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The art of hand painting - Kalamkari

The art of hand painting on cotton or silk fabrics which is famous as Kalamkari – is one of India’s artistic treasures, going back to the ancient Persian Empire and literally meaning “craftsmanship with pen”. It uses a tamarind pen and through the process of bleaching, painting, printing, sun drying and cleaning it creates the most beautiful and, sometimes, unusual patterns.

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Involving a lot of hard work and difficult procedures, Kalamkari often depicts flowers, animals like the peacock or Hindu characters, allowing artists a unique process of storytelling that began ages ago, 3000 BC. It was during the Mughal Empire that this type of craftsmanship got its recognition and it was further spread around the World by the British in the 18th century.

Involving 23 steps from the beginning until the finished product, the colours were chosen to paint the fabrics are usually earth-toned, with indigo, black, green or mustard as favourites. The dyes used to paint are also all natural, with no chemicals and obtained through the manipulation of such things as iron, pomegranate or bark.

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Kalamkari exists in India in two different styles, Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam. The first one takes its inspiration from the Hindu mythology by describing religious stories. The second one has a more abstract design showing blocks with detailed handwork throughout. Recently two new styles appeared due to the preferences of the population in the two main Indian states using this art. The Andhra style has forts, palaces and temples in its designs and the Gujarat Kalamkari presents pictures of the Hindu or Buddhist gods, such as Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesha or Lord Buddha.

In the past, due to the tedious and long method of producing a Kalamkari, this hand paint relic had become almost obsolete with people wanting access to cheaper products. Nevertheless, its primary use nowadays is, as in the old days, the sarees. Today, people can shop for a range of different kalamkari printed dresses like Kurtis, sarees or dupattas in beautiful patterns and colours. Kalamkari has proved to be a safe craft as it does not use harmful chemicals and rely on organic colours to create multi-coloured fabrics.

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