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  • Shreni Community Trust

Fabric Folklore with Shreni: The Kalamkari Edit

Vines and flowers, elephants and kings intertwine on richly woven fabrics - there is a riot of colours and motifs. There is so much for the eye to take in, and so much that goes behind this tradition.

The Kalamkari tradition is the pride of Andhra Pradesh, and comes from a rich heritage of artisans who have worked over generations to preserve the art form. ‘Kalam’ literally translates to ‘pen’ - Kalamkari thus becomes ‘penmanship’, which is then taken to mean a style of art where the artist draws and fills in colour freely by hand. The roots of this art form can be traced all the way back to olden times when travelling musicians would use vast canvases to draw vivid visuals to accompany their stories. These canvasses usually depicted famous scenes from epics, mythologies, or folktales. Kings, queens, and a host of flora and fauna would decorate these huge pieces of cloth, which were then carefully folded by minstrels and taken across the country to tell stories to all listeners, young and old.

Temples and shrines, and other places of worship too, carried the mark of Kalamkari artisanship in the form of wall hangings and tapestries that depicted scenes from religious stories or folklore connected to the deities. Later, the art form found patronage in the Deccan and Golconda Sultanates. This patronage resulted in influences flowing in from the Persian school of art as well - some motifs, dots, and patterns were borrowed from the Persians by the indigenous artisans in present-day Andhra Pradesh and parts of Telangana. The modern-day version of Kalamkari is thus a product of many years of heritage blended together from different sources, and fused into a vibrant and dynamic form of art.

Today’s Kalamkari sarees are the proud descendants of this rich tradition. They are usually handwoven cotton fabrics, on which the artisans draw outlines of figures and motifs by hand. These intricate and eye-catching designs are then filled in by hand with vegetable dyes. In case the saree or fabric is block printed, the kalam is used to add the finer details like lines and intricate patterns. Today’s motifs draw directly from the older tradition of depicting epic scenes, but have also evolved to include flowers, animals, scenery, and more contemporary motifs and styles.

Centuries of work and careful preservation heritage have given us this widely celebrated art form. Today, we’re blessed to be able to wear this art in the form of sarees, dupattas, fabrics, and so much more. Our efforts at Shreni Samudaya are to bring to you this art from its most authentic roots - from weavers and artisans in Kappaldoddi, Andhra Pradesh.

To support our efforts and take a slice of India’s rich textile history for yourself, click here to shop.

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