund qualities of vegetation and life - Sakunthala.
The other aspects of influence he inherited from the traditional art are the light effects and violent passions. The flame of the art is the source of light illuminating the faces as well as imparting them expressions and age differentiation while simultaneously establishing the solemnity of the occasion. The strong vertical shaft of light crossed by several diagonally inclined light effects implies violent passion. Do these pictorial narratives have their roots in the
'nritya and nritya' of the Indian Classical forms?