When I meet artist Sai Kiran Varma, what strikes me every time is his love for Cherial art and passion to take it forward. Young and dynamic, he has chucked all other opportunities to work in the revival of Cherial Art. His degree in Fine Arts from Venkateshwara College of Fine Arts has enabled him to take this forward, innovate in product design and also spread the word for this art form which is at the brink of its survival. He fondly mentions Smt. Vani Devi, the Prinicipal at the Venkateshwara Fine Arts college, who gave him the opportunity to take up the course at the college and encouraged him. Having learnt the artforms of making Cherial dolls, masks and scroll paintings from his parents D.Nageshwar and D Padma, both state awardees, he has innovated by making a lot utility products such as pen stands, key chains, frames and stands for shades. His flair for the art form and expertise shines through as his workshops are conducted in an effortless manner. Accompanying his father from a very young age to all the workshops, he is a pro at it.
Cherial Scroll Painting-
Though literacy was not very common in ancient India, most of the people were educated. The oral traditions of story telling, plays and performance arts ensured that people in the villages were well versed in the scriptures, rules and principles of society and the religious practices. Scroll paintings played a major role in this education. Known by different names in different states, the artistic style and stories varied to suit the audience but the essence and spirit remained the same – The spread of our culture and traditions. Scroll paintings from Telangana are the Cherial scroll paintings, unique in the particular motifs, village life scenes and dressing. These paintings were traditionally 3 feet wide and 35 to 40 feet in length, opening up like a scroll or a film roll. Accompanied by some music, this was the only entertainment for the villagers. The stories such as epics of Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Puranas, Devi Mahatme were depicted in the scrolls by artists, scenes were separated by floral borders and opened up to reveal the story in a linear manner. Intricate and beautiful, with bright red background and colours made from natural sources, this was widely patronized. But now with increasing affluence, unfortunately we don’t place enough value on this precious art form. For the lack of patrons, this has now dwindled to single panels for home décor.
The preparation of this scroll painting is a laborious process, where the base is the khadi cloth which needs to be prepped before painting. Rice starch, white mud, tamarind seed paste and Arabic gum are mixed to form a paste and this is then applied on the cloth. Each layer needs to be dried before the next layer is applied. This is repeated atleast three times to provide some stiffness to the material. Thereafter, it is painted.
Cherial Mask Making-
Cherial art is not only about scroll painting but also masks and dolls. From these scroll paintings, characters were adapted for masks, general characters such as man, woman, cow, tiger etc which were used in plays and for story telling. These masks are again prepared on a base of tamarind seed paste mixed with saw dust. The features are made in free hand, allowed to dry thoroughly, covered with a cloth, painted a base coat in white, after which they are painted in bright colours of green, red, blue or yellow. A fun activity for kids and grown up alike, the material is much like clay and easy to work with.
Cherial Dolls are made from the locally available light weight wood called ‘Poniki’. The three dimensional figure is created with tamarind seed paste mixed with saw dust. These are used to create features on the dolls. This is then wrapped in cloth pieces and a coating of liquid white lime is applied. This is the base over which colours are applied. The colours bring in the beauty of the work with the stylized features and ornaments.
Cherial art needs patrons to spread the word and preserve the art form. In the olden days with the kings and kingdoms there was also the love for art. Otherwise these art forms would have died a natural death. But now, with our prosperity we are leaving behind the artists who are preserving this legacy. Let us learn Cherial art fom artist Sai Kiran Varma, bring home these pieces of art and our heritage and spread the word.
Lots of Twinkles to all of you.
PS- Strings of Heritage conducts Cherial mask making and scroll painting workshops in collaboration with the artist, Sai Kiran Varma.