We were in an art gallery. I stopped at a pretty motif. It was vibrant, beautiful, and a very captivating painting. I tried to decode it.
There were three different pictures in a single frame. The first is of an infant playing in a furrow in the field. The next picture showed a toddler baby girl lifting a bow as large as ten times her size. This picture was followed by an elaborate painting of a grand assembly in which a blue God, whose head was surrounded by a golden halo, was lifting the same bow.
This was a set of scroll paintings of Sita’s Swayamvar.
I am listening to this story since childhood and would always wonder why King Janaka organized such a tough competition for his daughter’s wedding. That painting answered one of my ancient riddles. Sita, the daughter of Bhumi Devi was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and she could lift the Shiv-Dhanush (the bow) ever since her childhood, which was impossible for anyone else. This was the reason, King Janaka demanded to lift the bow to find the prince who truly deserve her.
How on earth was I not aware of this story earlier? I asked myself.
This was my first encounter with Cheriyal paintings.
Of a thousand words in a frame.
Cheriyal art, also known as Nakashi art, is a form of scroll paintings of stories from Hindu epics and folklore.
Cheriyal is a small village in Telangana, where this art form is extensively practiced and preserved. The origin of these paintings is debated for a long time. Some historians keep up with the argument that this form of paintings was brought to India by Mughals in the 16th century. However, some artist opines that the earliest Cheriyal paintings trace back to the 5th century.
The scroll paintings are a set of incidents of narratives from Hindu epics and folklore that are made on a long piece of cloth with natural colors. The paintings are usually enveloped with a border consisting of flowers and leaves. The order of the incidents in the paintings was intimately tied to the story being narrated. As such, these paintings would serve as a visual aid to the narratives.
This art form evolved consecutively with the temple art paintings, which were mainly based on Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishna Leela, Shiv Puran and Upanishads. Therefore, we can call it a motion picture, film roll or comic strip depicting the stories of the Hindu epics. This form of depiction has substantially contributed to unity among the people of different regions. The visual display of stories proved helpful in understanding these stories for the people of different languages and ethnicities. The knowledge and wisdom imparted through these stories were not limited to the language of the discourse. This art form thus became an intrinsic part of the story-telling tradition.
As this art is exposed to the rest of the world, the scrolls are drawn on canvas and papers and the contents are not limited to ancient stories, but are used to depict everyday activities, festivals, celebrations, philosophies and beliefs. These paintings are also used to decorate dolls, masks, bags, utensils and curtains. The contemporary form of Cheriyal painting has shown that this form of art is eternal and has a long way to go.
The legends and philosophies exhibited by these stories have been a source of wisdom passed on from one generation to another and have finally reached us with all its richness and vibrancy. The scroll painting is one such art form that deserves a sizeable credit for this treasure. The Cheriyal painting traces back to the time when our whole generation did not exist; however, we can still learn it, preserve it and own it.