Kalamkari – life-like depictions on fabric canvas


kalamkari main

Kalamkari is from ‘Kalam’ (pen) and ‘Kari’ (craftsmanship), words taken from the Persian language for the art of hand painting done on fabrics with the use of a pen and in present day, extended to include hand block printing. There are two schools of art that developed Kalamkari initially in India and from individual origins.

 Why Kalamkari is special

Kalamkari comes off beautifully on a whole lot of fabric materials like silk, cotton, sico, art silks such as  georgette, chiffon, 12ctaab01-Kalam_13_1297242eSupernet, crepe silk and many others. With vegetable dyes being used, colours are fast and long lasting. Motifs with trees, creepers, flowers, leaves, birds are popular subjects. Pictorial depictions from the epics, folk lore, everyday life are also taken up, being the more laudable and creative efforts of this wonderful traditional display on sarees and other fabrics.

Gloss on the fabric comes from the traditional use of some natural substances such as myrobalan, cow’s milk, cow dung, seeds, plants and crushed flowers in the paintings. The etching of lines and applying of organic colours is done with a finely sharpened short bamboo piece. No theme nor design, no pattern nor feature, no border nor pallu is simply carried on to the next creation as a repeat process. There is variation and novelty, innovativeness and fusion in every work of art that ensures each offering is unique. This reflects the devotion and skill of the ethnic craftsmen to bring about such exquisite masterpieces despite the limited resources, though each effort is time-consuming and an arduous task, that involves a lot of patience and dedication in going through the twelve plus stages process in the ‘readying’ of a kalamkari fabric .

It is a marvel to see the complexity of the narratives chosen, the eye for detail, the understanding of colors, the sharpness of the lines, the remarkable finer details of the chosen theme and the picturesque outcome that make the ethnic effort, worth its while.

 bf56e6d4769e00ffd21c82d8bd1bc3c2Origin of Kalamkari

Kalamkari is said to have flourished in the 16th and 17th century in Andhra Pradesh, in two regions - one near Tirupathi, the other near Vijayawada, slightly distant from each other but with their own unique styles that developed independently.

Srikalahasti style used the pen for drawing and filling in the colours, and with a strong influence of Hindu culture, specifically focused on religious subjects and scenes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in its paintings.

The Machilipatnam style came with an Islamic slant, and had subjects of paintings, mostly depicting flora and fauna, with floral designs as a backdrop on the fabric.

 Kalamkari of today

Both styles of Kalamkari, are popular and have one thing in common – the depictions are fine, distinct and neatly drawn, with extensive use of organic colours which are fast, and till date, there has hardly any dilution in the skill and quality. Today’s Kalamkari has both known styles merged into one with different facets within the art included into one common style of colorful combinations with good choice of fast and bright colours, lines clear and well-defined, narrative themes and floral spreads that are endearing to the market. Taken up even today by the traditional artisans in their mastery of skill and craftsmanship in weaving, dyeing, embroidery, adornments and other additions, Kalamkari has rejuvenated itself in a new form of artistic representation that has the market enamoured for the innovative creations that cannot be replicated even with modern means and effort.


 Unnati Silks and Kalamkari fabrics online

Unnati Silks, known for its long standing association with fabrics, especially traditional handlooms and the weaving community across India, is no stranger to Kalamkari. One of the earliest fabric varieties to join the Unnati collection, Kalamkari sarees have paved the way for the art to be displayed on salwar kameez and in more recent additions, the stylish and fashionable kurtis and kurtas, the exotic and innovative indo-western women’s clothing like ladies’ shirts, waistcoats, jackets, blouses, dupattas and long skirts, which are not only fresh-feel but ultra-modern and chic.

Kalamkari sarees in the printed variety at Unnati have block prints featuring floral designs and geometrical patterns arranged in designer fashion with Modern abstract designs also being included in recent times to resounding applause from the market.

Unnati Silks also has an exclusive and enviable range of Kalamkari sarees that showcase the traditional simplicity, elaborate themes, sharp detailing and attractive motifs in a host of bright and pleasing hues.

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 Ethnic art is like any other art. It is however the toil and the effort in producing these exceptional works of detail and flawlessness despite the limited resources available, that truly give it its value. Kalamkari likewise is an art since centuries that has withstood the onslaught of the more easily done modern day designs and reproduction on fabrics, thanks to ethnic devotion and finesse that have nurtured and sustained an art form that continues to inspire fresh and new-feel fashion lines that keep ‘wowing’ the market.

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