Chennai artist and family speak of pioneering calendar art in Tamilnadu

Portrait of C Kondiah Raju, pioneer of calendar art, created by artist Sasi Maaries

Chennai: Despite the rampant invasion of mobile phones, if there is one thing that has remained constant in the past decade is the calendar. It makes its way through everyone somehow. But if there is one thing that has undergone transition is the same calendar. But how? The answer is very simple. The meticulous designs.

Calendars with digital artworks and photographs are the fad now. Roll back a few decades, all we got was the ones with hand-drawn portrait of a God.

News Today speaks to S Maarieswaran, a multi-faceted artist, whose father TM Subbaiah was tutored by C Kondaiah Raju, the artist who pioneered calendar art. He takes us back in time tracing the journey.
Hailing from a family of medical professionals from Andhra Pradesh,

Kondaiah Raju took the art route. “He pursued a course in Madras Arts College which was then run by the Britons. Upon graduating, he briefly worked as a draftsman and quit to stay at the ashram run by Ramana Maharishi. It was during his stint of stay there he understood that he should pursue arts,” recalls Maarieswaran.

Following which he joined a boys’ theatre troupe as a manager and began travelling around. He was entrusted with the responsibility of managing the artists and set design that included painting the background. When the ensemble had camped at Kovilpatti, an enthusiastic young Subbaiah frequented them. “While he was writing on the banner, my father was observing and expressed his interest to paint and told him that he knows to write. He gave him an opportunity to paint. Impressed by his passion, he accepted my father as his student and took care of him like his own child as he was a celibate,” tells the sixty-year-old artist.

The duo later travelled to several places together and Subbaiah was given the responsibility to manage the electrical

Artist T M Subbaiah, student of Kondaiah Raju, painting an art for calendar.

works and assist Kondaiah Raju. Besides theatre, they were into photography.

“Once there was a minor economic loss during a drama, they settled down in Kovilpatti. During their stay, a person requested Kondaiah for a portrait of a God. The customer went to Sivakasi with the piece of art and people was awestruck by it,” Maarieswaran shares.

As words spread far and wide, another top artist from Madurai wanted the pioneer for an art piece that was planned to be a part of the annual calendar and thus it began. His first art work was Meenakshi Thirukalyanam. Kondaiah Raju trained several young professionals who took the art across the length and breadth of the country. It later evloved as Sivakasi calendars and even North Indians mastered it. A few of the notable students of Kondaiah Raju are Meenakshi Sundaram, T S Subbaiah, Arunachalam and Ramalingam. Soon came offset printing that helped the artists.

As a reason of which, Kovilpatti became a hub for artists and as time went by it led to the boom of photo studios.
Subbaiah passed on the skill to his son, Maarieswaran and in turn, he taught his son, Sasi. Although such calendars are a rarity these days, the family is still keeping it alive.

With the passage of time, Maarieswaran embraced the change and the artist who is in his 60s comfortably works on PhotoShop and other software for creating digital arts.

“My father was a voracious reader, hence there was no need for a trainer to teach him. In fact, I learnt digital art from him,” says 26-year-old Sasi.

The lad, based in Chennai, specialises digital cartooning, photography and direction besides the traditional arts and works at a private channel as cartoonist.

But the artists’ family considers the shift as a boon. “Although I was taught the conventional art, we are accustoming to the growing needs and are not left behind,” adds Sasi.

That is not all! He is all pumped up to get his calendar art released come Chithirai this year.

Bhavani Prabhakar