Kalamkari is a very distinct type of Kashmiri art that involves painting on cloth using a Kalam (pen). "Kalamkari" is derived from two words - "Kalam" signifies the pen, and "Kari" is the ‘work’. The exquisite art form involves drawing on a fabric with a pen, a brush and a few natural dyes. Isfahan (Iran) and Andhra Pradesh (India) are the two main regions where people use Kalamkari art. Traditionally, large pieces of canvas were painted with vegetable dyes and paint made from plant extracts.
The Kalamkari art is believed to be introduced in 3000 B.C. Archeologists have also discovered kalamkari patterns on some fabric rags found at Mohenjo Daro monuments. As per the reports, a group of artists traveled in the 13th century to preach Hindu mythology. They used to paint large pieces of canvas with vegetable dyes, and paint made from plant extracts. This is how Kalamkari was introduced. As time went on, Hindus used this art to decorate temples and other religious locations.
In the medieval Islamic period (Golconda Nizam's reign), the art underwent more modifications and reached its pinnacle. Mughals played an instrumental role in encouraging the development of Kalamkari art. The artisans who learned and practiced Kalamkari were called Kalamkars, and this is how the name 'Kalamkari' emerged. Prior to the Mughals, Kalamkari was called Pattachitra ('Patta' meaning 'Cloth', and 'Chitra' meaning 'Picture'). Later it was highly influenced by Persian art under Islamic rule and this art form was at its peak during this period.
Types of Kalamkari Art
The process of making a Kalamkari shawl is not limited to hand painting. There are two different techniques that are done over a shawl to make it a luxury piece.
The first one is the Machilipatnam style. In Machilipatnam style, block painting is done on the fabric. Artists who specialize in this method use vegetable dyes on fabric that are applied with wooden blocks. Also known as Pedana Kalamkari, the art is mainly done at Pedana, a town in the Machilipatnam area of Andhra Pradesh, India. During the Mughal era, this style was patronized by the Sultan of Golconda. Wall hangings, clothing, and large fabrics were usually painted in the Pedana style of Kalamkari. It is worth noting that a wall hanging from the 15th Century AD can still be seen at Victoria Museum in London.
The second type is Srikalahasti Kalamkari. Rikkalahasti is a hand-painted style that uses dyes extracted from plants, a brush made from bamboo, and a brush made from bamboo to paint an entire shawl. A traditional form of this art is created in Andhra Pradesh in a place known as Srikalahasti. The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration Commission) of India has registered this style of art under the handicraft goods category.
Process of Kalamkari art
Kalamkari is an extraordinary process which involves 23 steps till its completion. The process uses bamboo pens that have been handcrafted and organic paints and dyes. It is strictly forbidden to use chemical or synthetic dyes in Kalamkari art. Hand painting the textile is labyrinthine, but the results are totally worth the labor.
Shawls are first soaked in buffalo milk and astringents. The material is then sun-dried. In the end, the design is created in several stages rather than all at once. Intricate, highly delicate details are primarily crafted with bamboo or date palm stick pens. To extract dyes, different roots, seeds, plant leaves, and crushed flowers are used. The colors chosen then are usually bright and brilliant. Kalamkari shawls are most often made with vivid shades of red, yellow, green, and blue.
Washing, Drying, Ironing and Storing a Kalamkari shawl
Keeping Kalamkari Pashmina shawls clean is crucial for their longevity, so they should be washed gently. Since natural colors are not affected by vigorous washing, they shouldn't fade. Kalamkari shawls should not be exposed to much sunlight, lest the colors fade.
Washing: Due to their delicate nature, Kalamkari shawls should be washed in Cashmere or Pashmina shampoos. Soak your Kalamkari shawl in lukewarm water for 30 minutes with Pashmina shampoo. After 30 minutes, gently squeeze the shawl between your hands to remove the soap water.
Drying: Do not wring the shawl. It is best to dry the shawl in a shady spot, rather than in direct sunlight.
Ironing: Ironing a Kalamkari shawl shouldn't be done directly. It is recommended that cotton cloth be placed between the iron and the fabric, or simply a steam iron be used.
Storing: Shawls should be stored in a dry, moisture-free environment. Keep mothballs along to stop any infestations. Wrap the shawl in a muslin cloth or paper wrapping. Avoid plastic at all costs.
Kalamkari Pashminas should be hand washed rather than dry cleaned. Your shawl will last longer if you take good care of it. It will be a companion for generations.
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