Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Kalamkari Paintings


Kalamkari falls in the category of one of the oldest art forms of south India. A place called kalahasti in the state of Andhra Pradesh witnessed the birth of this visually stimulating art. kalamkari was born more than 3000 years ago. Sri kalahasti is located in the vicinity of the holy city of Tirupathi. Literally, the word traces its origin from the to words-kalam(pen) and kari(to work). In other words kalamkari means "pen work". Located in the vicinity of temple, this art form was patronized by the temples. These paintings were made on cloth depicting murals. Their theme was provided by the Hindu mythology. The temple walls are ornate with kalamkari wall hangings depicting stories from the Hindu Puranas and epics. They were so visually articulate that they even served the purpose of helping learned men in narrating stories. The distinctive feature of these paintings is that the artists made large murals which were filled in with a lot of detailed fine work.


Initially, the themes were based on religion. But these were not duly appreciated by art connoisseurs especially those who resided abroad. Traditional artists then started including contemporary themes like trees, birds and animals. One immensely popular piece is the "tree of life." Evidence also suggests that kalamkari artists also created murals based on Christian themes.

Process involved

The base of Kalmkari is formed by cotton cloth. A lot of attention is paid to fineness which makes the process of making kalamkari very laborious.

How the cloth is prepared?
Clean flowing river water is used for washing the cloth and removing the starch. The cloth is then dried. tannin containing pod of young unripe myrobalan fruits are soaked in water for a few hours to be made into a paste. The paste is then dissolved in cow's milk which is kept in a vessel. The cloth is soaked in it and dried. This procedure makes the colour of the cloth to turn into pale yellow.


First the artist decides what is to be drawn on the cloth. Then he makes a sketch with the help of burnt tamarind tree twigs. The next step involves the preparation of an iron solution. This is prepared by keeping some some rusted iron pieces in a solution of water and cooking jaggry and palm jaggery which is kept in an earthen pot for 15 days. This solution though clear takes a black colour on coming into contact with the myrobalan treated cloth. The drawing tool is a bamboo stick sharpened at one end with a knife. A thread is wound round this stick. The thread absorbs the ink and lets it penetrate down while drawing on the cloth. The line drawing is very immaculately done, replete with all the key and sub elements of the work.


On the completion of the line drawing,colours are added. Generally, red(maroon), yellow and blue are used.

For obtaining red(maroon)colour

Red(maroon)colour is obtained by painting an alum solution which is then dried for a day. this is done in the areas forming the background. Any excess mordant is washed away in flowing river water. Another laborious process of this art form is the boiling of cloth with a mixture of madder and "saveli koddi"the saveli koddi (in the stick form)and madder is dried and then turned into a powder. Only those areas which had been earlier treated with alum allow red colour to penetrate. Despite all the precautions, colour might smudge to other areas. To remedy this, the cloth is soaked overnight in a vessel containing cow dung dissolved in water. It is then cleansed in flowing water and dried. at frequent intervals water is sprinkled. At the end of this procedure the cloth is again dipped in cow's milk and dried.

For obtaininmg yellow colour

Myrobalan flower is dried, powdered and dissolved in clean drinking water. Its then boiled and continuously stirred which makes the solution turn yellow. After the application of yellow colour, the cloth is dried, cleansed in flowing river water and once again dried.
Natural vegetable dyes are used to make the rest of the colours, for example-katha for body colour (ie brown); seveli is used for rose; indigo for blue; yellow and blue are used to get the green colour. At the end of colour application the cloth is again washed with river water and dried.

Finally, the prepared pieces of kalamkari are stretched and framed. They are then ready to aesthetically beautify the interiors with their resplendent and vibrant colours replete with intricacy.

As an art form, kalamkari is traditionally practised as a profession by many families. it involves the entire family in the various stages of preparation. The head of the family also happens to be the master craftsmen under whose guidance the painting is executed.

The importance of kalamkari is highlighted by the fact that it is an extremely environment friendly traditional art form requiring natural products as the basic drawing material. In the present day when the dangers of global warming and acid rain are confronting mankind, an even greater need is being felt to promote such an art form.


aishani said...

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Atulya Kala said...

Its just amazing, i am speechless before this art.

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