The art of Cheriyal Scroll painting endures a tough fight in a world that no longer feels the need for this colourful and elaborate form of ancient story-telling. Made solely by the members of the Nakashi caste in present-day Telangana, it uses natural fabric and colours – khadi as a base and only naturally extracted pigments such as tamarind-seed paste, tree gums, river shells etc. Sometimes the scrolls contain close to fifty panels, each forming a sort of chapter in a book.
Rakesh, a renowned Cheriyal painter, lives in a joint family with his parents and his brother’s family. They are one of the few Cheriyal artists who left the village of Cheriyal to find a new market in the town of Boduppal in Secunderabad. Apart from making the scroll paintings, he also makes Cheriyal masks, a more modern adaptation of the craft.
Work involves painting for eight to ten hours a day, paying attention to neat lines and detailed expressions of characters in the stories or masks. He purchases natural water colours from Vijaywada and the required Khadi fabric from the local market. Rakesh’s monthly income is an average of fifteen thousand rupees a month.
“I want to innovate more and make Cheriyal available to everyone, not just collectors and museums. We are trying to see how to increase public awareness by creating smaller items while retaining the craft technique.”, Rakesh says with pride. He worries about future generations abandoning the craft. Despite the GI tag and the fact that patrons do appreciate the scroll art, it isn’t enough to sustain this vulnerable craft.
In the months of September and October, Rakesh’s family conducts workshops at schools and colleges in a bid to intrigue students and sow the seeds of interest.