Kutch art: Kalamkari & Warli painting



Besides embroidery and Ajrakh, there is a lesser known ancient art form called Kalamkari, which literally means ‘pen-worked’. The 23-step process is either hand-painted or block-printed onto a piece of cloth, and only natural dyes are used. The name Kalamkari is derived from the Persian words qalam (pen) and kari (craftmanship), meaning drawing with a pen.

The two types of Kalamkari are Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam. With Machilipatnam style, Kalamkari designs are printed by hand using hand carved blocks with intricate details. On the other hand, the Srikalahasti style involves hand-painting and often depicting scenes inspired from Hindu mythology. Kalamakari was born out of story-telling, and the motifs include flowers, peacock, paisleys as well as divine characters from Ramayana and Mahabharata.

We visited the home of a Kalamkari artist who lives with his family in a small Kutch village. He specialises in Srikalahasti Kalamkari, and his hand-painted works are extremely intricate and precise.


indian village life  Kalamkari

Indian ink painting

Indian ink painting

Indian ink painting


Usually, cotton fabric is used for Kalamkari; though silk fabric can also be used. The long process involves treating the fabric first with a solution of cow dung and bleach, and to avoid smudging, it is then dipped in a mixture of buffalo milk and mylobalans. Kalamkari fabric is then washed twenty times and sun-dried. After this, the fabric is ready for printing or painting. Kalamkari designs are usually drawn/outlined by hand using a bamboo pen and black ink, then filled in with natural dyes extracted from flowers and vegetables. Often these paintings depict religious myths and epics stories, so they would feature borders around them.




Indian ink painting


Interestly, the artist’s wife also paints, but she specialises in another ancient art form called Warli painting. This is a tribal art originated from the North Sahyadri Range in Maharashtra, India. This form of folk art uses geometric shapes such as circles, triangles and squares to form numerous shapes depicting life and beliefs of the Warli tribe. In the old days, Warli art was done on walls on special occasions. The painting would be done over a brown background using a mixture of mud and cow dung cakes. The white pigment is made from a mixture of rice, water and gum.

Since the Warli culture is centered around the concept of Mother Nature, so elements of nature are often focal points depicted in Warli painting. One of the most popular themes in Warli art is a spiral chain of humans around one central motif. This is in accordance with their belief that life is an eternal journey, and it has no beginning and end.

This was the first time that I encountered Warli painting, and it was love at first sight. I love the primitive style and simplicity. It also involves story-telling, but in a more back-to-basic style. After a bit of negotiation, I bought the painting for about USD70, which I thought was a bargain and I know I would not find it elsewhere. Everyone from my group congratulated me on this good buy and I left their home feeling happy. At the back of mind, I was also glad that I supported a local female artist, and I hope that she would continue creating these wonderful paintings in the future.


warli art

karli art



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