Kalamkari is the craft of painted and
printed fabrics. It is an art form that was developed both for decoration
and religious ornamentation. Intricately done Persian motifs inspired the
artisans of Machilipatnam to
create printed cotton textiles depicting stories from mythology.
This unique art form evolved into what is today called 'Kalamkari'. It derives its name from 'kalam' or pen with which the patterns are traced. The pen-painted fabrics of Machilipatnam and Kalahasti, known for their intricate and detailed designs, are used in clothing and wall decorations.
A Primitive Art
The discovery of a resist-dyed piece of cloth on a silver vase at the ancient site of Agrippa confirms that the tradition of Kalamkari is very old. Even the ancient Buddhist Chaitra Viharas were decorated with Kalamkari cloth. The great Alexander is also supposed to have acquired this Kalamkari cloth.
The craft has been in existence from about a thousand years, but gained the height of its popularity during the 15th century. Today the two main centres of Kalamkari production are Machilipatnam and Kalahasti in the State of Andhra Pradesh. The work from these two places is also different from each other. The themes are mythological, mostly from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In addition, block-painted textiles by hand are also produced.
The Making Of Kalamkari
In Machilipatnam the art of block printing is practiced, where large wooden pieces are used for saris or linen, while in Srikalahasti hand painting is predominant, the wall panels depicting mythological tales and characters.
Each design can take several days of concentrated effort to complete, as the process of dyeing and hand printing are very elaborate. Many stages have to be undergone before the final results are achieved. Unlike other styles of painting, Kalamkari painting demands a lot of treatment before and after the painting is completed on the cotton fabric.
Depending on the treatment of cloth, or quality of the mordant, the colours change accordingly. Every step from soaking of the cloth, to sketching the outlines to washing and drying the cloth, is done carefully and correctly.
The harmless, naturally dyed fabrics is used for Kalamkari paintings. Only four colours are used. The colour red is obtained by using the Indian madder root, yellow from the pomegranate seed or even mango bark, blue from indigo, and black from myrobalam fruit. No chemical dyes are used is producing Kalamkari colours.
The process used for both schools of Kalamkari painting is more or less the same. The only major difference is that 'Srikalahasti' paintings depend entirely on the brush-like pen, whereas the Machilipatnam style uses block-printing procedures. The process done in Srikalahasti is more tedious. The cloth is treated and washed twice, and alum is painted for two or three times.
The cloth is first whitened by immersing it in a solution of goat or cow dung and letting it dry in the Sun for a few days. The cloth is then treated in Myrobalam solution. Ripe fruits are used in Machilipatnam and raw ones in Srikalahasti. Milk is then added to the solution to prevent the colour from spreading in the next step. Then iron acetate solution is filled in, either for solid spaces or as outlines, with a brush-pen in Srikalahasti, and wooden blocks in Machilipatnam.
All the areas meant to be red are painted or printed over with the alum solution as a mordant. Mordant is a substance that fixes the natural dye on the material. After applying alum, the cloth is kept for at least 24 hours. Then the excess mordant is removed by washing the cloth under flowing water.
The dyeing is done for the red colour by boiling with the red colouring materials. All the portions that are not to be blue are covered with wax. The waxed cloth is immersed in indigo solution. In Srikalahasti, the blue is painted with the kalam. Then the wax is removed by boiling the cloth in water. The yellow is painted on to produce yellow and green.
The cloth is finally washed again and dried before the final colours emerge. However, the use of vegetable dyes and mordants make it still a time consuming process.
WHERE TO SHOP