D Vaikuntam applies the paste of tamarind seed, tree gum and white clay on a piece of homespun khadi and waits for it to dry. Belonging to the small village of Cheriyal in Telangana, his family of five—residing in Hyderabad—will take up their squirrel-haired brushes to tell stories on canvas. Stories from Indian mythology and local folklore. They are custodians of Nakashi, an ancient but obscure tradition of using pictures to tell stories. Ironically, the on-off 15-month lockdown proved to be an opportunity. They expanded their reach to a larger audience through online workshops.
“The Cheriyal or Nakashi art—a visual form of storytelling—is on the brink of extinction. Today, only seven families are engaged in this art form. Five belong to the Nakashi community, while the rest are outsiders who learned the art from my father,” says D Rakesh, Vaikuntam’s son. The family has conducted workshops by SkillXn, Paramparik Karigar, Crafts Council of Telangana, Spic Macay, Dastkaar Haat Samiti, and Rajasthani Studios. “The response was heartening, and the students showed a keen interest in learning the art. We want to keep Cheriyal art alive. Such online efforts get us better traction,” says Vaikuntam.
Hundreds of years ago, storytelling communities of Telangana would travel through villages, singing and narrating stories using the Cheriyal scroll as the visual tool. Each scroll traditionally begins with a panel of Ganapati, followed by the goddess Saraswati. Only natural colours are used in the illustrations. Inglikam stone-red is for the background. The hues of the face and skin are applied according to the nature of the character; for example, the blue from Indigo leaf and yellow from Pevidi stone are used for the gods; brown or darker shades are made with lamp soot for demons, while humans skin tones are pink.
With newer forms of storytelling using technology ruling the public imagination now, Nakashi artists have adopted unique ways to reinvent their art and keep it relevant. They are designing utility items for sale, too. “We made masks during the lockdown and sold them on our Facebook and Instagram pages. We also make key chains, pen holders, and wall decor items,” says Rakesh. Vaikuntam and his family are giving this GI-tagged tradition a new lease of artistic life.