The Thirupullamangai temple

Part of the Thirupullamangai temple structure, located in Pasupathikoil near Kumbakonam. Oil paint on canvas 11″ x 15″

This is a side section of the main temple structure. The temple is referred to in the 7th century tamil shaivate hymns called the thevaram. The present structure was most likely built over a period of several decades, covering the reigns of some prominent Chola kings, starting from Parantaka I, his grandson Parantaka II (Sundara Chola) and Sundara Chola’s son, the illustrious Rajaraja I. If you are ever in the Kumbakonam area, a visit to one of the many Chola temples in the vicinity is an absolute must.

I have always shied away from painting Hindu temples given their highly intricate (and often overwhelming!) details that demand the utmost concentration. I finally summoned the courage to make an attempt. The painting was actually done using only two colors (yellow ochre + black) and white. The sky is actually black + white, which appears blue (cool) in relative contrast to the (warm) yellow of the structure. The under-drawing was done directly with the brush using mineral spirits to thin the oil paint. Two initial stages of the painting are shown below.

Underdrawing in black paint over a yellow ochre wash (thinned paint with odourless mineral spirits)
More details added over the underpainting, final stage before adding white to the mixes

Bharata threatens a lion

Bharata threatens a lion, casein and watercolor on paper 10″x14″.

Emperor bharata can well be considered the founder of the Indian state. His exploits have earned him near legendary status. First as a 6-year-old abandoned prince in the hermitage of the sage kaNva, bharata apparently tamed the wild lions and played with their cubs. Then, as emperor of hastinApura, he is said to have established a kingdom covering significant parts of modern India. Bharata is featured in the mahAbhArata (which derives its name from his descendants) as well as in kAlidAsa’s famous play Abhijñānashākuntala.

Painted in casein on watercolor paper 10″x14″. A thin layer of acrylic matte medium was first used to reduce paper absorbency and aid the flow of paint. The characters are based on several little studies, such as the one below:

Head and lion studies, pencil on toned paper, 9″x12″.

WhollyZootopia #2

Big cats at the zoo. Jaguar (left) and Indian leopard (right). Casein in a watercolor journal 5″x8″.

Quick sketch (~2 hrs) of two big cats at the zoo. The Jaguar (left) and Indian leopard (right) look nearly identical. The main difference between them is in the spots on their coats. The jaguar has a ring with a dot in it while the leopard has only rings.

Head studies

Head studies. Casein on paper 2.5″x2.5″ each.

Head studies of works by two (nearly) contemporary artists – James Gurney (left) and Rien Poortvliet (right). The attempt was to recreate their working styles in the course of this study.

James makes a pencil sketch, fixes with acrylic matte medium, then goes from transparent to opaque paint application. Rien starts with a permanent brown ink drawing with semi opaque paint application over the top.

Guardian of the temple deity



dwArapAlaka, Gouache and pencil on paper 7″x10″.

At the entrance to the inner sanctum of any Hindu (Shiva/ Vishnu) temple are the mighty dwArapAlakas (dwAra = gate, pAlaka = protector) or gate keepers. The keepers of a Vishnu temple and those of a Shiva temple are distinct and over the millennia they’ve come to feature in many a mythological story.

This particular  one is from the thyAgarajar kovil (a Shiva temple) in the little town of Thiruvarur in South India. Sculpted in brass and standing over 4 feet tall, it simply had to be recorded in a sketchbook.

Painted in gouache over a gesso primed, green tinted 300 gm watercolor paper in a sketchbook 7″x10″.

Location: thyAgaraja temple, Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu, India