As long as I turn my back upon the sun of Truth, my shadow lay long and dark in front of me and pretended that it was leading while I followed.
When I turned the face of enquiry towards the Truth, the shadow at once fell behind me, content to follow. But when I stood in the noon – day blaze of Truth at its zenith, the shadow died, buried beneath my feet.
V. Dwaraknath Reddy
A Journey to Revive a Dying Ancient Art
It was a damp and drizzly morning in a well-settled neighborhood in Bangalore when Anita Reddy and her father Dwaraknath Reddy heard a knock on the door of their family home - a knock that triggered a series of unexpected events and changed the course of their lives forever. Anita and her father opened the door to find a lean and frail figure, stooped over, anxious for help.
“Everyone in this city is turning a cold shoulder on us. They think we are beggars. Please help us,” the elderly man said as he clutched his stomach with hunger and tears moistened his eyes.
Mr. Dwaraknath Reddy welcomed him into their home while his daughter, Anita, brought him some food. As he ate his first real meal in many days, Purushottam told them his story, "I come from a large community of artists in Srikalahasti, and we paint Kalamkari on cloth for a living,” he explained, as he displayed one of his paintings on the floor.
The piece was an art panel, depicting “The Tree of Life” bursting with beauty from its very roots and symbolizing peace, prosperity, and the vibrancy of life. Yet ironically, the creator of this exquisite painting, like hundreds of other Kalamkari artists, knew only a life of hunger, suffering and distress.“We come to big cities and go door to door trying to sell our art, but more often than not, we are mistaken for beggars and driven away.”
It seemed tragic that a man so rich in talent and skill was forced into a life of starvation because he was unable to sell his exquisite Kalamkari paintings.
He went on to explain about Kalamkari art to Mr. Dwaraknath Reddy and Anita, “We treat the cloth with milk and then sketch on it by hand, using burnt tamarind twigs. And yet, we are not able to sell these rich paintings. We consider ourselves fortunate to return home with even a few hundred rupees. We make barely enough to feed our families, and yet, what choice do we have?” he asked in despair, turning his eyes towards the heavens.
“We continue to celebrate our traditions, our myths, and legends. We struggle, strive, and create art that speaks of vibrancy, of celebration, of tradition, and of our Gods—but our Gods seem to have forsaken us, and we are starving.” His voice trailed off, not in anger or bitterness, but in the absolute abandon of any hope.
Beginning of a Life Story
Why was Purushottam in such dire straits? The canvas of his life was frayed and tattered. Although he was skilled in an art that gave shape to his imagination in myriad hues and he could draw exquisite lines that came alive in spiritual paintings, he still needed food to satisfy his body.
He looked up once again at Anita and her father. They were engrossed in conversation. He listened intently and heard them say, “Let us go to the village…tomorrow! Let us unite and organize the artists to make a difference.” Purushottam listened to the words. A faint flicker of hope glimmered in his eyes, and he held the promise of a better tomorrow. He smiled at them and returned to his home.
The very next day, Mr. Dwaraknath Reddy and his daughter Anita made their way to Srikalahasti, a small town in southern Andhra Pradesh, where they met again with Purushottam to initiate a project to help Kalamkari artists survive and thrive on their artwork. In one circle, gathered together by the side of the dusty road adjacent to Purushottam’s hut, 25 young women sat chattering away in excited anticipation of a new future. They wanted to learn the traditional art form of Kalamkari and find a means to support their families. Initial surveys in the region showed about 30 good Kalamkari artists supported by another 300 Kalamkari artisan trying to survive and yet finding it tough due to a lack of access to any opportunities, resources or the market.
Thus, a life story began.
Anita and her father found that in Srikalahasti there were others, not just Kalamkari artists, who were shattered by poverty and misfortune, desperate for sustainable markets in which to sell their wares. They met Dalit stone cutters from the Enagaluru village, in Andhra Pradesh, their skin parched by the scorching heat and glare of quarry walls, and their hands and spirits roughened by the toil of breaking stones. They met weavers who spoke of the mighty debt trap that engulfed them all, and the physical disabilities and illnesses they contracted through the strain of their detailed work. These weavers produce some of the country’s finest cotton fabrics in their tiny huts—homes barely large enough to accommodate their looms leave alone space for their families!
It was evident that all were caught in a web of debt and desperation, shattered by poverty and misfortune. Many of the women artisans were twice ostracized not only as poor women, but also as Dalit women. One could sense that many of these artists retained dreams and aspirations for the future of their work and lives; one could see a faint glimmer of hope in the artists’ desperate eyes.
Swinging into action, Anita and her father decided to make a critical intervention to improve the lives of the artists. DRRT (Dwaraknath Reddy Ramanarpanam Trust) established the DWARAKA platform for the Development of Weavers and Rural Artisans in Kalamkari Art.
Thus DWARAKA was born in 1998.
The doors were opened up not only to the women who came seeking help
directly from DWARAKA but as outreach efforts, any artist who needed support
could use the DWARAKA platform.
A commitment made by Dwaraknath Reddy to the rural artisans was honored in spirit and action – culminating in a lease of life for an entire generation of languishing Kalamkari artisans, whose art was on the brink of getting lost forever.
Thus, DWARAKA initiated a robust socio-economic empowerment program for the artists and artisan community. A program in which the entire village could learn to develop a market to provide sustainable support for the rest of their lives; or as the proverbial saying goes: “to catch fish and eat for a lifetime rather than to be given fish to eat for one day.”
In two decades, since its inception, hundreds of artists and weavers have been impacted by the support of DWARAKA - just one of many Ramanarpanam Trust initiatives.
You Helped To Make A Difference
You shared of yourselves, and remained a great source of inspiration to us.
You have guided us with your wisdom, you have taught us with your experiences and
we have together founded grass root programs and institutions that have impacted
change in indigent communities.
We acknowledge your support to our work at DWARAKA.
Dr. PLT Girija