Kalamkari is a type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, produced in Isfahan and Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
There are two distinctive styles of kalamkari art in India – Srikalahasti style and the Machilipatnam style.
The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari(Kalankari), wherein the “kalam” or pen is used for freehand drawing of the subject and filling in the colors, is entirely hand worked. This style flowered around temples and their patronage and so had an almost religious identity – scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners and the like, depicted deities and scenes taken from the Hindu epics – Ramayana, Mahabharata, Purana and the mythological classics.
In ancient times, the chitrakars – folk singers and painters used to wander from one village to other, narrating stories of Hindu mythology to the village people and dwellers.They illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with simple means and dyes extracted from plants.
But with course of time, the process of telling tales transformed into canvas painting and that’s when Kalamkari art first saw the light of day. This colorful art dates back to more than 3000 B.C. According to the historians, fabric samples depicting Kalamkari art was found at the archeological sites of Mohenjo-daro.
The art form got its peak and recognition only during the Mughal sultanate when they promoted this art in the Golconda and Coromandel province where skillful craftsmen (known as Qualamkars) used to practice this art, that’s how this art and the word Kalamkari evolved. Under the Golconda sultanate, this art flourished at Machilipatnam in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh and further was promoted during the 18th century, as a decorative design on clothing by Britishers in India.
In recent times, many families in Andhra Pradesh continue to practice this art and this has served as the prime source of livelihood for them, over the generations.
Kalamkari art is now used on sarees and ethnic clothing, and depicts anything from flora and fauna to epics such as Mahabharata or Ramayana.
Here is the most interesting part on the time, effort and hard work behind the creation of a beautiful artwork.
The process of making Kalamkari involves 23 tedious steps. From natural process of bleaching the fabric, softening it, sun drying, preparing natural dyes, hand painting, to the processes of air drying and washing, the entire procedure is a process which requires precision and an eye for detailing.
Cotton fabric used for Kalamkari is first treated with a solution of cow dung and bleach. After keeping the fabric in this solution for hours, the fabric gets a uniform off-white color. After this, the cotton fabric is immersed in a mixture of buffalo milk and Myrobalans. This avoids smudging of dyes in the fabric when it is painted with natural dyes. Later, the fabric is washed under running water to get rid of the odor of buffalo milk. The fabric likewise, is washed twenty times and dried under the sun. Once the fabric is ready for painting, artists sketch motifs and designs on the fabric. Post this, the Kalamkari artists prepare dyes using natural sources to fill colors within the drawings.
Incorporating minute details, the Kalamkars use ‘tamarind twig’ as pen, to sketch beautiful motifs of Krishna Raas-Leela, Indian god and goddesses like Parvati, Vishnu, Shri Jaganath; designs of peacock, lotus; and scenes from the Hindu epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Colours used in Kalamkari art are natural dyes extracted from natural resources with no use of chemicals. For instance, the craftsman extract black color by blending jaggery, water and iron fillings which they essentially use for outlining the sketches. While red hues are created from bark of madder, blue is obtained from indigo and green is derived by mixing yellow and blue together.
In the past decade, due to the tedious technique involved in its making, Kalamkari art was losing its shine. The emergence of high on technology machine looms and printed textiles also escalated the extinction process of this art. But it was the fashion designers of the Indian fashion industry who came together to revive this art and helped artisans practicing this art in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Here’s a snippet of the artworks.