Kalamkari: Wonders in pen & paint

Kalamkari: Wonders in pen & paint

Often, simple looking works of art and craft actually boast of a rich history, brimming with tales of how that particular art once enjoyed immense admiration and fascination of rulers and royalty in the bygone era. Kalamkari is one such art.

Kalamkari art boasts of a rich history.

The word kalamkari is a blend of two Persian words; kalam means pen and kari suggests craftsmanship. Another theory suggests that the words kalam and karyam are derived from Telugu language, which are then combined to form kalamkari.

The common styles of kalamkari originated in the state of Andhra Pradesh and are named as ‘Srikalahasti’ and ‘Machalipatnam’. Kalamkari is one of the time honoured crafts of the region.
As the name implies, the art is about painting designs on cloth using a pen. Craftsmen follow indigenous methods to prepare dyes by making use of stuff easily available to them.
Ingredients like water, paddy husk, fermented jaggery, vegetable and root extracts are widely used for preparing colours with varying hues.

Before the fabric is ready for painting, it is passed through tedious procedures which may stretch to three weeks; first of all, it is bleached in a solution mixed with buffalo/sheep dung. Later, the fabric is washed and rinsed thoroughly in clean river water. When the bleaching process, which may take a couple of days, is done, the next step makes use of a special solution called myrobalam prepared with milk, resin and powder of gachakaya, a dry fruit.

First, the fabric is carefully immersed in this solution and wrung before it is spread out in the sun. Once the fabric is crisp dried, it is ready for the final step of painting.  

Kalam, which gives the characteristic look to this art, comes in play at this stage, and patterns and designs are sketched painstakingly on the fabric. Kalamkari is done manually with a pen, traditionally made of bamboo. However, artisans often make use of blocks to paint designs. But they maintain the hallmark of the art by using pens to draw finer details.

To achieve the desired effect, the fabric is painted in series, and each time it is painted, it is washed. On an average, each piece is washed around 20 times before the final piece is ready.
Information gleaned from the pages of history reveals that the Golconda sultanate patronised this art in the middle ages. Mughals, impressed with the work of the artisans, christened them kalamkars, and kalamkari thus became their identity.

Studies show that the art of kalamkari captured the interest of people even prior to 10th century. Alexander the Great too had kalamkari paintings in his collection.

One may see it as a humble piece of art done with pen and paint, but it is amazing to note that it has gained much admiration across the world as it is displayed in the British Museum too. Indeed, to this day, the art continues to allure people with its distinct style and beauty.

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