Kalamkari Art – The Fashion That Never Fades Away, Why It Is Special ? & Where To Get It ?


Kalamkari, is one of the arts which is in vogue. There are two types of styles in kalamkari, one is Machilipatnam style/block printing style which has a strong Persian influence on it and hence is an amalgamation of both Persian and Indian cultures on it..

On the other hand, is the Srikalahasthi style/ hand painting style which has strong Hindu mythology influence on it. Although both styles are unique in their own way, it is a tedious process to create a Kalamkari piece. Pen Kalamkari is one of the unique arts of making a fabric look more beautiful by depicting murals on temples and scenes from epics of Hindu mythology on a piece of fabric. Round faces with big eyes are the common features used to depict the human forms of gods and goddesses along with the elaborate detailing on costumes and jewellery.The beaded lines along with flora (creepers, leaves, flowers) and fauna (peacocks, elephants, bulls) are generally used in the borders.

Srikalahasti, the shrine of Lord Shiva is the hub for Pen Kalamkari. One of the reasons that the art flourished in this place is due to the clean water that flows through the Swarnamukhi river. Kalamkari is the art where the filling of colours is done through vegetable dyes.But, due to designer and consumer demands a lot of workshops are using artificial colors. To create a kalamkari cloth it takes a series of laborious steps to create a piece.

Preparation of Cloth
The process starts with by picking out fabrics from handlooms and powerlooms.The fabric needs to be washed thoroughly to remove impurities and then its dried under the sun for 2-3 hours.
The dried fabric needs to be treated with a solution to prevent the dyes from spreading while painting.
For 1.5 mtrs of cloth: mix 50 gm of myrobalan nut (karakkai in Telugu) paste and 1 litre of buffalo milk. The fabric is soaked for whole night in the solution and then wringed and dried. This treatment ensures the fabric is able to absorb the required metallic mordant from the dyes to develop a permanent colour. The buffalo milk is preferred for this treatment as it contains high fat content fat content in the milk which is necessary to prevent the dye from spreading while painting. The treated fabric must be stored in a dry place and must not be exposed to moisture or strong sunlight.

Preparation of “Kalams”:
The ink pen which is used to draw on cloth is known as “Kalam”. Cloth is wound around a bamboo reed, over which considerable length of sponge/wool is tied. The bamboo is given a thin and sharp tip on one end. When this pen is dipped into the dye, the sponge/woollen ball absorbs the dye and as the artist holds the loaded kalam, he gently presses the sponge/woollen ball as he works on filling the colour on to the cloth. Kalams with a thin tip are used to draw outlines for the designs and broad tip are used to fill the colors.

Preparation of Dyes:
The dyes that are derived from natural sources are in the colors : black, red , yellow, blue and green. Though the ingredients are easily available for vegetable dyes, making them involves a considerable amount of time and effort.
Black dye (kasima karam) : It is prepared by mixing 100 gm of jaggery powder, 100 gm of palm jaggery powder,100gm of rusted iron fillings in 2 litres of water and then soaked in a claypot for over a period of 15 days. On the 13th day, the iron pieces can be removed.
Red dye (spatikam) : It is prepared by mixing 200 gms of patika, 250 gms of surudu chakka,250 gms of seval kodi in ½ litre of water. The place where the solution is applied gives a light olive green color. It is a confirmatory test to ensure that the red color has come on cloth.
Blue dye (Neelam) : It is acquired from indigo leaves. Limited quantity of boiled water is mixed with indigo leaves and then they are soaked for about 12 hours.
Yellow dye: Mix 100 gms of myrobalan powder with limited water and boiled and kept aside for 16 hours. Then after 16 hours 25gms of alum powder is added to give yellow color.
Green dye: There are two ways of creating a green dye. 1. To create a brighter tone of green, yellow dye is applied over blue dye. 2. To create a earthy hue of green, yellow dye is mixed with a little black dye(kasima karam).

Drawing the figures
Burnt tamarind twigs are used as characoal to draw the sketches.The reason for this is the sketches that were drawn with tamarind twigs can be erased in initial stages. The sketching should be done very lightly. Then the thin tip kalam is used to draw outlines. When the iron fillings solution in the black dye gets in contact with the treated fabric, the outlines turns into black shade. As it is a free hand painting style, the artist must be careful not to even spill a drop on the fabric as there is no option to erase.

This fabric is allowed to dry for few seconds, after which the excess dye is carefully removed with an blotting cloth. Then the orange color is filled at desired places. After this, the fabric is washed in clean floating water along the river side.Once the fabric becomes clean, it is dipped in boiling water at 100c. Then the orange color gives into dark maroon color..

Once the fabric is dried again, it is used for coloring process and then again its washed in floating water and sun dried. The natural colours are said to fix well, with help from flowing water as well as strong sunlight.
Then, the final fabric will be ready to use.


We’ve also made documentary featuring the Kalamkari artists:


If you want to help the art form, and support the hand loom artists, you can contact:

PadmaShri J.Guruppa Chetty – 9959326521
Tilak (Kalamkari) – 9959297821
M.Viswanath Reddy(Kalamkari) – 9441138380

Or directly visit them at Srikalahasti, there are nearly 5000 artists making a livelihood out of this art.

Feature image source: Google
Information source: Bhanodaya Kalamkari, Srikalahasti


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