The earliest remains of painted fabrics have been unearthed from the two chief cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. This is believed to be the origin of Kalamkari works. The painting of clothes that have been resist-dyed began in the eighth century AD, giving birth to the art of Kalamkari, a technique to depict tales that were shared orally for centuries.
Lord Saraswati depicted in Kalamkari
Hand painting using indigo dye
Chitrakattis, or singers, musicians and artists, propagated stories from Hindu mythology by travelling from village to village and spreading these tales. Over time, they found a medium to tell these stories and preserve them for much longer durations. This is where Kalamkari, as it is known today, started coming into form. These Kalamkari fabrics portrayed religious tales and were a means of spreading them to the masses. Several figures, depicting a significant episode or a whole series from the Mahabharata, an epic poem, are highlights in most Kalamkari works.
An intricate motif being coloured
Large panels of Kalamkari work depicting Indian mythology, when installed in temples, closely resembled the stained glass of Christian cathedrals.
Lord Ganesha and his followers
These displays were much appreciated by the Golconda sultanate of Hyderabad, who became a major patron of the technique. The Mughals of Coromandel and Golconda province also treasured these works of art and gave the title of ‘Qualamkars’ to the pracitioners, which eventually gave the tag of Kalamkari to the technique. In the nineteenth century, Maratha rulers including Chattrapati Shivaji wore a different form of Kalamkari technique called Thanjavur.
The tree of life
The technique witnessed a decline in popularity though the British then aided in the revival and re-establishment of this ancient technique by promoting the creation and trading of Kalamkari works.
A scene from the Mahabharata
Images: Buzzintown, Indus Ladies, Travels in Textiles, Dolls of India, VK, Crosswords911