Scroll Paintings of India – A Fine Mix of Story-telling and Art

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Scroll-Paintings-of-India
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Indian Folk arts are a delightful mix of artistry. The different types of Scroll paintings are an integral part of the visual arts and most of these are as much about tradition and culture as about skill, color and craft. The scroll paintings as the name suggests are paintings done on scrolls. Used as tools for story telling by wanderers in earlier times, scroll paintings in many ways are like movie reels of today’s time. The commentary was done by the balladeer community accompanied by music and dance as they travelled from village to village retelling the stories that were manifested on the scrolls. 

Each area or village developed its own scroll paintings and hence these paintings carry with them rich history, as well as, regional traditions and cultures. Known as Cheriyal in the Telangana region, Patachitra in Bengal and Orissa and Prasasti Patra in Gujarat and Maharashtra the scroll paintings were popular almost all throughout the country. However, the Cheriyal and Patachitra are the predominant types of scroll paintings and are survived till date. 

Cheriyal Paintings

Scroll-Paintings-of-India-Cheriyal-Paintings

The Cheriyal paintings always were and continue to be distinctly regional and local in style and origin. The local temple art and Kalamkari traditions along with art traditions of Deccan and South India are the most important influences on the Cheriyal paintings. These paintings are a version of the Nakashi art, which is an art form practiced in Telangana. The Nakashi arts are scrolls that are narratives of mythology and folklore. The stories though a part of the Puranas and Indian Epics are also fraught with local traditions, peculiarities and customs that make the Cheriyal paintings a wonderful cultural expression. 

Today, however, the demand for long scrolls has disappeared and artists are forced to constrict the Cheriyal paintings to limited episodes or characters of a particular story. Yet, the story was very different in the earlier times. The scrolls were three feet in width, could be 40-45 feet in length depending on the story and had around 50 panels. The scroll paintings flowed like a film roll as the storyteller would begin narrating along with his team who would provide the musical effects to make the story interesting. The scroll painting was usually tied to a tree or held by hand as narration unfolded.  

Characteristics of the Cheriyal Paintings

Cheriyal Paintings
Source – Cherial Scroll Paintings by Vaikuntam Nakash

The Cheriyal paintings are characterized by their bright colors and the free imagination of the artists. The themes and characters are very easily identifiable, such as stories from Ramayan, Mahabharata and Krishna Leela. The main story is made relatable by using rural scenery, such as men working in paddy fields, women in the kitchen or celebration of different festivals. The costumes also reflect the traditional dressing style of the Andhra and Telangana region. The prominent characters are usually drawn as the larger than the rest and are more detailed in outline and expression.

The process of making the scroll paintings is quite elaborate. The canvas is made from khadi cotton and is mixed with starch, white mud or suddha mati, paste of tamarind seeds and gum water. This procedure is repeated thrice and every coating is dried before the next is applied. The artists make the outlines of the paintings on the canvas once it is ready. 

The Cheriyal paintings were given the GI or Geographical Identification tag in 2007 and today very few artists remain who practiced this art form.

Pattachitra Paintings – Odisha

Pattachitra Paintings
Image – Mike Prince

Pattachitra are also cloth based scroll paintings but these are from the eastern regions of West Bengal and Odisha. Pattachitra too is a depiction of Hindu mythology and folklore and is one of the oldest forms of paintings dating back to more than a thousand years. 

Puri Jagannath culture inspired Pattachitra – Wikimedia

In fact, the origin of the Orissa Pattachitra dates around the time of the establishment of the Lord Jagannath shrine in Puri, but this could also be because unlike sculptures, paintings are not able to survive the vagaries of time for too long.

Lord Jagannath, however, has been the most important influence of the Pattachitra paintings. The themes of the paintings revolve around Lord Jagannath, stories of Radha and Krishna, stories from the Mahabharata etc. 

Pattachitra Painting
Image – Mike Prince

The painters of pattachitra are called chitrakars and the entire family is involved the making of the paintings. Women prepare the glue, canvas and applied the fill in colors. The master or main painter draws the outline of the painting. Each of the paintings is done on small cotton cloths and the canvas is prepared using chalk and gum from tamarind seeds. The painters are usually such experts that instead of using a pencil or charcoal for the outline, they directly use the paints before filling in the vivid colors. Each small cloth canvas is then sewn together to form the long final scroll. 

Image – Mike Prince

The different types of pattachitras in Odisha include the Tala Pattachitra where the paintings are drawn on palm leaves and are finally stitched together to form the scroll. The Bhitti Chitra refers to paintings made on walls. 

Pattachitra – West Bengal

Pattachitra – West Bengal
Bengal Style PattachitraJean-Pierre Dalbéra

Similarly, West Bengal Pattachitra is divided into Chalchitra, Dugra Pat, Medinipur Pattachitra and Kalilghat Pattachitra. The themes revolve on mythology and stories from epics. However, the West Bengal pattachitras also include secular and regular themes, such as elections, family planning, accidents, evils of dowry system and so on. 

Bengal Style Pattachitra
Bengal Style Pattachitra – Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

Every pattachitra is accompanied with a song which is sung as the artist unfurls the painting. This tradition is known as Patua Sangeet and is performed by the patua or painter.

Though both Odisha and West Bengal practice the pattachitra there are many regional and cultural differences in their styles and art. This is why; the GI of Pattachitra has been registered as Orissa Pattachitra and West Bengal Pattachitra separately.

Pattachitra – West Bengal
Bengal Style Pattachitra DisoplayJean-Pierre Dalbéra

Cheriyal and Pattachitra

The Pattachitra community is slightly better off in comparison to the Cheriyal painters.  The patuas have more opportunities and market and their works are often displayed in exhibitions. Also since the themes of the patuas are more universal they are more acceptable and are also used in textile designs. However, both the Cheriyal and Pattachitras can be considered the first medium of stories and their magnificent depiction, artistry and use of imagination make them undoubtedly an integral part of the cultural and art history and forms of our country.

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