The Mural Painter with Traditional Outlook

“Art helps people to introspect. It helps them to become mature and wise. Individuals practicing art develop fine motor skills and dexterity. It is a form of meditation, and it cools the mind. Differences of opinion get ironed out. It is not just for the artist but also for the ones enjoying a view of it. They tend to do a bit of research while creating a piece. It helps one to progress further. A deeper understanding of the subject is acquired by the artist. The connoisseurs learn a lot while enjoying art. The pleasure is ever lasting. Therefore, the value of art is difficult to measure for the benefits accrued can never be fathomed. Personally, I have learnt much by being an artist. It is this kind of learning that needs to be shared. This urged me to become an art teacher,” stated Shakkeela Manoj.

Shakkeela was born to Satyan and Vatsala of Thiruvanandapuram. The Artist cum teacher did her B.Sc. in Zoology from Mar Ivanios College at Thiruvanandapuram. This was followed by an M.Sc. in the same field from MCC (Madras Christian College). Her first art teacher was Revathi, and she learnt a lot under Prince Thonnakkal, the famous Mural artist cum teacher. The Mural Mahabharatam series of paintings by Prince Thonakkal and team are well-known. Shakkeela was involved with the management of the Mural Mahabharatam project. The 'Mahabharatam' is considered to be the fifth Veda.

Marriage to Manoj took Shakkeela to Chennai and she began to teach art to people of all age groups. She teaches over 100 students. Shakkeela means ‘Princess’ and her Kula Deivam happens to be Mulakkalkavu Bhagavathi (Mayyanad in Kerala). The teacher has specialized in Kerala Murals and other tribal arts. She teaches Madubani and Warli. Teaching is online these days.

“The pandemic has made me teach online. All the doubts are cleared over the phone. The list of materials to be procured are given to the students. My students belong to all age groups. I have to spend more time in order to teach online. Each student is at a different level. Therefore, I must wait until each of them completes. I wait for each one to progress with their lessons. No point in rushing through the classes. I wish to be creative each time. Therefore, I use different concepts and pictures while teaching my students. Of course, the efforts required are much more,” added Shakkeela over a conversation. Some of her students have been with her for over 5 years. She believes that learning is long-term.

Shakkeela takes orders too. She does special pieces for her clients. The Artist does not repeat pictures. She has done several Matangis (deity) thus far. Shakkeela discusses with her clients and begins her creation. Progress is shared over WhatsApp. However, her students are her pride, and she was super thrilled to talk about them, “I am really proud of my students. Their work has given me immense joy. My student, Harsha is immensely talented. The other kids including Sahana, and Veda are simply great. Veda got an entry to participate in the ‘Young Folk Artist Contest’ while doing her LKG. The students follow my prescription and use long standing material. They motivate me to do quite a bit more than what I can do.” Shakkeela's work is found at Lehbridge online gallery.

The innovative artist has worked on birds like Gandaberunda Pakshi (two-headed eagle). Her research on epics got her to do mythical beings like the Makaradhwajan. She got to learn much about the various versions of the ‘Ramayana’. “It was possible to read the versions of the ‘Ramayana’ prevalent in the far eastern nations. I wish to innovate on my work every day. However, I do not wish to mislead my students or clients. I follow tradition all the time. My work on the deity Matangi is an example. While one of my works connected with Matangi was based on ‘Shyamala Dandakam’, another was based the five elements (Panchabootams). My work on Tripurasundari shows her seated-on Shiva’s navel. These days I am working on a piece connected with Ravana, the ruler of Sri Lanka. This concept was suggested by my friend Sandeep, and I have been working on it for the past three years,” shared Shakkeela Manoj.

Shakkeela Manoj has done extensive studies on the subject Ravana, the Emperor of Sri Lanka. She was happy to share the details, “Ravana has written a number of books. ‘Ravana Samhita’ is on Ayurveda, ‘Arka Shastra’ is on Astrology, ‘Kumara Tantra’ is on Ayurveda for kids, ‘Uddish Tantra’ is based on magic, disguise etc. Sri Lanka was known a prosperous island. It had a lot of trade connections with countries like Egypt. It had gained due to international commerce. The ‘Shiva Tandava Stotram’ was composed by Ravana. He was a great devotee of Lord Shiva all his life. He used to play the Rudra Veena, yes, the Lord of Lanka was an amazing musician. He would always wear a nine-bead chain on his neck. These gem-beads used to create illusions for the viewer. Ravana was with one head, but the nine gem-beads would create nine more heads. No wonder the heads kept reappearing each time that they were cut by Lord Rama. The ten heads were perhaps an optical illusion!

The nine-gem-bead chain (given by his father) was cleverly worn by Ravana. And the Pushpaka Vimanam was perhaps a jetpack attached to the body with a belt. I wish to remind people about the painting done by Raja Ravi Varma. The picture shows a flying Jatayu being cut by Ravana with a sword. Here, Seetha is carried by Ravana, and we do not see the Pushpaka Vimanam. Well, I wish to emphasize one more point here. Ravana was clear that a human being was complete only if all the emotions are experienced! That was the thought process of the demon who abducted Devi Seetha. It was very wrong. I will complete this picture based on Ravana shortly. This experience was quite enriching for I got the chance to read a lot about Ramayana and the demon Ravana."

Teacher cum artist, Shakkeela is keen to learn and teach. She wants reason to accompany her work. Enquiry is part of her life. She questions herself before taking up work. This adherent to tradition is a keen proponent of Art.

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of the Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.