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TBI Blogs: This Couple Is Trying to Preserve Telangana’s Fascinating Cheriyal Scroll Paintings

From running workshops for children to painting for a living, this artist couple is one of the last families from the village of Cheriyal to keep alive the region’s tradition of Cheriyal Scroll painting.

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 region’s local motifs and iconography. Characterised by a dominance of the colour red in the background, these brilliantly hued Cheriyal paintings 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.

Cheriyal Scroll Paintings
A Cheriyal Scroll Painting that depicts daily life in a typical Indian village.

Distinct in their style, they immediately convey age-old Indian traditions and customs in a beautiful and engaging manner. The Lords Krishna and Rama are the most prominent and recurring figures in these paintings.

Cheriyal Scrolls were once sociologically and culturally significant. Conventionally used as a tool for educating the unlettered villagers, these painted scrolls were what kept the people of the era gone-by entertained. The village bard would use them as a visual aid to go with his stories and ballads. Today, these scrolls have all but phased out with the more mainstream ways of storytelling and entertainment, leaving not many artists who still practice this dying art form.

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.

Cheriyal Painting in single panel wall art
Single-panel Cheriyal Paintings with popular mythological and folk themes.

Also coming from Cheriyal are masks and dolls modelled along the same theme of ancient Indian mythology and local folklore.

These masks range from as small as ones sculpted and painted on coconut shells, to as large as ones that need to be moulded in cement.

Masks and Scrolls of Cheriyal Paintings
Mask made from a dried coconut shell in the Cheriyal Painting style.

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

One such are the husband-and-wife artist duo Vanaja and Ganesh, who continue to paint in the traditional style of Cheriyal Paintings for a living.

Artists at work creating Cheriyal Paintings
Husband-and-wife artist duo Vanaja and Ganesh in Cheriyal.

Just off the main road as you enter the town of Cheriyal is their ‘studio’ – a quaint little mud house with all of two rooms, but airy and beautiful nonetheless. The work area overlooks an open courtyard garden from where natural light streams in in abundance, making it the perfect setting for painting.

Separate from their living quarters, they run their Cheriyal Painting workshops.

Cheriyal Painting Workshop by Government recognised artists
In conjunction with some of the State Governments, the artists conduct regular workshops in Cheriyal.

Both of them are government-recognised artists. They have had the honour of creating 10-feet wall murals with these masks in Nagpur for President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit some time ago. They also regularly travel to conduct workshops for various State Governments, helping spread awareness about this dying art form, while also teaching the basic techniques of it.

Knowing that this art has but few patrons, this couple is giving their two daughters an education. One which they hope will better equip them for a future in a more conventional vocation. But, they are also reluctant to give up on a tradition passed down across generations in this region. So they continue to train them in the technique of Cheriyal Scroll painting. The girls assist in the work during their time off from school.

Not as common as say a Thanjavur Painting, these paintings are available only at government-run handicraft stores like Lepakshi. Most of this couple’s commissioned work comes from here, for framed scrolls and wall-mountable masks. So today, these old scrolls have evolved to become unique pieces of art. Once the source of many stories, now they make for gorgeous gifts that are very Indian.

To order the Cheriyal scrolls and masks, or to know more about the workshops, contact the artist Mr. N. Ganesh on +91-90001-81059.

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Neeharika Satyavada is an award-winning travel photographer & writer blogging at Map In My Pocket.