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Cheriyal is a small village in Warangal district of Telangana state. As other forms of folk paintings like pattachitra, warli and phad paintings, Cheriyal painting of the Deccan has also been classified as a form of painting for storytelling and to entertain the audience along which it carries the rich cultural history and heritage with it. Cheriyal paintings are stylized form of nakashi art that are believed to be brought from Mughal emperors to south along with them. As these paintings are called as one of the most important scroll paintings, it suggests that it is made on a long vertical piece of cloth in a narrative form and more like modern world’s comic strip or film roll. These paintings are prevalent across the region and generally depict the scenes from Indian mythological epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Garuda purana, Krishna leela, Markandeya purana etc.
The artisan who does these paintings belongs to Chitrakara community. Interestingly in this old age form of storytelling method, a painter, narrator and listeners are from different community and are strictly bound to their professions. A narrator gives the order to a painter to deliver the scroll according to the folktale he narrates it, which in turn it also depends on the people’s demand from the nearby regions. Generally in olden time the story teller used to carry the necessary piece of cloth from which the scroll has to be made and that would vary from anywhere between three feet to sixty feet in height. The cloth is prepared specially for this painting by using some elements like white mud, rice starch, tamarind seeds and natural tree gum. The mixture of these is applied in 3 layers, which acts as a thick canvas to paint upon. This process preserves the cloth and the painting done on it and lasts for hundreds of years.
A traditional Cheriyal painter always starts with the painting of lord Ganesh, as it is considered auspicious in Hindu tradition to start any new work with lord Ganesh followed by lord Bhramha, Vishnu and Maheshwara as they are symbolized as the makers of the world in Hindu mythology, which is an introduction to the formation of world, living beings and castes/communities that are described accordingly regardless of the theme. These are considered to be compulsory for a traditional storytelling scroll. In Cheriyal painting colors play an important role with regards to the appealing and the feel of the overall story. Most often, background is painted with bright red color so that it highlights everything that is painted on it. These paints are made from natural stone colors locally known as “Gaddalu ranga”. The color palette is limited to certain colors such as white, black, yellow and green. The shades of these colors are obtained by mixing either black or white to the primary colors. In this scroll painting, characters are easily recognizable depending on the color schemes that are used in portraying the characters of the story. For example: Krishna’s face is painted blue, Rama’s black, Hanuman as green and all the female characters are painted mostly in red shades. This gives uniqueness to each scroll and also helps to differentiate the scroll from one another.
The figures in Cheriyal paintings are flat in dimension and are facing one another. These figures are narrated in a profile outlook, which gives an idea that there is either a conversation or a war happening between the characters. The perspective and proportion of these characters are given least prominence but the expression in them has a flair of local influence and they represent the characteristics of the localites. Once the painting is completed, it is handed over to the storyteller and they celebrate it by making sacrificial ceremony of an animal to god. Storyteller also gifts the painter a new pair of clothes, rice etc., as a part of the tradition. After receiving the scroll, storyteller continues his journey to wander around the numerous villages where he performs his duty of narrating the story by unfolding the scroll. Musicians and dancers also accompany him to spice up the narration and gain the attention of the audience. All the people involved such as storyteller, painter and the audience are strictly authorized to a particular community and are not supposed to do any of the other job/work which does not belong to their community.
A scroll can be generally preserved upto hundred to hundred and twenty years in good condition, after which the storyteller has to order a new one from the painter. In the mean while the painter also produces Cheriyal masks, small scrolls for decorative purposes that can be framed and decorated at houses. Cheriyal artisan also does toys of the Cheriyal theme, Garuda vahana (known as god’s chariot, in which procession of god takes place) and the wooden framework with the painting done on it by the painter is also made. Traditionally for mixing the colors, coconut shells were used as the containers and goats and squirrel’s hair was made into brushes to paint.
Due to the constraints of the caste system, this folklore paintings had lost its existence but in the year 1978 this craft gained a quick popularity and Cheriyal artisans started exporting the scrolls to “Lepakshi” stores (Andhra Pradesh’s handicraft export showroom) and they were also displayed at various exhibitions and stalls. Now a days small scrolls or canvases are made by selecting the theme from Indian Mythology, rural life and much more fusions of contemporary themes. Due to the print media and various other advancement in technologies all the Cheriyal artisans have evolved in diverting their occupations but an artist named D.Vaikuntam is keeping the tradition of doing Cheriyal painting alive, who currently resides in Hyderabad which is the capital of Telangana state and lies nearly hundred kilometers away from traditional village of Cheriyal. He is working on it from past five decades and this art is a hereditarily gift to him. He is also known as the only artisan for this craft form. Mr.Vaikuntam uses various mediums from wall, stone, brass, ply wood to the traditional canvas cloth. Now a days as there are no story tellers to order a scroll due to the film and other entertainment mediums. He generally paints on order, scrolls of smaller size and also prepares masks for interior decorative purposes.
In the year 2007 Cheriyal painting has got a GI (Geographical Indication) tag, for its unique folklore, rich heritage and cultural value.