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The Murals of Karnataka

First Online: November 21, 2003
Page Last Updated: May 09, 2017

© K. L. Kamat
Murals of Karnataka

With a distinct style embellished with linear grace and high impact color harmonies, the murals of Karnataka state in southern India have a romantic and exciting history and are equal in artistic value to the better known sculptures from the state.

There is enough evidence to prove that mural art has played as significant a role in the heritage of Karnataka. That the renowned caves of Badami are decorated with this style of painting is enough to confirm that the style was extant before the 7th century A.D. The narrative panels there give an idea of the monarch's daily routine as also the life and times of the people. 

© K. L. Kamat
Bulls at a Procession
Detail from a Mural at Mysore Palace
Late 19th Century

But the style saw its renaissance only after the fall of the Vijayanagar empire. The beauty and diversity of the style can be seen in the murals that are still extant in different stages of preservation in temples spread over the length and breadth of the old Mysore area. It is true that quite a few of them are in a dilapidated condition: the finer points shrouded due to flaking, soot-formation or even carelessness.

But when compared with murals belonging to the Chalukyan period, these murals of more recent origin give an idea of the progress made in aspects of structure and design. Thus it can be safely said that the style enjoyed a certain amount of continuity under the patronage of the Mysore dynasties, including that of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan.

We also see a type of mural art done in monochrome very prevalent on the western coast of Karnataka.
See: Kavi Art of Coastal Karnataka -- Article and a number of pictures on the durable form of monochrome art known as the Kavi Art prevalent on the Indian West-coast.

© K. L. Kamat
Romance of Lord Vishnu and Wife Laxmi
Romance of Lord Vishnu and Wife Laxmi
Kavi art murals are found on the Indian west coast. In the mural above, the couple is shown relaxing on a five hooded snake

The Techniques

From the ancient texts on fine arts, it can be gathered that the basic necessity for the style is a smooth, plastered surface. That means it does not demand a wet surface as in the frescoes of Italy. This starting surface (bhitti or mani bhoomi) is prepared by using a mixture of powdered bricks, clay, kernels of Bilva (a type of fruit, Aegle marnelos), guggula gum, beeswax, jaggery and oil in different proportions. Lime prepared from seashells is also an important ingredient for this mixture, along with the sawdust of a particular bark.

The mixture, after being stored for about a month, is applied to the wall to obtain a smooth surface. It should be as bright as a crystal in order to be able to obtain the desired results.

© K. L. Kamat
Lord Indra riding the Iravat, the eight trunked elephant
Lord Indra riding the Iravat, the eight trunked elephant
Mural from a Jain Muth, Sravanabelagola, 18th Century

See Also: Mural from Sira, 1800 A.D., Lepakshi Paintings in Ruins


  • Karanth S. K., Karnatakada Chitrakale (in Kannada), Karnataka Arts Academy
  • Chandrashekhar S. N., Murals of Karnataka Portfolio, Karnataka Arts Academy
  • Kamat K.L., The Timeless Theater CD-ROM, CyberCrow, 1999

See Also:



The Arts of India
Arts of India

Romancing Couple -- Painting by Raja Ravi Varma.Man-Woman -- A piece from Salarjung MuseumA Romantic Couple, JinanathapuraGoddess Saraswati in a Tanjore style paintingMythological PaintingUse of Eagles as MessengersElephant Headed Ganesh in a Tanjore Gesso Painting
Painting on a Peepal Leaf Feeding of Lord KrishnaLord Indra riding the Airavat, the eight trunked elephantA Spectacular Mixed Metal Sculpture of ArdhanarishwaraBodhisatva with a Lotus in HandSolitary MaidenBronze Statue of a Dancer
Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833)The Girl from MalabarGaruda Carrying GayatriLaxman meets Valis wife TaraCouple Rides Camel on a Sand-duneTemple on Wheels (Ratha)Hindu Mythological Figure Rawana, Leather Puppet
The Teaching of Bhagawad-GitaBlind folded Gandhari and a Maid on Balcony<br>by Nandalal BoseMan Fondles Two Women on a SwingPainted Leather Puppet of HanumanNawab and coterieNawab and a CourtierPainted Leather Puppet of Kamadhenu the Cow
Water Color Painting by Mukta VenkateshBhishma Lies on the Bed of Arrows<br>A Rangoli PaintingArt By AccidentAccidental ArtMystery Picture!Horse Pulled Cart - Painting by Jamini RoyRomance of Lord Vishnu and Wife Laxmi<br>Indian Red Mural
Bronze Statue of Shiva -- Chola Period (1000 A.D.)Way to NanjanaguduPainting of a Lion on a Ganjifa CardArt of Prehostoric ManGeometric Designs on Palm LeafA Wall Mural from KarnatakaPainting by M.F. Husain

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