Kalamkari is a highly popular form of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile and paintings, which is created mostly in countries like India and Iran. The name originates from Persian words qalam (pen) and kari (craftmanship), and literally this means drawing with a pen.
Andhra Pradesh is famous all over for this form of art. The major forms are Srikalahasthi in Chittoor district, and Machilipatnam Kalamkari created at Pedana near Machilipatnam in Krishna district. The latter is believed to have evolved centuries ago under the patronage of the Mughals followed by the Golconda sultanate.
The two distinctive styles of Kalamkari art form in India are the Srikalahasti style as well as the Machilipatnam style. In the Srikalahasti form of Kalamkari, the pen is used for the purpose of free hand drawing of the main subject while the color filling is completely hand worked. This style is associated with religious identity and seen in the form of temple hangings, scrolls, chariot banners and depicted scenes related to Hindu epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata as well as Puranas and other mythological classics.
Kalamkari, as an art form witnessed its peak during the period of the wealthy Golconda sultanate of Hyderabad, in middle ages. The Mughals were believed to have extensively patronized this craft. Kalamkari art is still being practiced by many families in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
The first step in the process involves tightening the cloth by seeping it in a solution of astringents and buffalo milk followed by drying it under sunlight. Subsequently, colours like red, black, brown, and violet part of the designs are clearly outlined using a mordant and later the cloth is placed in alizarin. The cloth is covered, except for those parts which have to be dyed in blue colour, in wax, following which it is immersed in the indigo dye. The wax part is then scraped away while the remaining areas are clearly painted by hand.
For creating the design contours, artists make use of bamboo or date palm stick which is pointed at one end with fine hair bundle attached to the pointed end like a brush or pen. The pen is also soaked in a mixture containing fermented jaggery and water and later the vegetable dyes. Dyes used for the cloth are derived from various roots, leaves extract as well as the mineral salts of tin, copper, iron, and alum while cow dung, plants, seeds, and crushed flowers are used for obtaining the natural dye. Kalamkari is popular for depicting the epics like Ramayana or Mahabharata and recently Kalamkari technique is also being used to depict certain Buddhist art forms. The paintings and wall hangings made through the Kalamkari technique finds great appeal among customers and art collectors from all over the world.