Prakriti Foundation, Chennai's The Mucukunda Murals in the Tyāgarājasvāmi Temple, Tiruvarur by V. K. Rajamani and David Shulman is the result of serendipity, love, and sheer good fortune. The combination of grit, scholarship, talent, determination, and persistence... Reading about it in the last week's The Hindu made one realize just how much of our heritage is surely seeping away, decaying...
On the ceiling of the Devasiraya Mandapam in the third prakara of the Tyagarajasvami Temple in Tiruvarur, an unfinished set of around 50 painted panels depicts the story of the monkey-faced Chola king Mucukunda, who is said to have brought the god Tyagaraja from heaven down to Tiruvarur. The story is well documented in medieval Tamil texts such as Kantapuranam of Kacciyappa civacariyar and Campantamunivar's Tiruvarurppuranam.The paintings, although in a shockingly dilapidated condition, are among the best surviving examples of late-Nayaka or early Maratha-period murals. Along with offering a distinctive version of the Mucukunda story (together with inscriptions that accompany each panel and embody directions to the painters), these murals express a distinctive cultural and philosophical vision—one in which we can observe the new subjectivity of the seventeenth century, with its spatial and pictorial correlates, and a particular understanding of the possibilities open to human beings in relation to the depths of their own consciousness, on the one hand, and the divine realm, on the other.
Prakriti Foundation has been undertaking the restoration of these panels for the last 3 years and since the work is near completion, they conducted a conference seminar at the Devasriya Mandapam on 26th January 2011. Concurrently they released a book detailing the Mucukunda Murals and their inscriptions by David Shulman as a joint venture of conservation. The book also contains a detailed description by Madhu Rani who led the INTACH team, of the entire process of conservation of the paintings.
Shulman, an Indologist is regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the languages of India. His research embraces many fields, including the history of religion in South India, Indian poetics, Tamil Islam, Dravidian linguistics, and Carnatic music. Rajamani is a noted photographer