Kalamkari: An Introduction

Origin and History

Centuries ago, groups of musicians, painters and performers moved from one village to another telling stories through street plays and private performances from Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian mythologies, they used painted canvas, hand puppets and other props to tell their stories, these group of people were known as the Chitrakattis. The word Chitrakattis originated from two words chitra and katha, meaning picture and stories respectively.

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Using primary dyes sourced from plants the artists painted large pieces of fabrics to add to the visual stories that were being told to the audiences, these Chitakattis gave birth to the form of art now known as Kalamkari. Kalamkari broadly stands for hand painted or block printed cotton textile which originated from the states of now Andhara Pradesh and Telengana, under medieval Islamic rule, the word was coined from two words kalam and kari, meaning pen and craftsmanship respectively which meant drawing with a pen, which was popularized mostly under the patronage of Golconda Sultanate

The Styles

There are two distinctive styles of Kalamkari art in India – Srikalahasti and the Machilipatnam.

In Srikalahasti Kalamkari style of work the fabric is dyed in natural colours and then hand painted. This style mostly depicts the mythological stories, folklores and religious teachings, thus the motifs are based on the stories that have been told to people generation after generation. Scenes from Mahabharata, Ramayana, Rass-Leela are the recurring themes.

In Machilipatnam style of work the dyed fabric is block printed, the blocks are traditionally hand carved into different unique designs and painted intricately before being used on the dyed fabric. This style has themes which are more pattern and intricate design based.

However the religious or nature inspired motifs and designs may overlap or be used in both styles.

The Colours

Kalamkari art is known to use all colours and dyes extracted from natural resources like turmeric, mustard, indigo, rust, and so forth. Ideally no chemicals or artificial enhancers are used in the process. The black used for outlines and sketching are made from a mix of water, iron fillings and jaggery. Two natural colours are also mixed to obtain a new shade, like indigo and mustard can be mixed to create a shade of green.

The Technique

The process involves 23 steps, which in itself is a challenge to master. The process involves elements of dyeing, bleaching, drying, designing, sketching, hand painting, block printing, starching of the fabric, cleaning and a lot more. The fabric that is used for Kalamkari is first prepared with a solution of bleach and cow dung, once the fabric obtains an off white colour it is immersed in buffalo milk and myrobalans more commonly known as cherry plums, this helps to avoid any smudging of colours while the actual painting is done. Later the fabric is washed at least 20 times and sundried to get rid of the odour of buffalo milk. The artists then use methods of hand painting or block printing to create the desired designs. Any gaps left are later filled in using natural dyes to fill in the colours. Sometimes designs are covered in wax and then the cloth is dipped in natural dyes to give an overall uniform effect of the background, later the waxed iss scrapped off and the patterns are then hand drawn.

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The pens that are used are made from bamboo or tamarind twigs with fine stands of hair at the end which also serves the purpose of a paintbrush. They are dipped in fermented jiggery before painting to get desired results.

Relevance in The Recent Times

Kalamkari is widely used in making of sarees and other dress materials; they are used to make curtains and other household furnishings like bedspreads and cushion covers. This style has been popularized in the western word as well. Both the style of Kalamkari has obtained GI (Geographical Indication) under the handicrafts section.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information used here has been researched from the internet and the writer is aware that there is more information which has been left out due to the restrictions regarding the length of the article.

Words: Rhiti Chatterjee Bose

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