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Divine drawings

S. GANESAN on the unsung artists of "Deiviga Chithra" who are in dire need of patronage.


THEY BELONG to the rare breed of artists who breathe life into divinity. For, gods and godliness literally form the motif of their art form, referred to as "deiviga chithra kalai."

Though their works adorn scores of households and temples, their artistic merit still largely remains unrecognised. Exactly for this reason, not many among the artistically inclined venture into this art form.

But it was a natural choice for 45-year old S. Vignesh of Thiruvanaikovil, who developed a fancy for making sketches of Gods and mythological characters at an early age of six. Vignesh is one of the very few artists in Tiruchi (and in the State as well) who give life to the portraits of Gods and mythological characters through their "deiviga chithrams."

Though born into a family from Ramanathapuram that did not exactly have art in its blood, Vignesh has managed to leave his stamp of individuality in the artistic profession of his choice through practice and perfection. In the early stages, making chalk and pencil sketches of portraits of Gods depicted in calendars was just a past time for Vignesh. Encouraged by his mother, he soon developed an avid interest in painting figures of Gods and mythological characters.

In his early twenties, he joined stapathy, V.K.Sivan, his guru, at Kumbakonam to learn the art form proper. It was under his tutelage that Vignesh learnt the nuances of the art form and also the stipulations laid down in the `sirpa sastra.'

Ever since, Gods and mythology have been both a metaphor and a vehicle of expression for his artistic talent. "Art in general and deiviga chithrams elevate the spirit and have a calming effect on the human mind. The personality of an individual could well be judged by his attitude towards art and his ability to appreciate artistic works," he says.

Vignesh has painted thousands of portraits of Hindu Gods (he revels in painting Jesus as well) and also gradually grown into a stapathy by himself to design and construct a few temples. He is now the district president of Tamil Nadu Thirukovil Sirpa Thozhilalargal Sangam.

His paintings also adorn the walls of several temples, including the Namakkal Anjaneyar Temple and the Samayapuram Mariamman Temple.

Though Lord Ganesha is his favourite motif, his brushes bring to life almost all Hindu Gods and Godesses with ease Venkatachalapthy, Murugan, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Kanagadurgai and the list is endless. He can also come up with exact replicas of the "moolavar" idols of various temples.

All his works conform to the specifications and proportions laid down in the `agama and sirpa sastras.' "Every posture and anatomy of Hindu deities has a philosophical basis andsymbolism. Not a single figure or element in the depictions is without a significance. Even the jewellery, headgear and other embellishments on the depictions convey a meaning. Painting them calls for a thorough knowledge of the agama sastras and mythology. Otherwise one cannot bring life and the divine expression into the works," he explains.

The paintings also need to conform to strict proportions, involving rigid mathematical calculations.Vignesh has even brought out a booklet, `Muppathiruvagai Arul Vilakkum Karangal,' just to explain the significance and ways of painting different hand postures.

Despite his talent, Vignesh still largely has to depend on the `kalai koodams' (art galleries), who act as agents for procuring orders. He and other artists of his kind get orders through these agents who after paying almost a pittance to them, pocket huge profits in the market.

Sought after by students who are keen to learn the art, he has a few serious disciples under his tutelage. But Vignesh is not too optimistic about the future of the art form. "Even I do not encourage my kids to pursue the art," he confesses.

"There is not much patronage for our art. Neither from the government nor the public. There are quite a few talented artists who practice this art but they hardly get any recognition. Nor does the avocation bring much material benefit," he regrets.

However, his artistic ability has spread through word of the mouth among a few connoisseurs of art and some institutions. He has been called to paint a few auditoriums and halls such as the one in the Saradha Niketan College in Karur. Recently, he has also come up with a Dasavatharam painting at the ceiling of the pooja room of the farmhouse of a city resident, involving some exacting work. The artistic rendering has not only given a serene touch to the household but also given immense sense of satisfaction and fulfilment to the artist in Vignesh.

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