Replication and Innovation in the Folk Narratives of Telangana: Scroll Paintings of the Padmasali Purana, 1625–2000
Asian Art and Architecture
South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies
In the Southern Indian state of Telangana, itinerant storytellers narrate genealogies of the local castes using a scroll painting on cloth as a visual aid to their performance. These scrolls are the only archive of these otherwise oral narratives; hence key markers of their evolution. Once a scroll commission has been decided, performers bring an old scroll to the painters and request for a ‘copy.’ Considered as such by both performers and painters, a closer look at several scrolls of the same narrative highlights a certain degree of alteration. This paper focuses on the Padmasali Purana that narrate the origin of the weavers’ caste of Telangana. On the basis of five painted scrolls of this same narrative, ranging from 1625 to 2000, this article explores the nature and degree of modification undergone by the narrative. In so doing, it questions the extant of the concept of replication within the narrative and painting traditions. While performers decide for changes in the overall organisation and iconography of the narrative, painters are responsible for the materiality, technique and style of the scroll. In illustrating each of these aspects, this article argues that changes reflect the social and cultural environment of the communities involved in the production, presentation and reception of these scrolls, i.e. painters, performers and patrons, and that variations but also fixity to be speaking for the necessities of the communities. Finally, it argues that through reproductions over the course of time, aspects of the visual narrative have become conventions while others are repeatedly revised.