Reviving an Ancient and Exquisite Indian Art
Magical Kalam Stories
Listen to the older folk in the villages. They have a story to tell. From different corners of the
Srikalahasthi region in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, India, a few artists remain to whisper the story of the dying art of hand-painted Kalamkari.
It is said that in the days of yore, Chitrakattis, or singers, musicians and artists, propagated stories from Hindu mythology, travelling from community to community. Over time, they found a medium to tell these stories by painting on textiles. This is where the art of hand-painted Kalamkari as it is known today,
started coming into form.
The stories in the Kalamkari fabrics were a means of spreading values to the masses.
Several stories depicting significant episodes from epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana,
or stories from the Buddhist tales, and even the life of Jesus Christ, have been highlighted with
hand-painted Kalamkari art.
Kalamkari, Heritage Of India
It has also been recorded that the tradition of hand-painted Kalamkari Art is over 3000 years old and as per documented information with other researchers that it has been recorded that samples of the art are even found in the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa excavations.
In fact, it is said that this textile art flourished in the ancient times too, as the knowledge of evolving a palette of many colors has a reference in the texts dating back to the Vedic age. In later centuries the Mughal rulers patronized the art form in Coromandel and Golconda.
In Andhra Pradesh, it is mostly practiced in the temple town of Srikalahasti, on the banks of the once cascading Swaranamukhi river. The art form flourished over 500 years ago under the patronage of the Vijayanagar kings, especially Krishnadevaraya, a Telugu king known for his love of art and culture.
The artists made stunning depictions of their once vivacious and vibrant communities and those paintings became a medium of communication and even a tool for transforming villages through story telling.
Centuries later, with the advent of Colonial powers, India lost its natural dyes glory, the British plundered, looted and bled our nation dry of its heritage and wealth. Indigo, the stunningly beautiful blue dye from the indigo plant was exploited and it became a fashion statement for their women who loved to incorporate Kalamkari in their apparel, as well as their furnishings. Soon after, the ancient form of hand-painted Kalamkari art began to fade out, until in 1964 Smt.Kamaladevi Chattopadaya began to revive the art form through training programs. She is still remembered with reverence by the remaining older artists of those decades.
DWARAKA - Reviving the Cultural Pride
Yet, when Anita Reddy and Dwaraknath Reddy her father went at the behest of the artists to the Srikalahasthi region in 1998, all they saw was poverty, debt and more poverty.
The communities that practiced hand-painted Kalamkari art was disappearing, and the art - form was in its throes. DWARAKA revived it, changing the course of history of that region, since the turn of this millennium. Today, thousands of artisans who were once caught in the debt trap have earned how to not only survive, but also thrive in their new found socio-economic freedom.
DWARAKA not only began to revive the glory of the traditional art form, using natural vegetable dyes, but also to stabilize the socio-economic sustainability of the region, by developing an entirely new and exclusive product range that caters to the needs of a global market and is conducive to widen the scope of the art revival. DWARAKA ‘s showrooms, rightfully belonging to the hundreds of poor women artists were set up over a decade and a half ago as exclusive Kalamkari boutiques, the only one of their kind in India.
The DWARAKA efforts have grown immensely, having gained national and international recognition for the innovation and social empowerment that the team has worked to cultivate.
Today thousands of artisans who were once caught in the debt trap have learned how to not only survive, but also thrive in their new found socio-economic freedom.
Kalamkari - Traditional Style of Hand-Painting with
Vegetable Dyes on Fabrics
The hand-painted Kalamkari goes through a slow and time consuming process of natural dyeing and hand-painting.This art form involves many tedious steps, including dyeing, treating fabrics with natural substances, color preparation using plants and vegetables, crafting the kalam and kasimi (black dye) painting with vegetable dyes etc. The entire process takes several days for the creation of just one saree
The process is elaborate and takes several weeks to produce any kind of designs in the natural form.
The process has to be followed with utmost care so as to preserve the colors and the natural substance of the final output. The colors change depending on the treatment of cloth and quality of the mordant. Every step in the process is painstakingly done and with perfection.
Motifs drawn span from divine Hindu characters to nature and life bursting in their myriad hues painted in exquisite tree of life designs depict and represent each artist’s own creativity. These designs can transform on any kind of fabrics.
DWARAKA has evolved into a brand depicting and representing Kalamkari art focused approach in its various initiatives and all along encouraging to sustain traditional hand-painting skills within the communities and promoting eco-friendly ways and designs that transform on any fabrics. Thus reviving the true authenticity of Kalamkari craftsmanship.
Future Vision and Sustainability in Changing Scenarios
DWARAKA is now focused on establishing the DWARAKA ARC initiative (Arts, Rights and Communities) as the first-ever learning center in the region that would enhance indigenous traditions and heritage knowledge in children from Government schools, children of the artisans, and in communities.
It would enable youth to discover the inherent strengths of the area they live in and the wealth of history relevant for the region's development. It would not only empower women through skills and livelihoods development, but capacitate them into becoming “gurus” of art, and the custodians of harmony in their communities.
DWARAKA ARC would lend itself to creating platforms for national and international exchange of knowledge, experiences, and exposure to real time learning. There will be an integration of a “think khadi doctrine” with a pedagogy of the peoples rights, and the discovery of the self worth of the artists.