Origin: The title Kalamkari originates from Persia meaning kalam (pen) and kari (craftsmenship) i.e. pen craftsmanship. It is impossible to zero upon a particular era as this craft’s origin date. Kalamkari motifs were present in costumes and draperies in the Ajanta and Ellora frescoes. They very much marked their presence in Kalpasutra paintings of the Jains. However, the Kalamkari fabric came in picture around 3000 years ago in Andhra Pradesh.
The Kalamkari craft comes from two respectable gharans – Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam. The Srikalahasti style narrates epic stories using scrolls, temple hangings etc. This style uses only brush and no block-printing technique. Contrary to Srikalahasti style, Machilipatnam style uses only block-printing technique and no brush.
Once upon a time, chitrakars (groups of singers, musicians and painters) travelled from village to village narrated stories of Hindu mythology. They illustrated their tales with the help of large bolts of canvas painted with simple plant dyes. These paintings were Kalamkari paintings.
During 13th and 19th century, textile trading ensured this craft flourished. The merchants started seeing Kalamkari paintings as currency. Very soon the demand from the international market started creating its designs. It was used to make prayer rugs, canopies and door covers painted with meharab designs, animal forms and floral motifs.
Present Day: The demand for this earthy tinted fabric dipped post-Independence. In order to revive this craft, the Handicrafts Development Board took realms in its hands.
A little while back, many artisans had shifted to screen print work. However, today there’s huge demand for handwork craft. People across the globe are buying kalamkari.
Keep these pointers in knowledge, in order to differentiate between handwork and screen work: hand block printed kalamkari textiles have natural earthy tone and the base is always in earthy colours. The hand printed work will always embrace irregularities. Another differentiating factor is that hand painted fabric will have a natural smell since raw milk is used.
A large percentage of designers are playing with this craft to gain popularity. They have started incorporating fragments of Kalamkari to increase the style quotient.
Procedure: The slow procedure of Kalamkari craft needs the fabric to undertake 17 arduous steps. These steps glorify the subtle patterns and bring forward the richness of natural dyes.
The talented craftsmen use bamboo or date palm stick as brush to craft outlines. Their natural brush is pointed with the help of attaching a bundle of fine hair. Before embarking on the craft journey, the artisan soaks this pen in a concoction of fermented jaggery and water.
Once the sketch is made using the natural pen, its goes through vegetable dye. The dye is organically made by extracting colours form roots, leaves, mineral salts, tin, copper, alum, etc.
It is also seeped in astringents and buffalo milk. Post this, its dried in sun. Then, the coloured portions such as red, black, brown and violet are outlined using a mordant. Next step is to place to dip the cloth in alizarin. Now, every piece of the cloth (apart from the one that needs to be dyed blue) is waxed and soaked in indigo dye. Lastly, the wax is removed and other areas are hand painted.
This process also calls for creating a plethora of effects using cow dung, seeds, plants and crushed flowers.
Bring Home Kalamkari Craft of Andhra Pradesh: Stop by at the emporiums to by this amazing piece of craft.