The Indian Kalamkari Painting of Jesus Christ – A Short Analysis

The painting by Jonnalagadda Gurappa Chetty
The painting by Jonnalagadda Gurappa Chetty.

By Donn George Varghese and Linto Paul, for the Center of Orthodox Studies – 10/10/19

Special Courtesy – Matushka Cincy Mariamma Thomas, Jeevan Philip, and Matthias Ehman.

The below article is a humble attempt to expose the details of a modern-day painting of Jesus Christ in the Indian Kalamkari style.

The Painting and Its Location

Cincy Mariyamma Thomas (research board member of COS ) received the photograph of a beautiful painting of Jesus Christ from Matthias Ehman. This mural is preserved at the German Museum Haus Völker und Kulturen (House of People and Culture). We understand that the museum is open to the public every first Sunday of the month. We also understand that the museum is under the control of the Roman Catholic Order of the Society of the Divine Word. From the information provided, we found that the museum was started in the 1970s for the purpose of anthropology and religious art.

It was difficult for us to avail of the painting for physical examination or study. Hence, upon the recommendation of Jeevan Philip (Chief Research Consultant @COS), we contacted the museum Director – Prof. Dr. Georg Skrabania SVD. He provided us with basic details of the painting. Even though we have been provided with information on the painting, we consulted a few experts in the field of art. Their valuable opinions (after examining the photograph of the painting) are provided in the article as well.

The Origin

Account to the information provided by the museum, the painting was created by Padma Sri Jonnalagadda Gurappa Chetty, the famous Indian Kalamkari artist. He is the son of late J. Lakshmaiah Chetty, the famous Kalamkari artist.

The process of painting is extremely complicated. The cloth is treated with natural products, such as astringents, buffalo milk, and it is dried under the sun to make it sturdy. Grappa Chetty uses Kei-block print.  The drawing pen is made of bamboo or date palm sticks. Colors for the dye are made from plant roots, leaves, mineral salts of iron, tin, copper, etc. Cow dung, seeds, plants, flowers are also used to make the natural dye.

The painting itself seems to be an eye-catchy and a brilliant piece of work. The main focus of the painting is Jesus Christ who is seated in the traditional Indian meditation posture. Artworks (around the main portrait) depicts various events from the life of our Saviour. Each drawing is separated by a unique pattern and they also have a description of the incident/event under each frame. As we understand that the painting is done on a cloth, hence, we are not in a position to confirm if the piece of art can be called a mural.

Comments From Artists  

Famous Indian mural artist and art conservator Jijulal V.M considers the mural as a  valuable Indian piece of art. He compared the mural with ancient Indian traditional art styles/types and found that this mural is created in the ancient Kalamkari painting style.

Stephane Rene, the famous Coptic iconography states “It looks like it is from Asia (India or the Far East?), most probably from Buddhist culture. It obviously depicts the life of Christ, a kind of pictorial gospel. Not sure whether it is painted on cloth or a tapestry. It is however fascinating and very uncommon in style and presentation.”

Sunitha M Selvakumar, an independent artist pointed out the painting is South Indian Kalamkari in origin with Buddist artistic style and influence. She considers the painting as an unusual and extremely beautiful piece of work.

Serbian Artist Sanja Anjilekovic is of the opinion that the painting has influence from the ancient Buddhist artistic works. Sanja considers this mural as a worthy artistic piece from the historical and artistic point of view.

Ekaterina Daineko, the famous Belarussian Iconographer is of the opinion that the painting is in the typical eastern style, probably an illustration of some text or a personal idea of an Eastern artist. The painting is a good decorative piece of eastern art, but it is not related to Orthodox Christianity.

Artist Jonnalagadda Gurappa Chetty
Artist Jonnalagadda Gurappa Chetty.

The theme of the marvelous piece of artwork is none other than the Gospel of St. Luke. Interestingly, St.Luke is considered the first Christian iconographer by Orthodox Churches. Jesus Christ is the central focal point of interest in the work. Various events from the life of Christ is beautifully depicted in the painting as well.

We are fortunate to have a marvelous piece of Kalamkari painting from the blessed Indian artist Jonnalagadda Gurappa Chetty. Moreover, India is home to one of the oldest Christian communities (Malankara Nasranis) in the world. The Malankara Church based in Kerala was established as a result of the evangelical mission of St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ.


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