Translated from Kalamkari
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Clad in a plain green Kota sari with a hand-painted crepe pallu that depicted scenes from a farmer's life, Mamta Reddy stood out amid the young college students around her. Giving her company at the Talent Box section of the recently-concluded Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) was Nagmani Tumuru, dressed in an elegant salwar kameez with an image of Lord Krishna painted on it. Seated on the floor with a piece of cotton yardage in her hand, this Kalamkari artisan was sketching an elaborate design on it. Alongside, Reddy, a Hyderabad-based textile designer, explained the process of creating Kalamkari at the workshop conducted to create awareness about the art. "Kalamkari means the craft of the pen (kalam). A form of hand-painting used to create temple art, it is native to Andhra Pradesh and uses vegetable dyes on hand-woven fabric," she explained.
Reddy's love affair with Kalamkari spans over two decades. "I was a young Mathematics graduate back in the '80s when I was struck by the beauty of this art form at an exhibition. But it was shocking to see that the counter with these exquisite Kalamkari wall-hangings was not making any sales," recollects the 46-year-old.
What makes Kalamkari unique is the complex process of creating it, which involves 23 steps in all. "The first stage is removal of starch, after which the cloth is dipped in a solution of cow milk and karakai (a variety of fruit) powder. Then the artisan draws a sketch on the dried cloth using a tamarind twig, followed by the black outlining that is done with kasimikaram, which is a blend of iron rust and jaggery left to ferment for 24 days. The vegetable dyes are then used to fill in the colour and the cloth is treated with hot and cold water at the subsequent stages," explains Reddy.