Painting Stories of Cheriyal in Telangana

Painting Stories of Cheriyal in Telangana
Highlights

Even before the workweek has come to an end, you are already planning on which movie to catch the coming weekend. From the anticipation that builds up as you discuss with friends, trawl YouTube for trailers to that online-wait for bookings to open, movie watching has come to be as much a date with friends as it has become a weekend ritual worthy of a check-in on Facebook. 

Even before the workweek has come to an end, you are already planning on which movie to catch the coming weekend. From the anticipation that builds up as you discuss with friends, trawl YouTube for trailers to that online-wait for bookings to open, movie watching has come to be as much a date with friends as it has become a weekend ritual worthy of a check-in on Facebook.

But, have you ever wondered, before the advent of cinema, before the multiplex in your favorite mall turned into your trusty weekend getaway, how did people entertain themselves?

It was this question coupled with my drive to document dying art forms from our State that took me to Cheriyal, one Sunday morning. An hour’s drive from Hyderabad is the village of Cheriyal in Telangana. Here is where the famous ‘Cheriyal Scrolls’ come from.

These canvas scrolls made from Khadi are hand-painted in a style unique to the local motifs and iconography. Characterised by a dominance of the colour red in the background, these brilliantly hued paintings even received Geographical Indication Status in 2007.

Painted in panels as a narrative, these are like comic strips from the past, depicting scenes and stories from Indian mythology and epics. Distinct in their style they immediately convey age-old Indian traditions and customs in a beautiful and engaging manner.

Of which, both the Lords Krishna and Rama are the most prominent and recurring. These painted scrolls were what kept the people of that era gone by entertained.

Originally used by the village bard as a visual aid to go with his stories and ballads, these scrolls have all but phased out with today’s more mainstream ways of storytelling and entertainment. Read cinema for even the written word is all but fading away.

Given that our drive was short and it was a Sunday morning, the sleepy little village was just about stirring to action.

We asked around, but it took us a while to finally get directions to an artisan’s workshop. Little surprise there, for now there aren’t many artists, who still practice this dying art form.

With Cheriyal being the last village standing it has exactly three artist families, who still pursue this traditional occupation of the region.

Conventionally used as a tool for educating the illiterate villagers, Cheriyal Scrolls were once sociologically and culturally significant. From a scroll that once had up to 50 panels, they have now come down to a single panel, as these artists adapt to its modern use as wall art.

We were soon at the house where the husband and wife artist duo, Vanaja & Ganesh run workshops and paint for a living. It was from them that we learned there was more to this art then just painting on scrolls.

Also coming from Cheriyal, are masks and dolls modeled along the same theme of ancient Indian mythology and local folklore. These masks range from as small as the ones sculpted and painted on coconut shells to as large as the ones molded in cement.

Both of them government recognised artists, they have had the honour of creating 10-feet wall murals from these masks in Nagpur for the President, Pranab Mukherjee’s visit some time ago.

Knowing that this art has but few patrons, this couple in a bid to give their daughters a good life, are educating them to take up a more modern vocation, while also training them in this traditional art during their time off from school.

To sum it up, these olden scrolls, which were once the source of many stories, today, make for gorgeous gifts when framed. We picked up a few ourselves as souvenirs of this trip that left us with fond memories of having met artists, who continue on only to keep alive a legacy.

Fact File: Ideal for a quick day trip, Cheriyal is 54 Km from Hyderabad and can be reached by road in less than an hour and a half. Take the NH44 to get there and along the way make a pit stop at any of the Dhabas in Kompally to refuel.

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