Calligrapher artist Bhattathiri opens ‘Ka Cha Ta Tha Pa’, a Malayalam calligraphy gallery

Thiruvananthapuram gallery is a first of its kind in India for Malayalam calligraphy

Thiruvananthapuram gallery is a first of its kind in India for Malayalam calligraphy

“It’s the realization of a long-cherished dream for me,” says Narayana Bhattathiri of ‘Ka Ch Ta Tha Pa’, a Malayalam calligraphy gallery. Familiar to Malayalam readers as a Bhattathiri artist, the master calligrapher has built the gallery on the top floor of his house at Forest Office Lane, Vazhuthacaud, Thiruvananthapuram.

“It may be the first of its kind for Malayalam calligraphy. There are galleries in cities like Mumbai and Delhi with exhibits in Devanagari script,” says Bhattathiri.

He has been on a one-man mission for over four decades to popularize Malayalam calligraphy. “He hasn’t received the patronage he deserves. That’s why I have been posting calligraphy works daily on my Facebook page (Bhattathiri Calligraphy) since 2015 and also leading online and offline workshops. However, people often wanted to see the works in person. But it is not possible to exhibit everywhere and that made me think of opening a gallery to exhibit what I have done,” says the 63-year-old artist. The number of drawings posted on his page has exceeded 3,700 and is still counting.

He feels that calligraphy is not promoted in South India despite the existence of excellent calligraphers in all languages. “Their artistry is limited to the titles of books, magazines and films. It’s still not considered a work of art,” he says.

A work by artist Bhattathiri

A work by artist Bhattathiri | Photo credit: MAHINSHA S

Calligraphy, coined from the Greek words for ‘beauty’ ( Kallos) and ‘write’ ( graphin), is to write with your hand, albeit beautifully. “There is no set rule or parameters for this. It is up to the practitioner to give it an identity. I don’t plan what I’m going to write. It flows,” he adds. The drawings are born during her two-hour practice which takes place every day at 3 am. His workspace is a room with a custom-made table high enough for him to stand and draw. He produces two works daily which are published on his Facebook page. “Practice is what makes you grow,” he says.

When the alphabets speak

A work by artist Bhattathiri

A work by artist Bhattathiri | Photo credit: MAHINSHA S

The gallery’s more than 35 exhibitions include both old and new works. Each has its own visual language – a particular alphabet or word undergoes drastic change as it gains loops, loops, twists, turns and innovative features. That’s not all. In each work, the alphabet (or letters of the alphabet) is mixed with lines from a Malayalam poem. “The design has nothing to do with the lines I chose that day. The verse must have that particular alphabet or word. What I like about the process is that I recite the lines as I write them,” he says. The best part is watching how he incorporates the poem into different geometric shapes or figures – a circle, a square, a rectangle, etc. His use of colors sublimates each work.

He emphasizes that each work exhibited is a first draft. This is the case with every design he creates. “Once it’s done, I don’t make any changes or redraw it. Even if the shot is not clear, I leave it like that,” he said. The artist argues that it is not necessary for a viewer to understand everything that is written. “People may not be able to read all the letters. But it is okay. When we enjoy Arabic or Chinese calligraphy, are we trying to read what is written? The same goes for Malayalam calligraphy. They are made to be seen,” he says.

A work by artist Bhattathiri

A work by artist Bhattathiri | Photo credit: MAHINSHA S

Originally from Pandalam, he remembers being inspired by the typefaces he saw at his father’s print shop as a young boy. After moving to Thiruvananthapuram, he studied painting at the College of Fine Arts and used to work part-time as an artist. He started to assist S Rajendran, the artistic director, in Kalakaumudi magazine where he obtained the title of calligrapher. His first job was to write the title of a story and he started his journey towards designing titles for several seminal books of Malayalam literature. He is the recipient of the Jikji calligraphy prize awarded by the Cheongju Cultural Center, Seoul, South Korea, for 2017, 2018 and 2019. His works are exhibited in this Center. His creations are also presented at the Calligraphy Stone Park in Herbin, China.

A work by artist Bhattathiri

A work by artist Bhattathiri | Photo credit: MAHINSHA S

“When I look at this gallery, I am satisfied to have done something for posterity. What’s the point of drawing something every day and keeping it at home? ” he says.

The low tables arranged in the gallery are for the calligraphy classes he plans to start soon. The gallery also features three works by veteran calligrapher Achyut Palav.

Artist Bose Krishnamachari opens ‘Ka Cha Ta Tha Pa’ on August 2 at 9am. Admission is free for the public from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is closed on Mondays.

Contact: 9496232444

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