In Kerala there are many mural sites which are archaeologically important. It stands second in having the largest collection of such mural sites. The wall paintings done have special color symbolism, heavy ornaments, accuracy and various emotions portrayed well. The murals give importance for beauty, clarity and accuracy. The art of wall paintings have been started long back and the evidence can be found from the rock paintings of Anjanad valley in Idukki. There are some other rock paintings in Edakkal and Perumkadavila. All these paintings belong to different periods such as the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods.
The oldest murals in Kerala were found in Thirunandikkara which comes under Tamil Nadu state at present and the murals at Tiruvanchikulam. There is a rock cut cave temple here which stands as an evidence for the mural paintings. These paintings were believed to be done in the 9th or 10th century. At present only a bare outline of these paintings can be seen due to the passage of many centuries. During the 10th century a mural painting which consists of the inscription of Goda Ravi Varman was seen in the Cheruthuruthy Tali temple in Thrissur.
The temples in Kerala have a great culture and the life of people is related to the temples. The main themes for most of the murals were obtained from religious texts and Indian mythologies. The paintings were mainly of Gods, Goddesses and Kings and the scenes pictured are from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The painters get the description from the dhyana slokas or other verses and they picture it in a good way rather than a fanciful representation. Nature is also pictured in a stylized manner.
In Kerala, the mural paintings are usually seen in the walls and ceilings of temples and churches. Some of the oldest murals found in Kerala include the murals at Kanthaloor temple in Thiruvananthapuram in 13th century and the murals in Kozhikode in 14th century. Between 14th century and 16th century, we find the Ramayana murals of Mattancherry Palace and the temple paintings at Thrissur Vadakkumnatha temple, Chemmanthitta Siva temple, paintings at Kudamaloor and Thodeekkalam in Kannur. All these murals have brought about a new tradition in the mural paintings in Kerala. A proof of the new tradition can be seen from the murals of Padmanabhapuram Palace, Gajendra Moksham painting in Krishnapuram palace and also from the unique paintings on the floor and chambers of the Mattancherry palace.
The murals are stylized using various colors. The artists select separate colors for their characters. There are mainly three classes of characters picturised namely the superhuman, humans and sub human beings and there are separate color codes for these. The qualities assigned for these classes are the Satwa which are the noble people, Rajas who are active and middle principle and Tamas which are the dark and destructive principle respectively. The Satwas are represented by green color and its various shades and the Rajas are represented using red color or golden color. The Tamas Gods are represented using white color whereas the demons are represented using black color. For example, Lord Vishnu and the Satwiks such as Parvathi, Sridevi, Arjuna, Prahlada and Markandeya are always pictured with green color. Bhoomidevi, Ganga, Ganesha and Brahma were coloured with red.
Many excellent murals were done in the 15th and 16th centuries with the emergence of the second Bhakti movement. Famous poets like Ezhuthachan, Mepathoor, Poonthanam and Vilwamangalam have helped in reviving this art form. There was a decline in this tradition during the 18th century when the Malabar was invaded by Mysore and also due to the coming of the British. With the popularity of the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, this tradition almost came to an end.
The earlier mural forms used natural items and vegetative colors such as herbal dyes, fruit juices and also chemicals obtained from stones, roots etc for making the paint. Some special kinds of leaves and roots are used as brushes. The outlines for the paintings are made using bamboo pieces. Today there are many new generation artists who spend their time doing research in the mural art forms. These are being taught at Sree Sankara Sanskrit College in Kalady and the mural art school linked with the Guruvayoor temple.
In 1599, the Synod of Diamper emphasized the need for designing churches with paintings. One of the main features in churches is the oil paintings on the wooden screens in the altar. The painting techniques used in churches is the same as that used in temples. But there may be a change in the usage of colors for painting in churches. They use a variety of colors. The styles used may also vary. The St. George Syrian Orthodox Church of the nasranis has painting that depicts narrations from the Bible. There are mural paintings at churches at Edappalli, Vechur, Cheppad and Mulanthuruthi.