The kalamkari, handpainted cloths of Sri Kalahasti, Andra Pradesh, works of art drawn entirely by hand, were originally created predominantly for the temples as narrative murals.
These murals tell the stories of the great Hindu epics in picture form. Earlier this century, Christian missionaries commissioned artists to create murals telling the story of Christ.
In addition to the epic murals, the Tree of Life theme is very popular and comes in many forms. Artists are also branching out and using the medium for their purpose.
Kalamkari is an exquisite ancient craft of painted and printed fabrics. It derives its name from Kalam meaning Pen, and Kari meaning work, literally Pen-work. It includes hand painting as well as block printing with vegetable dyes. Kalamkari art has evolved through trial and error over the last 3000 years. Techniques of craftsmanship in Kalamkari were handed down within the families from generation to generation.
The Kalamkari art of painting undergoes a laborious, slow process of resist - dyeing and hand printing. Many stages have to be undergone before the final results are achieved. Unlike other styles of painting, Kalamkari painting demands a lot of treatment before and after the painting is completed on the cotton fabric. Depending on the treatment of cloth, or quality of the mordant, the colors change accordingly. Every step from soaking of the cloth, to sketching the outlines to washing and drying the cloth, is done carefully and correctly.
The world over, people are turning away from dangerous chemical dyes. The harmless, naturally dyed fabrics is used for Kalamkari paintings. The artists believe in using natural dyes, extracted from bark, flower and root. One would be stunned to know that the colour red is obtained by using the Indian madder root, yellow from the pomegranate seed or even mango bark, and black from myrobalam fruit. No chemical dyes are used is producing kalamkari colours!
The process used for both schools of Kalamkari painting is more or less the same. The only major difference is that Srikalahasti paintings depend entirely on the brush-like pen whereas the Masulipatnam style uses block-printing procedures. The process done in Srikalahasti is more tedious. The cloth is treated and washed twice, and is painted with alum for two to three times.
- Whitening the cloth by immersing in a solution of goat or cow dung and letting it dry in the Sun for a few days.
- The cloth is then treated in Myrobalan solution. Ripe fruits are used in Masulipatnam, raw ones in Srikalahasti. Milk is then added to the solution to prevent the colour from spreading in the next step.
- Then iron acetate solution is filled in, either for solid spaces or as outlines, with a brush-pen in Srikalahasti, and wooden blocks in Masulipatnam.
- All the areas meant to be red are painted or printed over with the alum solution as a mordant. Mordant is a substance that fixes the natural dye on the material.
- After applying alum, the cloth is kept for at least 24 hours. Then the excess mordant is removed by washing the cloth under flowing water.
- The dyeing is done for the red colour by boiling with the red coloring materials.
- All the portions that are not to be blue are covered with wax.
- The waxed cloth is immersed in indigo solution. In Srikalahasti, the blue is painted with the kalam. Then the wax is removed by boiling the cloth in water.
- The yellow is painted on to produce yellow and green.
- The cloth is finally washed again and dried before the final colours emerge.