Many centuries ago, when the radio, television and cinema had not even been thought of, audio- visual entertainment did exist! Many arts and crafts developed in various parts of the world, with an aim to entertain the people. Scroll painting was one among them.
In those times, the scroll played the role of the visual medium and the song of the bard was the audio medium. Of all the various arts and crafts found in India, scroll painting is unique and different. This craft has been practiced, from time immemorial, in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. In Andhra Pradesh scroll painting is done in the little village called Cheriyal in Warangal district. Bards from the “kaki padagollu” community, used these scrolls to narrate stories from the Indian epics and other folk tales.
The scroll would flow like a film roll. It was generally around three feet in width and went up to 40 feet in length, depending upon the story. Like large sized comic strips, each panel of the scroll depicted one part of the story. Hence, a scroll would easily have around 50 panels. As the bard would narrate the story, the panel depicting that particular part of the story would be displayed.
Keeping art alive
“For many years now, only two families in Cheriyal village continue to pursue this craft. Scrolls have not been made for a long time now and the art of storytelling is non-existant,” says M. Madhu, a State Award winner for Cheriyal painting in 2007.
“To keep the craft alive, either single panels, which are a part of a story are painted; or many panels are painted in the miniature painting style on a much smaller base”, adds Madhu. Each painting, however small takes a long time to complete as the work is very colourful, bold and yet intricate. Things have changed today. Some of the individual artists have moved to bigger cities like Chennai and Hyderabad where they work on orders they receive from Government handicraft organisations and individual interior designers. They also conduct classes and workshops to spread their knowledge to those who are interested to learn.
Madhu, who conducts workshops in Hyderabad continues to say that, “though we try to maintain some of the basic elements of the craft, we have to introduce certain changes to appeal to the modern generation. The canvas used, these days, is treated with tamarind powder, boiled sago and dolla white chalk, which gives it the same finish as of the scrolls.” Madhu continues to use designs from old scrolls, with a little of his own creativity added to it. He teaches his students to do the same. Vegetable colours are still used, though other paints are easier to use. Ordinary paint brushes are used to fill in the colours and brushes made of squirrel hair are used to draw the black outline of the figures and other thin lines. Though scroll painting and story telling are no longer in vogue, the age old craft of Cheriyal is being kept alive by a handful of the artists. These paintings have gained popularity in the national and the international market, as well. With people in cities also learning this craft, the future of Cheriyal painting does not really look bleak.
To learn more about this craft, to place orders for paintings and to find out more about workshops conducted in Hyderabad contact Mr Madhu @9848581044.
The figures in scroll paintings usually have a big nose, large eyes and ears. They are invariably depicted in the profile view.
The work becomes difficult when many panels have to be painted, since in every panel the style, the look and the size have to be maintained. These paintings are colourful, with the background usually being orange or red and the other colours used are yellow, blue, green, white and black. Traditionally, the base of the scroll is made with several pieces of cloth, like khadi, being layered together and coated with a paste of lime. The wet cloth is then rubbed with a stone to get the leathery paper finish. Once dry, this indigenous canvas is ready for the drawing and painting, which is done with vegetable colours.