Kalamkari – Speaking with Hands

Kalamkari is an exquisite craft of painted and printed fabrics. It derives it’s name from Kalam meaning Pen, and Kari meaning work, literally Penwork. It is a hand painting as well as block printing with vegetable dyes. Kalamkari art has evolved through trial and error over the last 3000 years.

India is rich in art and craft and Kalamkari which is painted on cloth is done in several parts of India and Iran. In Andhra Pradesh, both the Masulipatnam (or Machilipatnam) and Srikalahasti village are recognized as major centers for Kalamkari painting. Kalamkari practiced in Masulipatnam is different from the Kalamkari practiced in Srikalahasti.

History:

It is believed that the earliest fragments of painted fabrics were found during Indus valley civilization. The archaeological evidence tell us that the hand painting on resists – dyed cloth was discovered in the 8th century. The popularity of this art was found in the old writings of the french traveler, Francois Bernies. Other evidence like the illustration of the Hamzanamesh done at the time of Akbar, also talk about the profuse use of painted fabrics produced in the Golconda region.

The Moghuls patronized this craft in the Coromondel and Golconda provinces. Thus the name Kalmakari comes from the Urdu word Qualam meaning pen.

Techniques:

The Kalamkari art of painting undergoes a laborious, slow process of resist – dyeing and hand printing. 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 colors change accordingly. The artists believe in using natural dyes, extracting from bark, flower and root. No chemical dyes are used in producing Kalamkari colors.

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 where as the Masulipatnam style uses block-printing procedures. The process done in Srikalahasti is more tedious.

Masulipatnam style of painting - Masulipatnam designs are Iranian in character with intricate and delicate forms. The old traditional block prints were largely used with Persian motifs like trees, creepers, flowers and leaf designs. This style of Kalamkari was mainly done on bed covers, curtains and also garments, as it was a popular demand from the west. In the 19th century block prints reached its peak and even today it's largely produced for Indians and foreigners.

Masulipatnam style of painting – Masulipatnam designs are Iranian in character with intricate and delicate forms. The old traditional block prints were largely used with Persian motifs like trees, creepers, flowers and leaf designs. This style of Kalamkari was mainly done on bed covers, curtains and also garments, as it was a popular demand from the west. In the 19th century block prints reached its peak and even today it’s largely produced for Indians and foreigners.

 

Temples were a major inspiration for this art. The art flourished under the patronage of the temples with their demands for scrolls and wall hangings with story figurative and narrative components. It richly displayed episodes from the Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana and other Mythological stories for their themes painted in the panels with a script running along the border. The subjects chosen to paint were restricted to Gods such as Krishna, Brahma, Ganesha, Durga, Arjuna, Lakshmi, Rama, Shiva and Parvathi.

Kalahasti style of painting – Temples were a major inspiration for this art. The art flourished under the patronage of the temples with their demands for scrolls and wall hangings with story figurative and narrative components. It richly displayed episodes from the Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana and other Mythological stories for their themes painted in the panels with a script running along the border. The subjects chosen to paint were restricted to Gods such as Krishna, Brahma, Ganesha, Durga, Arjuna, Lakshmi, Rama, Shiva and Parvathi.

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