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Kalamkari (Telugu: కలంకారి) or Qalamkari is a type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, produced in parts of India and in Iran. The word is derived from the Persian or Farsi words kalam (pen) and kari (craftmanship), meaning drawing with a pen.
There are two distinctive styles of kalamkari art in India - one, the Srikalahasti style and the other, the Machilipatnam style of art. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari, wherein the "kalam" or pen is used for free hand 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 the great Hindu epics - Ramayana. Mahabarata, Puranas and the mythological classics. This style owes its present status to Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhayay who popularized the art as the first Chairperson of the All India Handicrafts Board. Only natural dyes are used in Kalamkari and it involves seventeen painstaking steps.
In ancient times, groups of singers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis, moved village to village to tell the village dwellers, the great stories of Hindu mythology. Progressively, during the course of history, they illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with rudimentary means and dyes extracted from plants. Thus,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.
As an art form it found its apogee in the wealthy Golconda sultanate, Hyderabad, in the Middle Ages. The Mughals who patronized this craft in the Coromandel and Golconda province called the practitioners of this craft "Qualamkars", from which the term “Kalamkari" evolved.
Kalamkari art has been practiced by many families in Andhra Pradesh and over the generations has constituted their livelihood.
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.
In modern times the term is also used to refer, incorrectly, to the making of any cotton fabric patterned through the medium of vegetable dyes by free-hand painting and block-printing, produced in many different regions of India. In places where the fabric is block printed the Kalam (pen) is used to draw finer details and for application of some colours.
The cotton fabric gets its glossiness by immersing it for an hour in a mixture of Myrobalans 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 applying each color on to the motif, the Kalamkari fabric is washed after drying. Thus, each fabric can undergo up to 20 washes. Various effects are obtained by using cow dung, seeds, plants and crushed flowers to obtain natural dye.
Along with buffalo milk, Myrobalan is used in Kalamkari. Myrobalan is also able to remove the odd smell of buffalo milk. The fixing agents available in the Myrobolan can easily fix the dye or color of the textile while treating the fabric. Alum is used in making natural dyes and also while treating the fabric. Alum ensures the stability of the color in Kalamkari fabric.
- Bhatnagar, Parul. "Kalamkari". Traditional Indian Costumes and Textiles. suraj. Retrieved 2004.
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