Kalamkari refers to the ancient style of hand painting done with a tamarind pen, using natural dyes. The name Kalamkari originates from Persian words qalam (pen) and kari (craftsmanship). Paintings made on fabric and fabric scrolls are mentioned in ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Jain literature. Under medieval Islamic rule, the term Kalamkari was derived from the words "kalam", which means "pen" in Telugu, and "kari", which means craftmanship. This became popular under the patronage of the Golconda sultanate. Motifs drawn in this ancient art of Kalamkari, include flowers, peacock, paisleys and also divine characters from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Kalamkari colours are made mostly from vegetable dyes. The popularity of this exquisite form of painting has earned international repute for the state of Andhra Pradesh. Kalamkari art was the household occupation of several rural women and craftsmen in the ancient times and continues to be passed down from one generation to the next. Artforms like Kalamkari have started gaining more and more popularity in recent times because of their no-chemical process of creating printed textiles.
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 was during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya from the Vijayanagara empire. It is the art of painting with a bamboo pen and natural dyes. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari uses a bamboo pen to make intricate designs and fill in the colors.
The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari uses a bamboo pen to make intricate designs and fill in the colors while 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.
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.
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.
The present status of Kalamkari is due to the hard work of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. It has received the Geographical Indication tag from the Government of India.At MeMeraki we work with Master Artists across Indian traditional art forms and for Kalamkari we are working with two renowned artists - Harinath N and Sudheer.