Kalamkari art form traces its origins way back 2500 years to Iran (Persia then).
Kalamkari literally translates into “pen craft”; with ‘kalam’ meaning pen and ‘kari’ meaning art. It is among the most beautiful traditional Indian art forms and involves block printing or hand printing, typically done on pieces of cotton fabrics.
Kalamkari is an esteemed traditional art form that has its roots in India, known for its aesthetically finer details. The history of Kalamkari runs as deep as the details on its canvases.
The earliest of Kalamkari presence can be traced to its use on a canvas, as a means to narrate and popularise the tales of mythological heroes by a group of artisans called Chitrakattis across several areas in course of their travels. Kalamkari Painting widly consists Hindu mythlogical themes from epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Srimad Bhagwat and Puranas. The unique thing about these painting is that no two panels are similar. Vegetable and mineral pigments are used to create these paintings. The specialty is that the finished products are mellow. Bright colours are used but the finish is not gaudy.
Some of the major styles of kalamkari art that developed and became popular are:
In the Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari, motifs are essentially printed with hand-carved traditional blocks with intricate detailing painted by hands. This style was an amalgamation of local motifs and cultural influence from Persia and Europe from where a lot of trade use to happen. So, the style was more global and wasn’t constrained by religion or mythology.
This style of Kalamkari developed in the thanjavur region and flourished during the Maratha rule there. During the rule of Raja Sarfoji and Raja Shivaji, the Kalamakari paintings were crafted out on fabrics along with gold embellishments adorning them which were used as clothing garments by the royals of that time.
The Srikalahasti style of kalamkari, wherein the “kalam” or pen is used for free hand drawing of the subject and filling in the colors, is entirely hand worked. Ramayana, Mahabarata, Puranas and the mythological classics. This art involves 23 tedious steps of dyeing, bleaching, hand painting, block printing, starching, cleaning and more. Kalamkari work goes through a lot of treatment before and after the painting is completed on the cotton fabric. It involves several washings, use of mordant, wax, milk, bleaching with buffalo or goat milk and the like. Thus, each fabric can undergo up to twenty washings before it is finished. Dyes for the cloth are obtained by extracting colors from various roots, leaves, and mineral salts of iron, tin, copper, and alum. Alum is used in making natural dyes and also while treating the fabric. Alum ensures the stability of the color in kalamkari fabric.
During old times, many traders used these paintings as currency in the spice trade as spices were highly demanded such as nutmeg, cloves, peppers and aroma oils. These aromatic oils and spices were available in few parts of Southeast Asia and Indonesia. The traders of these regions had special liking for kalamkari art demanded this Indian textile work for their ritual and ceremonial use.
Now you know how these tales spread across miles without any technology in play.
By Vuha Kunapareddy
Image source: Farida Gupta