Introduction

 India has been known as a land of cultural vibrancy, one of the many art and craft forms is Kalamkari. Kalamkari literally translates to ‘kalam’ meaning pen and ‘kaari’ meaning craftsmanship. Kalamkari is a hand-painted scroll painting that has been a part of Indian painting tradition for a long time. According to a few sources, Kalamkari has been practiced for about 3000 years now, although there is no evidence to substantiate this fact. The literary evidence states its first use during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya from the Vijayanagara empire. It is the art of painting with a bamboo pen and natural dyes. There are two forms of Kalamkari, the one practiced in Srikalahasti is probably the one that most of us associate with, while the other is the one practiced at Machilipatnam. Kalamkari evolved with the patronage of the Mughal kingdom and the Golconda Sultanate.

lakshmi kalamkari painting by sudheer
Figure 1 Lakshmi, by artist Sudheer

 

kalamkari tree of life 
Figure 2: Tree of Life Kalamkari by artist Sudheer

 

Forms of Kalamkari

There are two regions where Kalamkari is practiced today, both having a distinct style. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari uses a bamboo pen to make intricate designs and fill in the colors. In the Machilipatnam style wooden blocks are used to create the basic structure of the painting, while bamboo pens are used to fill in the colors.

Kalamkari flourished around and on the patronage of the temples. This gave the kalamkari paintings an almost religious identity in the form of temple scrolls, hangings, chariot banners etc.

 

Themes

 Traditionally, themes from the epics and Puranas are depicted in Kalamkari paintings. The scrolls are depicted in a form of horizontal panels. The important episodes of the stories receive a larger layout. Along with the narrative stories, the kalamkari paintings also have a figurative depiction of the deities.

Other themes of kalamkari paintings include the depiction of flowers, peacocks, paisleys, and other motifs inspired or directly derived from the Persian motifs.

Today one of the most famous motifs is the tree of life, which symbolizes growth and prosperity.

ramayana kalamkari painting
Figure 3: Ramayana Painting by Artist Harinath

Features

  • Only natural colors are used in Kalamkari paintings. Traditionally, black, red, yellow and indigo are used in kalamkari.
  • The Swarnamukhi river provides ample water for the delicate processes of kalamkari.
  • Tribals from the forests near the region of Srikalakasti provide the artists with a few natural elements required for the painting process.
  • There are as many as 23 steps to prepare a kalamkari painting. The steps include starching, sketching, outlining, filling in the color are a few of them. 

The present status of Kalamkari is due to the hard work of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (Watch a video from MeMeraki artist Sudheer here referring to Kamaladevi and her contribution). It has received the Geographical Indication tag from the Government of India.

 

Written by

~ Misha Jaiswal

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