After Kalamkari, Cherial paintings are the probably the best-known art form of Andhra. To be precise Cherial village belongs to Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh. It is less than 100 km’s from Hyderabad. On our way back from Warangal, we stopped at Cherial, to meet the artists of these famous scroll paintings and hopefully buy some. We had managed to get in touch with Sh. D Vaikuntham, who is a national award-winning artist and comes from a family of painters. Courtesy Google maps we reached Cherial. Then Mr. Vaikuntham’s son came and directed us through the narrow lanes of the village to reach their studio. Which is a small room within a house?
National Award Winner
The board outside the house says it is the national award winner’s house. I somehow expected that many people in the village would be engaged in this activity. But it is only a couple of families who do these paintings. It was the simplest possible studio that you can imagine, with one wooden inclined desk with a bulb hanging over it. A couple of cupboards were standing against the walls to store the finished products as well as the raw material. Some awards, some calendars and tourism posters of their artwork were displayed haphazardly on the walls. The humble family patiently showed us their works though the best ones they said have gone for an exhibition.
Cherial paintings are scroll paintings, a cruder version of miniature paintings that depict scenes of famous mythological stories from Puranas. The background is more often than not Red. The beginning of the scroll always has Ganapati followed by Saraswati, the two deities revered by the artists before the beginning of any new painting. Then come the various scenes of the story. Depending on the size of the scroll each row can have many scenes or a single scene. This was a kind of folk art that was practiced in many parts of India. The scroll paintings were probably not meant to decorate the walls of museums and rich household. But like other art forms in India, they were a part of the life of Indians.
Traditional Story Tellers
Traditionally storytellers, to tell stories of the legends used these scrolls as a storytelling aid along with their singing. Interestingly you see the similar tradition in Rajasthan, where singers tell tales of Pabu Ji using Phad paintings, also huge scrolls. I wonder if this tradition would have traveled from one of these places to the other.
Painting Lives of 7 Castes
Now based on my limited knowledge of the art, I thought they do only stories of the Puranas, especially the Ramayan and the Mahabharata. But Mr. Vaikuntham explained that they actually paint the lives of the seven castes that live in the region. These include Todi (a drink collected from Palm trees) collectors, Dhobis or washermen, Chamar or leather workers, Hajjaam or barbers, Weavers, Fishermen & Farmers. Some of these castes have further sub-castes with their own rituals, deities, and stories. Their paintings depict the daily lives of these castes, which are based on the work they do.
For example, a fruit sellers day would start by plucking the fruits from various trees and then selling them. Todi collectors day would include putting todi pots on the treetops, taking them off, hanging them in their courtyards and then selling them to other people. There are paintings about the legends of these communities, their rituals, their Gods, their heroes and their tales.
The colors used for paintings used to be stone colors traditionally, made by crushing the stones of various colors. Now they use acrylic colors that are readily available in the market. And do not need any effort for preparing the color. Some commissioned work is still done in the stone colors.
We were told that at least in Cherial it is now very difficult to find people who can sing stories anymore. Few people who are left come at a huge cost which most of the villagers can not afford. The paintings that we saw had a basic work and lacked the finesse that you would expect in a master craftsman’s work. We were told that these not-so-exquisite pieces are made for general exhibitions that happen around the country. For a good work, you have to commission the work and give your chosen theme. Most of the commissioning is done by the museums and art houses, especially the ones that the made on a theme. Some private collectors also commission the work.
Video Clip of Cherial Paintings
Watch this video explaining the story of a Cherial painting.
I could not find a painting to pick up. But I hope I will meet these artists again and will be able to pick a painting that I can connect with.
Recommend you read following travel blog on places to visit in Warangal.