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Rooftop Artist Spotlight – Dhanalakota Family (Cheriyal Painting)

The Cheriyal Paintings are a way of life for the Dhanalakota family. Comprising of generations of relatives who are Cheriyal artists, this family is one of the few that still practices the traditional art form. A budding young Cheriyal artist of our time is Sai Kiran Dhanalakota who clearly remembers how each day after school he assisted his parents in creating Cheriyal art and paintings. His immediate family consists of D Nageshwar his father, D Padma his mother and Sravan Kumar, his brother. This Dhanalakota family lives in Hyderabad and paints together every day. 

A 400-year-old art, the Cheriyal paintings are also known as Nakashi art. These scroll paintings traditionally depicted scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata, Ramayana and other religious texts. The Cheriyal paintings are associated with vivid natural colours, bold outlines and distinct facial expressions and animal figures. Hailing from the Andhra region, the paintings were also influenced by local heritage and customs. But today, this art form is practised mainly in Hyderabad and some other pockets of Telangana. 

About Cheriyal Paintings

Nageshwar Dhanalakota, head of the
Nageshwar Dhanalakota. Image Source: Rooftop

The origins of Cheriyal paintings began in the Cheriyal village in Warangal, Telangana. And the Cheriyal paintings were a wonderful medium of storytelling. Bards carried the scroll paintings with them and travelled from village to village. They then narrated mythological and social tales and folklore, using the Cheriyal scroll paintings as a visual and illustrative aid. With the accompaniment of music and dance, the Cheriyal paintings became the storyteller’s most trusted references. 

An average Cheriyal scroll could range from 30 to 45 feet in length and 30-45 inches in breadth. The paintings also included local temple artistic designs and traditions of southern India, thus reflecting the cultural nuances and history of the region. Besides, the scroll paintings, Cheriyal artists also created masks and dolls that were an integral part of the storytelling process. Also, the original Cheriyal scrolls were made on khadi cotton cloth, that was treated with tamarind, rice starch, white mud and more. However, the artists switched to mill cloth in the early 19th century, but to date, most artists use natural colours only.

Though an extremely popular art form during its helm, today only 4-6 families continue to practice and paint the Cheriyal paintings. The Dhanalakota family of D Nageshwar have shifted their home to the bustling city of Hyderabad, but have not let go of their artistic roots that are deeply clenched to the Cheriyal traditional arts. 

Evolution of the Cheriyal Artform

Sai Kiran Dhanalakota of the Dhanalakota family.
Sai Kiran Dhanalakota. Image Source: Rooftop

But it has not been an easy run for the Dhanalakota family considering the gradual decline of interest in Cheriyal paintings over time. D Nageshwar way back in 1976 was contemplating taking up animation instead of pursuing his family’s legacy. However, it was on the insistence and help provided by Vani Devi, the Principal of Sri Venkateswara College of Fine Arts, that he decided to study Fine Arts instead. And he admits that going to college did not only help him better his creative and artistic skills. But it also improved his communication skills which led him to share his family’s traditional art with more people. 

Besides, Cheriyal stories and paintings are focused on Hindu epic scenes, tales of Krishna Leela, Shiva Purana and more. But the younger generation of the Dhanalakota family, including painter Sai Kiran have evolved the art form to include other varied subjects and canvases for their paintings. He and his family, including his uncles and cousins, also paint Cheriyal motifs on t-shirts, sarees, tissue paper boxes, pen holders, boxes, wall hangings, mobile covers, keychains and more. Besides, these motifs and paintings now also revolve around life in the village, agricultural scenes, natural surroundings, etc. Thus, essentially, the Cheriyal paintings have diversified and now center not only around religious and mythological scenes. But also, cultural and social topics that people can relate to more easily. 

The Dhanalakota Family Legacy & Achievements

Padma Dhanalakota of the Dhanalakota family.
Padma Dhanalakota. Image Source: Rooftop

The Dhanalakota family has produced award-winning Cheriyal artists over generations. Venkatramiah was one of the most well-known painters of Cheriyal art. His sons Chandraiah and Vaikuntam continued the legacy of their father and passed it on to their sons and daughters. D Nageshwar is the son of Chandraiah who won the national award in 1983. D Nageshwar won the state award in 2003 and his wife, Sai Kiran’s mother, D Padma also won the state award in 2009. Sai Kiran himself has been the recipient of the Konaseema Chitrakala Award for two years. 

Also, members of the Dhanalakota family were a part of the group of artists, whose works are a part of the Rashtrapati Nilayam in Hyderabad, Telangana. Murals and masks of Cheriyal art decorate the walls and kitchen tunnel of the Rashtrapati Nilayam. As Sai Kiran points out, the Cheriyal paintings run for 24 feet across the walls and are interspersed with animal heads and Cheriyal masks. Some of the members of the Dhanalokat family who created these murals and masks, include Nageshwar and his wife Padma, Sai Kiran and his brother Sravan Kumar, and Rakesh and Vinay his cousins. Thus, undoubtedly, the Dhanalakota family is one of the foundational pillars of Cheriyal art, building and nurturing it each day with skill, creativity and determination.

Sravan Dhanalakota of the Dhanalakota family.
Sravan Dhanalakota. Image Source: Rooftop

Exhibitions and Workshops

Cheriyal paintings made by the members of the Dhanalakota family are exhibited and marketed on various online and offline platforms. Besides, Sai Kiran Dhanalakota and others also spread their knowledge of Cheriyal art through several workshops and courses. The unique characteristics of Cheriyal art, the cloth preparation, the use of bold bright colours, the border designs, the layout and motifs, etc. are all an integral part of the learning process. 

At Rooftop, we are delighted and honoured to collaborate with the Dhanalakota family. Sai Kiran Dhanalakota along with his other family members undertakes detailed courses on the many aspects of Cheriyal art. We urge you to not miss this opportunity of learning Cheriyal paintings from the true masters of the art form.

Read more:

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