A sporadic group of artists from across the country have begun the revival of the beautiful ‘Kalamkari’ art form of Andhra Pradesh a style of hand-printed or block-printed textile whose fate looked grim till recently. One such revivalist is the renowned Kalamkari artist Jonnalagadda Gurappa Chetty from Chittoor district of Andhra. He is in Pune to hold a four-day workshop a time period he deeply laments. A few days or a few week is not enough to learn traditional arts. It takes at least 15 days to learn the Madhubani technique,and that is one of the easier crafts!
The word ‘Kalamkari’ literally comes from the Urdu word ‘kalam’,which means pen and ‘kari’,which means craftsmanship. Chetty learnt the art from his father,and feels a need to pass on his knowledge to the next generation. But what he struggles with is the frustration of being unable to do so. Traditional arts are not for beauty alone,they spread a sense of peace and enlightenment. Unfortunately,today everyone only thinks in dollars,pounds and dinars, he says. Kalamkari is not very easy to master – it involves 17 long steps,using a natural cloth,and treatments with milk,alum dissolved in water,sun treatment,sheep or cow dung,and constant washing under running water. For miniature works,that is,a cloth measuring half a metre each way,the time required is around 15 days, says Chetty,wryly.
Chetty acknowledges that the government is doing a lot for the promotion of traditional arts and culture,but believes more can be done. The government has drawn very good plans to save the arts,but unfortunately,these plans have not translated as well in action. The problem perhaps lies in the fact that they are promoting a few artists rather than the actual craftsmen who earn their living through the arts. The government is helping,but the funds are just not reaching the right people, he says. He puts away his reservations to let some hope show through. I am happy to get this opportunity to spread my knowledge about this art I am even willing to do so for free!