Kalamkari is the process of hand-painting or block-printing on fabric. The two major centres of kalamkari art are Sri kalahasti and Machilipatnam in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Natural dyes are used in this painting. Kalamkari printing is beautiful and done on various fabrics like cotton, silk, georgette, chiffon, crape and supernet. Trees, creepers, flowers, leaf and birds are some of the popular motifs. Kalamkari patch work over other fabrics is fashion and in demand.Fancy kalamkari printing on south pure cotton sari is a refreshing attire of whole day. Appealing kalamkari hand painted on chanderi silk saree is eye-catching. And are apt to wedding, bridal occasions, corporate office, traditional festivals like sankranthi, diwali, dussehra, pongal. Designer embroidered sico sarees of kalamkari patch border with an elegant pallu are a wonderful party wear. The Machilipatnam Kalamkari craft made at Pedana near by Machilipatnam in Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh, evolved with patronage of the Mughalsand the Golconda sultanate. There are two distinctive styles of kalamkari art in India - one, the Srikalahasti style and the other, the Machilipatnam style of art. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari, wherein the "kalam" or pen is used for free hand drawing of the subject and filling in the colours, is entirely hand worked. This style flowered around temples and their patronage and so had an almost religious identity - scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners and the like, depicted deities and scenes taken from the great Hindu epics - Ramayana. Mahabarata, Puranas and the mythological classics. This style owes its present status to Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhayay who popularised the art as the first Chairperson of the All India Handicrafts Board. Only natural dyes are used in Kalamkari and it involves seventeen painstaking steps.
The beginnings of Kalamkari probably rest in South India and grew out of the need to illustrate some of the temple rituals. The temples commissioned large religious themed cloths. It is also true that with the advent of carbon dating, we are continually finding evidence of very old Indian textiles excavated in places like Fostat in Egypt, and Mohenjodaro and Harappa now in Pakistan. A number of heirloom cloths, which are quite old, have been discovered in Indonesia. A good number of these cloths came from the west of India, from Gujarat and Surat. Many of the cloths were block printed, some were painted cloths and there is also some evidence of Kalamkari as we know it. Sri Kalahasti is near the temple town of Tirupathi. It is some 80 miles north of Chennai (Madras). I bought this cloth there when I visited the home of the artist Sri Gurrappa Chetty in 1994. He is the father of another well known Kalamkari artist Sri Niranjan and the entire family is engaged one way or another in this work. I remember being interested in the fact that their working conditions were quite simple but suited their needs. And in fact a lot of it is done on the floor. In terms of this piece I was particularly drawn to was because of the colors and the wonderful depictions of elephants. In the Sri Kalahasti style of Kalamkari they use 2 different Kalams(Pens). One has a pointed sharp tip and is used for the outlines and the other is round and flat and is used for filling in the colors. Halfway up the kalam there is a dye reservoir made of hair or sometimes felt that holds the dye materials. Some of the other pieces he had for sale at that time were those showing scenes from the life of Christ and others from the life of Buddha. All of his pieces were done freehand in a very pleasing and flowing style. Many of the writers on this subject feel that this is the true form of Kalamkari. But, as with many other textile questions, others disagree.
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