Kalamkari Large size motifs and vibrant colours provide unique touch. Pushpa Chari
Dasaradhi and his sister Padma waft in the heady flavours of nature’s colours as they open a tiny box filled with bundles of dried karaka flowers, rose petals, kaduka seeds, kathai leaves, etc. With these they will create colours that bring life to their Kalamkari art, which is part of a tradition of figurative and narrative painting on cloth used for ritual purposes in the temples of Andhra Pradesh.
Kalamkari is a unique form of multi-hued mordant dyeing which took root in the temple town of Srikalahasti. It tells, on cloth panels, evocative stories, taken from the epics, mainly vignettes from the lives of Krishna and Rama, beautifully delineated figures of gods and goddesses, tales from the Puranas and so on. The painted cloths hang in front of the deity in the sanctum sanctorum and in other parts of the temple, forming part of the temple craft tradition of Andhra Pradesh.
In Chennai, for an exhibition of their work on saris, dupattas, stoles and wall hangings Dasaradhi and Padma enthusiastically relate the many processes that go into the making of a Kalamkari piece.
Holding up a miniature Ashtalakshmi panel in the sketch stage, as Radhi explains “We buy garha cloth and dip it in a solution of water in which we mix buffalo dung and kaduka seeds. After drying we do free hand sketch in charcoal with bamboo kalam. Colour black is now prepared with myrobalan mixed with iron filings in water. We also make a mixture of water and powdered alum.”
Padma continues, “The next stage is to take up the kalam and fill in the background with alum water and wait for it to dry. Next, two of us hold the cloth piece in the flowing river water after which it is dried in the sun. We then boil the cloth in water mixed with alizarin. In half-hour time the alum painted background turns into a beautiful red. Once it gets dried up we will paint all the other colours wherever needed We will then dry the piece after dipping it in milk – the Kalamkari piece is ready. I must also add that motifs are taken from temple sculptures and have their own language whether expressing peacock, human figures, flower or leaf.”
The duo that creates their pieces in the shadow of the Srikalahasti temple celebrate Gitopadesam, Ramar Pattabishekam, Parvati Kalyanam, Krishna Leela and figures of Saraswati, Lakshmi, Durga in their wall hangings and textiles. Their bold use of blues, reds and yellows gives a special edge to their visual tales bordered with the typical Kalamkari theme.
Taking the bold theme forward in saris, dupattas and stoles, the duo has worked with large sized motifs of peacock, hamsa, annam, lotus, amri and the typical floral and vine imagery of traditional Kalamkari. The saris come in a range of natural colours from jewel tones to muted earth colours. The dupattas and stitched kurtas in garha cotton and Chanderi too have compelling motifs.
“Every piece in our collection is uniquely one-off and done only in natural and vegetable colours,” says Dasaradhi. It is the combined effort of our group of 25 artisans. Today Srikalahasti has 300 artisans.”
The Kalamkari exhibition is on view till November 5, at ‘The Palace’, T-23 A 7th Avenue, Besant Nagar.