Indian Paintings: The Story of Kalamakari
Kalamkari, sometimes spelt kalamakari, craft is a very old tradition. Indian paintings are often localised in their origins: the kalamkari tradition is centered around Andhra Pradesh in South India. In earlier times groups of singers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis, moved from village to village to tell the villagers the great stories of Hindu mythology. To turn their storytelling into theatre they illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted with dyes extracted from plants. These Indian paintings are called kalamkaris. Kalam means pen and kari translates as drawing. There is another type of kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh which uses the same dyes but instead uses printing blocks to create the pattern.
The cotton fabric gets its glossiness by immersion in a mixture of myrabalam and cow milk. Outlines are then drawn with a bamboo pen soaked in a mixture of fermented jaggery and water. The different colours, made from vegetable dyes are then applied. The kalamkari is washed after each application of colour so each fabric can undergo up to 20 washings.
Kalamkaris tell all the classic Hindu stories and feature the great Hindu gods such as Hanuman, Ganesh and Lakshmi. The goddess Lakshmi brings Good Luck to Hindus. The word ‘Lakshmi’ is derived from the Sanskrit word “Laksya”, meaning ‘aim’ or ‘goal’, and she is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, both material and spiritual. Lakshmi is the household goddess of most Hindu families, and a favorite of women. Lakshmi is depicted as a beautiful woman of golden complexion, with four hands, sitting or standing on a full-bloomed lotus and holding a lotus bud, a symbol of beauty, purity and fertility. Her four hands represent the four ends of human life: dharma or righteousness, “kama” or desires, “artha” or wealth, and “moksha” or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The images below show Lakshmi and Hanuman.
Cascades of gold coins may be seen flowing from Lakshmi’s hands, suggesting that those who worship her gain wealth. She always wears gold embroidered red clothes. Red symbolizes activity and the golden lining indicates prosperity.