As lovers of art, it’s always heartening to see traditional and local art forms proliferate and enter the mainstream art market.
Newer trends in arts emerge and die down slowly but traditional arts survive decades and centuries, thanks to the local artists and generations of families who refuse to give it up, despite all odds.
Kalamkari is one such ancient art form that refuses to wither. In Andhra Pradesh, its center in ancient India, artists follow the footsteps of their ancestors and continue to practice the art, and, in fact, do so at a magnitude greater than ever before.
As the name suggests, Kalamkari literally stands for drawing with a pen. It is said that in ancient times, groups of singers, musicians and painters moved village retelling the mythological stories by illustrating them on canvases using kalams (usually bamboo pens) and natural dyes.
Artists and devotees also expressed their devotion by painting episodes of Indian epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana using this technique. Even today, these themes are quite popular in Kalamkari sarees, furnishings and other Indian wear. A look at the 23-step process, starting from bleaching the fabric in cow dung and milk to the final washing for about 20 times and drying of the pieces, makes it evident that Kalamkari is indeed a tedious art and still makes use of the thousand year old techniques.
There are two major schools of Kalamkari: the Srikalahasti and the Machilipatnam. The former draws inspiration from Hindu mythology and epics like Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata, depicting scenes, characters, deities and stories. It has a strong religious identity and employs traditional dyeing techniques and freehand drawing of subjects. Every piece Srikalahasti art is not duplicable and portrays high artisanship.
The Machilipatnam style is very distinct from Srikalahasti as it uses hand-carved blocks for painting rather than pens. As this style flourished mainly under the patronage of Mughals and the wealthy Golconda Sultanate, influence of Persian art is evident in this style. Machilipatnam artists create sketches and key design features with hand-carved blocks. These blocks are used repeatedly for many years and by different craftsmen.
Digitization has made this ancient art more accessible and easy. To fit the glove of time, Kalamkari prints are made digitally but the handmade work continues to charm lovers of art and fashion. Andhra Pradesh continues to be the largest producer of Kalamkari.