The Magical Painters

Story telling has taken on many platforms and the scrolls are a great place.

From the middle east with the Arabs, came the “Kari” or the art of the “qalam” that is the pen, so qalamkari or “Kalamkari” found a new home in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh.

Silk or cotton fabric is treated with Buffalo milk, then natural dyes are used to create and fill the images. The Srikalahasta school of Kalamkari is more of religious scrolls and every image is hand printed, while the Masulipattanam school uses block printing.

kalamkari 2
various dyes used in Kalamkari

The qalam or the pen used is made of bamboo or date palm sticks.

Art form came to India in 10 century CE, and was patronized by the Moghal and the kings of Golconda.

The fabric, the dyes are all natural.

The current Telangana government in a bid to preserve it, support the Kalamkari artists, it was wonderful to see youngsters, totally immersed in the learning this art at the Hyderabad literary festival. For them it was a connect with their roots it gave them a sense of belonging and pride.

The Shrikalahasta school was used create scrolls that visually narrated the various rendering from the folklore, while the Masulipattanam school caters more to the Islamic taste of its patron kings. The Karrapur style developed when the Marathas took it Thanjavur

kalamkari 1
various dyes used in kalamkari

These artists were Jadupatuas, or Duari Patuatas, the magical painters, the British carried it with them and it morphed to chintz and for the Dutch it was sitz and for the Portuguese it is “Pintado”


Bright colours, punched out white dots that resemble a rhombus, some mirror work, some embroidery, the magic of Bhuj, the Bandhini.

When we went to Jamnagar, I was looking for the Kutch work, when our friend told us, that it is the Bandhini that you have to pick here more the Kutch work or the bead work. Well to be frank I would have still loved the bead work and I plan to go some day to pick it up the bead work.

However when I looked at those fabric a faint images of a friends garage, four preteen kids huddled trying out fabric colours, they were fads then, we had traced out some patterns though I cannot remember what, piercing a pencil securing the fabric with rubber bands, in a bucket we had poured in the dye, and I think immersed this fabric and totally forgot about it,

It is only now I recognize what we were trying our hand at, we were trying out Bandhini, a type of tie dye textile, decorated by plucking the cloth with fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design … this very apt definition is from Google and not mine.

However the tern Bandhini has its root in the Sanskrit word Banda or tie. Another very similar fabric art is the chungdi from Madurai, that’s for another day.

I was told by my guide, that the earliest evidence of Bandhini was in the Indus valley civilization, and dyeing was done even during the Indus valley days, there are 6th century painting depicting the cotton fabrics that were there. BanaBhatta’s Harshacharita talks of Bandhini being used in a royal wedding, and the paintings on the Ajanta walls holds evidence that Bandhini sari’s were considered auspicious.

Africa and south East Asia shows evidence of various natural dyes and manmade dyes being used. The Bandhini technique which is popularly called tie and dye was well developed in the china in 618-906 AD and Japan in the 552-794 AD

In India, the Khatri community started the Bandhini technique. They create turban fabric and shawls known as odni’s, the way the turban is draped and pattern on the fabric helps to identify which community the person belongs to.

My own commitment to my home looms, tell, me each and every piece of cloth embodies the spirit skill and personal history of an individual weaver…. it ties together with an endless thread the emotional life of the weaver, then comes the artisan with brush and dye, who adds the critical magic.

Bandhini Fabric with embroidary

For the followers of the loom I found this very interesting link …


International Day for Handloom,

udupi kaimagga
udupi kaimagga

Prime Minister Modi has declared 7th August as the international day of Handloom Sounds bombastic we could have begun with a simple national dedication. But of course no harm in thinking big.

Coming from Udupi and being an ardent fan of our weaving there is lot of anguish that is there.

Handloom jeans seem an interesting option. Denims made from handlooms have all the potential application on par with the mill made denims.

The biggest challenge is dealing with myths that revolve round sustainable clothing choices.  The major one being the expense, the fact that these are not mass produced but are custom products makes it expensive. The product benefits the environment and living being, it neither drains the resources nor pollutes it. Since the process is manual, the weaver weaves about 3-5 meters of denim fabric per day when compared to the 500 meters produced by the mass product.

Customers opting for sustainable clothing makes handloom denim hopeful.

How far International day dedication  is effective well I do not know, but if this means we can  infuse some life into a means of livelihood that is fast dying so be it.

I am not looking into the cause but the effect of whatever it is in the faulty education system we fashion designers and textile engineers but our looms are silent. Despite efforts by the NGO’s and few existing weavers association there is a dearth of weavers.

The focus on Khadi is there every Oct.2nd to January 26th. A lone Padmini Kolhapure trying to revive paithani is not sufficient; of course she had done yeoman service to the Paithani weavers of Aurangabad.

Of course weaving and handloom is skilled work, we are talking artists here. Yet the end buyer always has this impression that handloom ought to be the lowest end of the fabric chain.

Secundrabad has an organization called the sacred spaces who are trying to revive the handlooms and other home industry.

Flipkart tried to go support the Prime minister’s declaration with a day’s discount on Handloom, well Flipkart you could have extended till at least August 15th.