Long ago, in what is now India‘s Telangana state, bards, dancers and musicians entertained and educated villagers with tales from Hindu mythology. Accompanying these performances were giant, handmade scroll paintings depicting scenes from famous stories. Today, only around 10 artisans from three families still create these scrolls, all hailing from Cheriyal village, an hour from Hyderabad. The artworks themselves have shrunk as well, from large-scale scrolls of 50 or so panels to more practical and affordable miniatures and wall hangings with single scenes.
Keeping the tradition alive is 36-year-old Madhu Merugoju, who works at home in Hyderabad’s Lalapet area and has been following the methods of Cheriyal scroll painting for 22 years. First, he stiffens khadi (hand-spun natural-fibre cloth) by rubbing tamarind-seed paste and chalk powder on it. He then paints a red background and outlines human and animal figures before adding other colours made from stone powders and natural water colours mixed with tree gum.
Madhu mourns the fact that his art is dying, with the next generation lacking the patience to invest the three to five years required for training. He himself learned scroll painting at the age of 13, from his brother who died at a very young age. Though wrought with grief, Madhu decided to dedicate his life to the artform in his brother’s memory. He now shares his expertise with students, thanks to a grant from the state government, and dreams of forming a society to preserve and promote the art.
If you can’t make the trip to Madhu’s home studio, head to Secunderabad railway station, where displays of Cheriyal scrolls depict local traditions such as marriage ceremonies and pottery-making.
This article was originally published in the October 2019 issue of Silkwinds magazine