About Cheriyal Paintings, Telangana

  • Article tells about the tradition of Cheriyal Painting tradition, process, challenges and artists are re-inventing the tradition.

Scroll paintings have a rich history and play an important role in the Asian artistic tradition. In China, scroll paintings were part of the sophisticated traditions of the nobility and the courts. In India however, the scroll painting was the prerogative of the itinerant bard and the village artist, in essence a folk tradition of the villages.

 

In India, each region and village developed its own scroll painting traditions, marked by characteristic content, form and technique depending on the local ethos, patronage and socio-economic conditions.  

 

Rajasthan is known for its Pabuji ki PadDevenarayana katha as also stories from the legend of Dhola and Maru. Goa evolved the Dasavathara, as Maharashtra did Pinguli and the Chitra Katha traditions. Maharashtra and Gujarat are also known for a sophisticated scroll painting tradition called the Prasasti Patra. Orissa and Bengal are famous for their Pattachitra traditions.

 

While the above-mentioned traditions could have significantly influenced the Cheriyal scroll paintings and artists, the Cheriyal paintings were and continue to be a distinctly local invention, peculiar to the Telangana region, drawing mainly on local traditions. It can safely be said that the local temple art traditions and the Kalamkari tradition across Telangana in particular, and the graphic art traditions of the Deccan and South India in general were the major influences that shaped and guided the art of scroll paintings.

 

However, it should also be remembered that the sphere of activity, subject and artistic idiom of every scroll painting including that of Cheriyal is peculiar and confined to the village.

 

Cheriyal Scroll Paintings

Cheriyal Scroll Painting is a stylized version of Nakashi art, rich in the local motifs peculiar to Telangana.

 

They are at present made only in Hyderabad, Telangana, India. The scrolls are painted in a narrative format, much like a film roll or a comic strip, depicting stories from Indian tradition, and intimately tied to the shorter stories from the Puranas and Epics.

Earlier, these paintings were prevalent across Andhra, as also various other parts of the country, albeit flavoured with their distinct styles and other local peculiarities dictated by the local customs and traditions.

 

In the same way, Cheriyal scrolls must have been popular across Telangana in earlier times, though with the advent of television, cinemas and computers it has been fenced into its last outpost, the Cheriyal town.

Scroll painting.

 

Formation

The Nakashis are the artists of Telangana and the scrolls constitute a key element of the social and cultural setting of Telangana. These paintings were mostly confined to Cheriyal village, and hence called Cheriyal scrolls. The scrolls earlier depicted the adventures and the exploits of local folk heroes wherein each community had its popular heroes.

 

This traditional art form is considered an inseparable part of the profession comprising the story-telling and balladeer community called Kaki Padagollu. They have displayed these scrolls which are also accompanied by music and dance. The scrolls would be flowing like a film roll, which is usually nearly three feet in width and about 40 to 45 feet in length, based on the story.

 

Tradition

The traditional scrolls are mostly of vertical format and illustrate the stories through a series of horizontal panels. Here, there is a floral border in the middle separating the two panels, and the linear narrative is shown, being held with both hands or suspended from a tree. It is further rolled continually.

 

Compared to the long scrolls in the past, now artists have adapted to paint smaller versions of these scrolls that only depict any single episode or few characters from the traditional stories. These can be framed easily and hung on walls of modern homes.

Smaller scroll.

 

Process

The canvas making is an elaborate procedure. It is made of Khadi cotton, starch, white mud and a paste of tamarind seeds and gum water. After the canvas is complete, the artists prepare the outline directly using a brush on the canvas. These outlines are defined clearly and appear sharp which shows the quality as well as the skill of the Cheriyal craftsman.

 

At present, the Cheriyal painting work is being continued by some selected families. There are only few artists remaining who still paint, making use of this unique technique. One of the recent innovations is the painting of single pictures instead of a continuous scroll for the purpose of wall decorations.

 

Themes

Cheriyal Painting is easily recognized by certain unique characteristics.

 

These are painted in vivid hues with mostly primary colors, showing a predominance of red color in the background. These paintings are characterized by unbridled imaginations of the local artisans.

 

In this form of art, the iconography of major deities like Vishnu, Shiva, etc. too carry a strong local idiom. The subjects of the scroll paintings are mostly drawn from mythological, ancient literary and folk traditions. The major themes are Krishna Leela, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Shiva Puranam, Markandey Puranam along with the ballads and folk stories of Gauda, Madiga and other communities.

 

 

 

The main narrative involves scenes from the common rural life such as women performing kitchen chores, men working in fields or experiencing merry, festival settings, etc. The costumes and settings reflect the culture of Telangana.

Rural life.

 

Cheriyal Dolls

In the past, natural dyes were used. White was obtained from grounded sea shells, black from lamp soot, yellow from turmeric, blue from indigo and the others from various vegetable dyes and grounded stones.

 

Today the natural dyes have largely been replaced by commercial organic water colours, which are mixed with tree gums, before being applied on the scroll.

 

The water coloured based Cheriyal Scrolls are said to last over 300 years provided they don’t come in contact with water.

Decoration piece for modern day homes.

 

Cheriyal Mask

Apart from the Scrolls, the Cheriyal artists also make dolls and masks. The smaller masks are made of coconut shell while the larger ones are made out of sawdust and tamarind seed paste.

 

The Cheriyal dolls are made of a light wood called tella puniki and are smeared with saw dust and tamarind seed paste. Like the scroll, both the dolls and masks have bright colours.

Face mask.

 

Cheriyal Key Ring

Cheriyal paintings have made their way on gift boxes, pen and candle stands and even on textiles, and also Cheriyal dolls have been transformed into decorative key chains.

Modern day usage.

 

Today the Cheriyal Scroll painting art still flourishes but with the advent of other forms of audio - visual entertainment and with the dwindling numbers of story tellers and balladeers, the Cheriyal artist are forced to modify their art form.

 

The long elongated scrolls are made smaller to fit in the walls of modern day drawing rooms and masks and dolls are customised into drawing room artifacts.

 

It is a great wonder that the art of Cheriyal scroll painting is alive, despite of the numerous challenges. The passion of the Cheriyal artists has helped to preserve a valuable piece in India’s rich cultural mosaic.

 

Author is a Mumbai based artist.

 

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