Kalamkari Crafts – A traditional art done mostly on textile

India had always been known as the land that portrayed cultural and traditional vibrancy through its conventional arts and crafts. The 35 states and union territories sprawled across the country have their own distinct cultural and traditional identities and are displayed through various forms of art prevalent there. Every region in India has its own style and pattern of art, which is known as folk art. The folk and tribal arts of India are very ethnic and simple and yet colorful and vibrant enough to speak volumes about the country’s rich heritage.

The ancient craft of Kalamkari can be traced back to 3000 B.C with the hand painted fabrics discovered at the sites of Mohenjadaro. Kalamkari or Qalamkari is derived from two Persian words Qalam (Pen) and Kari (Craftsmanship) that literally means ‘hand painting’ designs on fabrics using a bamboo or tamarind pen with natural dyes. A celebrated art form that gave life to the stories that were otherwise told orally.

(Image Courtesy: Desicraft blog)

Kalamkari Art Styles

In India, there are two unique styles of kalamkari art, namely, Srikalahasti and the Machilipatnam style. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari, in which the pen or the “kalam” is used for freehand drawing and filling in the colors, is a complete handwork art. Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari craft involves vegetable-dyed block-painting of a fabric. It was registered as one of the geographical indications from Andhra Pradesh, under the handicraft goods by Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.In Machilipatnam style, Kalamkari designs are generally printed with hand carved blocks with intricate details, printed by hand. On the other hand, Srikalahasti style includes Kalamkari designs inspired from Hindu mythology, that describe the scenes from the epics. Kalamkari designs are also emerged, based on the states where it is created. Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh are two prime states where two different types of Kalamkari designs are practiced. Andhra Pradesh borrows its Kalamkari design inspiration from forts, palaces and temples, along with animal and bird motifs; while Gujarat borrows its Kalamkari design inspiration from mythological characters.

The Kalamkari art form specifically depicts epics tales from Hindu mythology such as the Ramayana or Mahabharata. It also depicts Buddha and Buddhist art forms. Additionally, the kalamkari patterns include floral motifs, animal forms, and the mehrab designs on textiles. Kalamkari art primarily involves earthy colors such as indigo, green, rust, black and mustard.

Process of making Kalamkari fabric, involves 23 steps. This involves bleaching Kalamkari fabric, softening it, drying it in sun, preparing natural dyes, air drying and washing. The entire procedure is intricate and requires an eye for detailing. Generally, cotton fabric is used for making Kalamkari; however, silk fabric can also be used. Kalamkari fabric is first treated with a solution of cow dung and bleach. After keeping the fabric in this solution, it gets a uniform off-white color. To avoid smudging of dyes on the Kalamkari fabric, it is also dipped in a mixture of buffalo milk and mylobalans. Kalamkari fabric is then washed twenty times and sun dried. After this, the fabric is ready for printing. Kalamkari designs are then painted on the fabric, by hand. Kalamkari fabrics include minute details and it is painted using natural dyes.

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