Storyteller’s Art: Kalamkari

We like to doodle; a lot. A major pastime of ours includes sketching everything that dares to cross our mind. The ability to create a galaxy of shooting stars or an entire species of human-like creatures on paper itself never fails to enthrall us. The sheer possibility of freezing a moment in history in a beautiful visual form is a gift; a gift that has been passed on to us by our ancestors.

Kalamkari Art
Image Courtesy: D’source Painting.

History of Kalamkari

Such extravagant examples of history coming alive on paper are presented by the Kalamkari form of art, a proud reminder of the medieval age and ancient folklore. The name essentially means ‘pen’ and ‘work’, meaning artwork done by pen. Its first substantial pieces can be dated back to about 3000 years; even before the slightest form of modern civilization saw the light of day. But it wasn’t before the Mughal era of the rich ensemble of art-lovers, that Kalamkari was appreciated for its true originality.

The initial traces of Kalamkari art can also be spotted on intricate panels of old-age temples, an animate evidence of the widely-known form of painting. However, right after its birth, it branched into two, attributing to geographical factors, namely ‘Kalahasti’, a small city 80 miles north of Chennai, and ‘Masulipatnam’, 200 miles east of Hyderabad.

Kalamkari BlouseKalamkari Dress

The scenario at Masulipatnam modified itself to suit the likes of then- rulers, the Muslims in Golconda. They capacitated the art form to be influenced by Persian motifs and designs, transforming it into what we see on garments and furnishings today. The primary outlining was created by hand-carved blocks and the finer details were done using a pen. The British later catapulted the art form into modernism by using it to create portraits of Englishmen.

Kalahasti, on the other hand, developed and facilitated on temple and stupa walls during the existence of the Vijayanagara Empire, took the form of Hindu mythology depiction, such as vivid scenes from epics like The Ramanaya and The Mahabharata, and images of Gods and heroes. Industrialized in the Srikalahasti district of Andhra Pradesh, it bears traces of more freehand drawing in comparison to the Masulipatnam style. The completion of Kalamkari paintings involves intricate filling done chiefly through vegetable dyes. The formation of the ‘pen’ is quite a unique one; the artists use a bamboo or date palm stick pointed at one end with a bundle of fine hair attached to this pointed end as the pen. The process is painfully slow, however. Each fabricated piece of Kalamkari goes through numerous treatments of dyeing and printing.  

Kalamkari Designs
Image Courtesy – Utsavpedia

Colour And Art

Kalamkari Work

The colors used for dyeing change progressively, depending on pieces of the cloth and their mordancy.  The special attestation of the Kalamkari finished products is the varied color-theme. The completed pieces are usually in mellow colors, with rare occurrences of bright colors, yet, remaining very unspectacular. The accurate charm of Kalamkari comes out gradually after repeated washing, after which it becomes a magnificent piece of art with unmatched glory.

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