A part of the Nakashi art form, Cherial scrolls were once very significant tools for educating unlettered villagers through the tradition of mobile street theatre. The village bard used the scroll as a visual aid to go with his stories and ballads. The scrolls depicted scenes from portions drawn from the epics that were relevant to the different communities of the region. Different stories, and scrolls, were used for example, for the weaver community, and for fishermen. These were meant to educate, and entertain, village folk.
“These scrolls are typified by the use of fine lines and sections, the artists came to be called “nakshas’ and the art form ‘nakashi’.”
Today, it is practiced by only a few families in the village of Cheriyal and, like Madhubani art, it also enjoys GI status. The paintings are traditionally painted on khadi, a cotton fabric unique to India where hand-spun yarn is woven into fabric on handlooms. It is primed a couple of times with a mixture of sawdust, tamarind seed paste, rice starch, white mud and tree gum before it is deemed fit for purpose!
The paintings always have a bright red background and use blue, green, yellow black and white. All these colours were derived from local stones and shells. However more recently they have become harder to find, leading the artists to source their mineral and stone powders from other tribal artists. They also make masks and sets of 52 toy doll like figures, which are characters of a popular folklore when kept together.
It is unfortunate that these scrolls are hard to come by now as street theatre lost ground to other means of entertainment such as the radio and the telly! The loss of patronage has not helped preserve this art form - neither has the belief that the paintings must be immersed in water after they have been used.
From scrolls of up to 50 panels, artists now make single panel paintings. Gone are the stories, and the heritage …