When Kalpathy cars inspired a leaf artist


Rajendran Vadakkepadath giving finishing touches to his Kalpathy Ratholsavam painting on a banana leaf.

Rajendran Vadakkepadath giving finishing touches to his Kalpathy Ratholsavam painting on a banana leaf.

Kalpathy Ratholsavam, which used to be the biggest temple festival of Malabar during the British Raj, continues to inspire artists and artisans alike. The latest to take inspiration from the chariots of Kalpathy is Rajendran Vadakkepadath, leaf artist, who recently sketched the epic of Ramayana on a full length banana leaf.

What grabbed Mr. Rajendran’s fancy was the convergence of the decorated chariots, which takes place on the final day of Ratholsavam marking the culmination of the car festival. Without taking any model, Mr. Rajendran sketched the chariot convergence, popularly known as the Rathasangamam, on a dried banana leaf on the eve of the festival.

“It’s my humble tribute to a grand festival, which is being passionately celebrated annually by the people of Kalpathy. Now we could feel that there is a renewed verve in it, especially after two years of deprivation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mr. Rajendran.

Mr. Rajendran sketched Kalpathy festival on a half-cut 80 cm x 55 cm banana leaf. “As the decorated chariots are perpendicular, I had to pick the tail-end half of a banana leaf and portray the chariots vertically,” he said.

He completed the work on Sunday, that too in a single sitting. It took about eight years for him to achieve mastery over a genre that few other artists have tried their hand at. He paints on dried banana leaves using acrylic.

He says he knows no one else who dabbles in this unique art. He made banana leaf his medium because it can last for centuries. He treats the banana leaf using some natural ingredients, including goat milk. “My medium is my message,” Mr. Rajendran laughed, echoing the famous phrase of Canadian communicologist Marshall McLuhan.

The tenderness and volatility of dried banana leaves make them too difficult for an artist to handle. Mr. Rajendran overcame this difficulty by constant trial and error that lasted for years. “Another challenge I face with banana leaves is that image outlining with pencil is not possible on them as they will break,” he said.

Although he prefers to paint in reverse by giving emphasis on the natural ochre colour of the dried banana leaves, his Kalpathy tribute was a deviation from this tradition. He had to bank on white to make the Ratholsavam colourful.

Artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Namboothiri have influenced him. “I strongly believe that art work should help to create a positive energy in people.”


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