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Kalamkari painting on a cotton cloth

In the recent past, Kalamkari has suddenly gained prominence in the wardrobes of Indian women. Commercial hubs in the city are filled with mannequins posing in kalamkari blouses, or sarees stretching out for yards on hangers.

As the name suggests, 'kalamkari' means 'craft from a pen'. Artisans draw on cloth with a pen, and colour it in with paints. This art form originated from the Mughal era and many of the scenes that artists choose to draw are scenes from Mughal gardens or palaces.

The Mughals were great patrons of art, and were known for their unique painting techniques. They would use a single haired brush to elaborate scenes from battle or from mythology. This technique was adopted by artisans of Hyderabad, who use a tamarind twig to paint cloth.

An artisan drawing with a tamarind twig on cloth with dyes Image source: wikimedia commons

These days, apart from mythology, kalamkari depicts scenes from everyday life too. The face of the Kathakali dancer, a pair of earrings, and the enlightened face of Buddha are some famous designs that people are seen wearing. The colours are usually dark blue, brown, olive green, or deep red.

Kalamkari, a 23-step dye process, is done in two different ways. The Kalahasti art type was a household form, where a brush is used to manually paint in the designs. Srikalahasti is an important center in Andhra Pradesh for this type of art. The Machilipatnam art form involves block painting, where designs are drawn on wooden blocks, dipped in the dye, and pressed on the fabric.

Kalamkari artist using wooden blocks to stamp designs on a sari Image source: wikimedia commons

One of the reasons why this handicraft has suddenly become popular could be due to the sustainable quality of its dyes and fabric. Kalamkari uses natural vegetable dyes and preferably cotton fabric as the base. It has grown as an art form, and in the fashion industry, it is being revered as an indigenous inclusion of heritage on an international platform.

Keywords: Kalamkari, Mughal, Art forms, Block painting, Andhra Pradesh


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