Kalamkari literally means, Kalam – pen & kari – work, i.e., art work done using a pen. Vegetable dyes are used to colour the designs applied on cloth. The art of painting using organic dyes on cloth was popular in several parts of India, but this style of Kalamkari flourished at Kalahasti (80 miles north of Chennai) and at Masulipatnam (200 miles east of Hyderabad).
Art and technique
The Kalamkari tradition chiefly consists of scenes from Hindu mythology. Figures of deities with rich border embellishments were created for the temples. In Masulipatnam, the weavers were involved in the block printing art, while at Kalahasti, the Balojas (a caste involved in making bangles) took to this art.
Owing to Muslim rule in Golconda, the Masulipatnam Kalamkari was influenced by Persian motifs & designs, widely adapted to suit their taste. The outlines and main features are made using hand carved blocks. The finer details are later done using the pen. Under the British rule the designs as well as the end use of the fabric differed – for garments as well as furnishings. During this period floral designs were popular. The artisans were made to create even portraits of English men.
The Kalahasti tradition which developed in the temple region mostly concentrated on themes form Hindu mythology, epics (Ramayana, Mahabharatha), images of Gods and heroes. The artists use a bamboo or date palm stick pointed at one end with a bundle of fine hair attached to this pointed end to serve as the brush or pen. The dyes are obtained by extracting colours form parts of plants – roots, leaves along with mineral salts of iron, tin, copper or alum which are used as mordants to sharpen the colour. The designs executed were a delight then and now.(The sarees depicted are from Shatika’s latest Kalamkari silk saree collection)
The kalamkari art prospered in Machilipatnam in Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh, evolved with patronage of the Mughals and the Golconda sultanate. The art has certainly received centuries of appreciation and patronage from people around the world. We at Shatika have also experienced the same surge. According to some sources the name Kalamkari was most likely derived from the trade relationships between Persian and Indian merchants as early as 10th century CE. Portuguese merchants called this kind of fabric printing “Pintado”. The Dutch called it “Sitz” and the British found it easy to call this textile printing technique “Chintz”. The name Kalamkari is however universally accepted and enjoyed by the fabric lovers since many decades.
With Independence came a new interest in the traditional crafts of India. The All India Handicrafts Board set out to revive many of these crafts. There were only one or two families at Sri Kalahasti who were producing Kalamkari and at Masulipatnam, the printing blocks lay hidden away unused. Slowly there was a steady effort to bring this craft back to both places by setting up training centers and creating new markets. The actual Kalamkari technique is very complicated and time consuming. In some cases it takes several days to produce a saree and in others several weeks. And the quality of the pieces depends upon many factors. The unique one being, the quality of the water used and the availability of local minerals to be used as mordants. This has a lot to do with why Kalamkari was centered in these two locations.
Shatika has procured these ethnic sarees and everytime they have allured us with their fine penned interpretation which has stood the test of time -see for yourself.
Utter concord of excellence in art. Swift and deft strokes and the use of organic colours has mesmerised us with its matchless talent. We are dumbfounded by the singular beauty of the ageless kalamkari silk cotton saree.
Shop for this collection at: https://www.shatika.co.in/south-indian-handloom/kalamkari-sarees.html
Shop For India’s Finest Handloom Sarees at: https://www.shatika.co.in/