Kalamkari or Qalamkari is a type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, produced in parts of India. The word is derived from the Persian words kalam (pen) and kari (craftmanship), meaning drawing with a pen. The craft made at Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, evolved with patronage of The Mughals and theGolconda sultanat.
There are two distinctive styles of kalamkari art in India – one, the ‘Srikalahasti’ style and the other, the Machalipatnam style of art. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari, wherein the “kalam” or pen is used for freehand drawing of the subject, and filling in the colours is entirely hand worked. This style flowered around temples and their patronage, and so had an almost religious identity – scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners and the like depicted deities and scenes taken from great epics – Ramayana. Mahabarata, Puranas and mythological classics. This style owes its present status to Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhayay who popularised the art as the first Chairperson of All India Handicrafts Board. Only natural dyes are used in Kalamkari, and involves seventeen painstaking steps.
Kalamkari craft is very old. This art knew its apogee in the wealthy Golconda sultanate, Hyderabad, in the middle age, thanks to trade with Persia.
Kalamkari art has been practised by many families in Andhra Pradesh, and has constituted their livlihood.
In ancient times, groups of singers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis, moved village to village to tell with an audience the great stories of Hindu mythology. Progressively, during the course of history, they illustrated their account using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with rudimentary means, and dyes extracted from plants. The first Kalamkari had been born. In the same way one found in the Hindu temples large panels of Kalamkari depicting the episodes of Indian mythology, akin to the stained glasses of the Christian cathedrals.
Kalamkari had a certain decline, then it was revived in India and abroad for its craftsmanship. Since the 18th century the British liked the decorative element for clothing.
The cotton fabric gets its glossiness by immersing it for an hour in a mixture of myrabalam (resin) and cow milk. Contours and reasons are then drawn with a point in bamboo soaked in a mixture of jagri fermented and water; one by one these are applied, then the vegetable dyes. After each color, the Kalamkari is washed. Thus, each fabric can undergo up to 20 washings. Various effects are obtained by cow dung, seeds, plants and crushed flowers.