Studying the Motifs of Cheriyal Paintings and What They Represent
Indian scroll art forms often evolved to support the act of verbal storytelling. Cheriyal painting is one such art form that stands out from the colourful landscape of Indian art due to its characteristic style and motifs. Originating from the Cheriyal village in the Telangana region, this traditional art form features vibrant colours, intricate storytelling, and tremendous cultural significance. In this blog, we will delve into the motifs of Cheriyal paintings to discover their meanings and the associations surrounding them.
A Brief History of Cheriyal Art
Cheriyal art, also known as Nakashi art, is a form of scroll painting that has its roots in the 15th century. The word ‘Nakashi’ comes from Urdu and was used during the Nizami period. However, in the 1980s, the art was renamed after the village where it was first created. Traditionally, these scrolls were used by storytellers to narrate tales from mythology and folklore. Over time, Cheriyal art has evolved and is now not only a form of storytelling but also used as a means of artistic expression. It has also evolved beyond mythological representation and is now also used as a form of decorative art.
The main narrative involves scenes from common rural life, such as women performing kitchen chores, men working in fields or experiencing merry, festival settings, etc. The traditional scrolls are mostly in vertical format and illustrate the stories through a series of horizontal panels.
The Motifs of Cheriyal Paintings
The motifs in Cheriyal art are as diverse and intricate as the stories they depict. Let’s explore some of the most prominent motifs and their cultural significance:
Gods and Goddesses
Cheriyal art frequently features depictions of Hindu deities like Ganesha, Shiva, and Durga. Traditionally, Cheriyal painters would start any work with the drawing of Lord Ganesha. This brings good luck and makes the painting more auspicious. Next, the artists would paint the images of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Maheshwara. In Hindu mythology, these deities made the universe and created all living beings. Thus, as the process of creation started with them, the process of Cheriyal painting must too. These deities are thus important motifs of the traditional Cheriyal scroll.
The gods are painted differently from other human figures, which makes them easy to identify. The artist paints Krishna blue, Hanuman green, Rama black, and female characters in red. The use of vibrant primary colours is also a distinguishing feature of Cheriyal scroll paintings. The localised renditions of deities like Shiva and Vishnu are also important motifs of these paintings.
These paintings contain representations of various scenes from Indian mythology. Cheriyal art is a storytelling art form and includes motifs from epics like the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Garuda Purana, Krishna Leela, etc. These narrative motifs bring these timeless stories to life in a visual and engaging manner.
Flora and Fauna
The natural world is beautifully represented in Cheriyal art through motifs of animals and birds. Peacocks, elephants, cows, and horses are all popular Cheriyal motifs, each symbolising various aspects of Indian culture and mythology.
The vertical scrolls are divided into horizontal panels with the help of brightly painted floral borders. These borders are drawn in between the individual panels as well as on the edges of the frame. The floral borders of Cheriyal paintings may appear similar to those of Pattachitra, but on closer inspection, we can observe stylistic differences.
Since the subject matter of the art form is so closely linked to religion and mythology, Hindu religious iconography is one of the many motifs in Cheriyal paintings. The Garuda Vahan (god’s chariot) is a popular motif, and Cheriyal artists make toys of it as well.
Rituals and Festivals
Cheriyal art also captures the essence of Indian rituals and festivals. Motifs related to Diwali, Durga Puja, and other celebrations serve as a visual representation of India’s vibrant cultural heritage. Cheriyal paintings also include depictions of the local festivals, such as Bonalu and Sankranthi.
While painting the motifs of Cheriyal painting, the artist ensures that all elements carry the stylistic idiom of the region. This is conveyed through heavily exaggerated features and expressions.
Techniques and Colours
The motifs in Cheriyal art come to life through its detailed storylines. Artists use a limited colour palette, which typically includes natural dyes like red, green, and yellow. This lends a unique traditional charm to the art.
Cheriyal artists employ the ‘line and wash’ technique, outlining motifs with thick black outlines and then filling them in with vibrant colours. This technique makes the art form instantly recognisable.
Preservation and Revival
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Cheriyal art. Organisations and artists have been working tirelessly to ensure that this traditional art form is not lost to the annals of history. Preservation efforts include training new artists, showcasing Cheriyal art at exhibitions, and integrating it into contemporary design. This has also led to the introduction of new motifs, like the mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Very few artists practise Cheriyal scroll painting today. Some of them belong to the Dhanalakota family, who have dedicated themselves to this art for generations. They also conduct workshops and teach it to those who want to learn the vibrant folk art form. You can learn Cheriyal scroll painting from the artists of the Dhanalakota family by downloading the Rooftop App and enrolling in the Cheriyal Maestro Course. This course covers Cheriyal painting styles, themes, and motifs in detail and give you an exclusive insight into its traditional techniques.
The Motifs and Styles of Cheriyal Paintings Today
In the past, the scrolls were the backdrop to the oral traditions of common people. Each community had its peculiarities and its favourite heroes and heroines, as well as a selection of stories from the local myths. Nowadays, artists have reduced the size of their Cheriyal scroll paintings as they serve more of a decorative purpose. Smaller scrolls are also easier to display in homes and thus more commercially viable. These small scrolls show a few characters in a single frame instead of an entire story. Cheriyal masks were traditionally full-sized masks that performers wore. Now artists make miniature masks that aren’t meant to be worn and sell them as decorative items.
Cheriyal art stands as a testament to the link between storytelling and artistic expression. Its motifs, steeped in history and mythology, offer a window into the soul of Telangana and India as a whole. These paintings are not as common or well known as Tanjore or Mysore paintings; they are only sold at government handicraft stores and through private commissions.