Kalamkari Paintings

Kalamkari Painting is a widely practised craft form in Srikalahasti (Sri-spider, Kala-serpent and Hasti- elephant, three devotees of Lord Shiva), a small town situated in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. People belonging to all castes and communities are now involved in Kalamkari painting, though traditionally only the Balija community (soldiers for royalty) used to do this craft. It is usually done by the men in the family, assisted by womenfolk.

Kalamkari (from the Persian words kalam - pen, kari - work) refers to the art of drawing free-hand pictures on a fabric using vegetable dyes. These paintings were originally used as back-cloths for the shrines in temples. For the same reason, the themes are traditional , linked to religion and based on epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishna Leela, stories from Puranas, ancient myths, Jataka and Panchatantra tales. This art originated in Machlipatnam, a place along coastal Andhra Pradesh. But in course of time, the Machlipatnam artists moved on make kalamkari designs using block printing, while the Srikalahasti artists continue to do the hand paintings.

Local temples that commissioned the kalamkari paintings usually demanded figurative and narrative paintings with Gods, Goddesses and their consorts. The layout of the Kalamkari painting is supposed to be based on the mural paintings in temples of Vijayanagar empire and Nataraja temple in Srikalahasti. Stylistic similarities between the brass rubbing and batik printing of Bali, Indonesia reinforce the theory that there was a well-forged social and cultural link between the Kalinga kingdom of the 15th - 16th century and these far eastern islands.

Typical features of Kalamkari>>>

Like all hand-crafted items, no two kalamkari paintings will look the same. They differ in style, expression, the way limbs are painted, etc. Some of the notable characteristics of a traditional Kalamkari painting are as follows:

The panel will always have border on all 4 sides, done in traditional designs.

Theme is depicted in the center with the story painted in compartment strips all around. The theme in the center is composed in a circular, rectangular or squarish form. Sometimes it is also done on all four corners of the panel instead of the center.

Each horizontal strip is divided into a sequence of connected scenes, with the story running from right to left.

The first division will mostly depict the artist praying to Lord Ganesha before beginning his work.

Figures are very artistic with round faces with large eyes, tilted at an angle of 45 degrees.

Outlines are done in a prominent fashion, thus making it easy to understand the complicated design.

Contemporary kalamkari paintings may not adhere to these specifications, as artists are exploring new ways of expression. A noted Contemporary Indian artist, Ramesh Gorjala, draws inspiration from this craft for his beautiful canvas paintings.

Raw materials used>>>

Kalamkari painting uses only natural products. The cotton cloth used for painting is usually of 60s or 80s count. The cloth is washed, bleached and treated with mordants so that the colors will penetrate well and will be permanently insoluble. It is then painted with required colors using raw materials from the bark, root, leaf and stem of different plants.
The list of raw materials would look something like this:-
1)Cotton cloth
2)Cow/buffalo dung - a natural bleaching agent
3)Myrobalan nuts - mordant for black color
4)Iron pieces and jaggery - for preparing black color
5)Alum - mordant for red color
6)Chavalkudi - dyed to obtain red in the alum painted portion, available as twigs
7)Surulpattu - bark of a tree, added with chavalkudi to enhance the red shade
8)Jaji leaves - leveling agents during developing of red color
9)Myrobalan Flowers - for producing yellow color
10)Indigo Blue Cake - extracted from leaves of Indigo plant, for creating blue color
11)Buffalo Milk - added to avoid spreading of color
12)Tamarind Twigs - for making outlines

Since the palette is based on natural colors, the range of shades are limited. The basic colors created are black, red, yellow, blue and green. 15 other hues are created by mixing these basic colors.

Courtesy for information: 'Parchayiaan: Timeless Images', a study done by NIFT, Hyd students G.Samyukta, Veronica Kaushik, Namrata Dviwedi, Leena Gohil, Archana Tiwari and Hajra Jafri.