ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Drying Ink

The internationally acclaimed traditional art form of kalamkari fabric design and production is in danger of extinction.

It is a hot afternoon in March when four of us from the School of Planning and Architecture, Vijayawada, decide to tour Machlipatnam and Pedana in Andhra Pradesh to understand the nuances of the production of kalamkari fabric—a type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile—and the artisans behind it. We visit Sajja Nageswara Rao, the secretary of the kalamkari producers’ association in Pedana, to learn the intricacies of the art at his residence-cum-kalamkari production centre. Clad in a white dhoti and shirt and smiling through paan-stained teeth, Rao seats us on his patio beside a mango and a neem tree. He appears to be an experienced man in his late 60s. As we talk, he serves us hot lemon tea.

Rao tells us that the art form dates to the 15th century when ayurvedic and medicinal plants were used to dye and print fabrics. He says the production process remains the same to this day, based on natural dyes obtained from the forests of Krishna District. Except for indigo, which is synthetic, all the other dye colours are ayurvedic. The ecologically-friendly nature of the art is what attracts domestic and foreign consumers alike. In European and American markets the demand for shades of blue, pink and green fabric is greater.

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