The term Kalamkari has a distinct vibe associated with it. Earlier, Kalamkari was regarded as a technique rather than a pattern. However, it now has the connotation of traditional motifs such as floral, geometric, or figurative. Though they share the same footing, Kalamkari of Kalahasti and Masulipatnam differ greatly in many ways.
Masulipatnam, a historic town in Andhra Pradesh is an important centre where the art of Kalamkari has been practiced since the pre-Christian era and is locally known as addakam. Since Masulipatnam has all the raw materials required, the industry flourished immensely. It is believed that the Buddhist sacred places were decorated with Kalamkari hangings and the Greeks under Alexander acquired these beautiful paintings.
Srikalahasti is a pilgrimage town in Andhra Pradesh, situated on the bank of river Swarnmukhi. Throughout the years, the Kalahasteeswara temple has been the major source of inspiration for artists. Initially, only decorative kalamkari hangings for temples were used. However, as the need for temple clothing dwindled, the artisans shifted their focus towards kalamkari drawings on clothes, cushion covers etc.
The kalamkari of Srikalahasti is inspired by religious beliefs. They portray the stories of our Puranas like Ramayanam and Mahabharatham. On the contrary, the kalamkari of Masulipatnam is based on more secular philosophy. The tree of life, flowers, birds, horses, peacocks, and mangoes are some of the outstanding designs from this beautiful town.
In a nutshell, Srikalahasti Kalamkari originated for religious purposes, whereas Masulipatnam Kalamkari developed from the necessity to trade with other nations.
The design process
Kalam and blocks: While Kalams are the pulse of artists from Kalahasti, blocks are the essence for the craftsmen of Masulipatnam. Though kalams are used in Masulipatnam as well, they are altogether different from the ones being used in Kalahasti.
Colour: In Kalahasti, the background colour is usually red or black, while in Masulipatnam, it is cream or white.
Dyeing: The black ink is called Kasam in both regions, although the process of preparation differs. In Kalahasti the dye is prepared from rust and is fermented in saltwater. In Masulipatnam, rust is fermented in a melange of sugarcane and palm jaggery. Similarly, while the method for the other colours is similar, the materials used are not.
Kalahasti does not necessitate the use of starch. The use of wax-resist is what sets these towns apart from each other. In Kalahasti, the dye is painted on the fabric directly. Whereas in Masulipatnam, the cloth is dyed with a certain colour, and a resist is given to maintain the colour from seeping into areas where it is not needed.
In Masulipatnam, the outline printing is done with black dye on wooden blocks. The colouring process begins once the outline is printed by blocks. In Kalahasti, on the other hand, the design is entirely dependent on the individual's abilities and creativity.
It's incredible that a 3000-year-old pen Kalamkari craft still exists, unaltered and magnificent in its simplicity. The skill has managed to keep its true identity and distinct character despite absorbing numerous influences such as screen printing. Whether hand-painted or block-printed, the historic designs and motifs of this craft have their own vocabulary.