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April 19, 2005 > Kalamandir, school of traditional Indian paintings

Kalamandir, school of traditional Indian paintings

by Arathi Satish

A popular art form in India is traditional Tanjore and Mysore painting. For those interested in learning about these magnificent works born from the Vijayanagar School of Painting in the early 1300s, classes by local artist Kala Ghaty are now open.

The Tanjore art school originated in Tanjore, South India and became famous due to the royal patronage of the Maratha kings. Tanjore paintings are jewel-encrusted using a special gold foil that depicts Hindu gods and goddesses.

Mysore paintings date back to Ajanta times and Vijayanagar Kings. This style is noted for delicate lines, graceful figures and gold foil work. Bright vegetable dyes were used as paint and the results are elegant and attractive. These works also depict Hindu deities.

These paintings usually have one central figure with a well-rounded body and almond shaped eyes with a background of either an arch or curtain. Over time, the style has changed to include more figures. The paintings are well known for their adornment of precious and semi-precious stones, pearls, glass, mica, ivory and gold. Rich and vibrant color paints are used. The background is usually red, sometimes green.

Originally, the paintings were restricted to Hindu deities, but this changed in the 20th century. Now representations have been altered by personal influences expressed by use of more proportionate figures, replacing precious stones with artificial ones, and including figures from various religions, paintings of birds, animals and flowers.

Creation of this wonderful art form includes dedication and several stages of planning. The first step is to prepare a board or wooden plank. Originally Jackfruit wood was used but has been replaced by plywood. A layer of unbleached cotton cloth treated with chalk powder and glue is pasted with gum to the board. Next, the selected picture is traced on the treated board. This is followed by affixing precious, semi-precious stones and glass pieces to form jewels, garlands, etc. The outline is then painted with chalk powder and arabica gum. The lavish use of gold foil adds opulence to the paintings. Finally, bright and striking colors are used to enhance the figures.

Instead of vegetable dyes, chemical paints are now used since they provide better shades of color. Traditionally, blue depicts Lord Vishnu; white is used for Lord Nataraja and yellow for goddesses.

Tanjore and Mysore paintings are beautifully framed using plain wood or an ornamental Chettinad style. Instead of glass, transparent acrylic sheets are often used to avoid breakage during transit.

These time-honored techniques are taught by the Kalamandir Art School in Fremont where Ghaty, a Fremont Unified School District special education teacher, began teaching the ancient art style in 2001. She conducts classes for both adults and children. Besides Tanjore and Mysore styles, Ghaty gives instruction in one-stroke painting, ceramics, murals, watercolors, acrylics and oil painting.

Ghaty also teaches a summer camp program for children with special needs. "Painting has been a passion with me. I've always wanted to teach art to children. I have kids who like to participate and I meet excellent parents who give honest feedback," she said.

Kalamandir Art School
41069 Bairo Court, Fremont
(510) 668 1494
Classes are held on selected weekdays and weekends

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