Published On:21 January 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Kalamkari losing Islamic thread

By Syed Mohammed

Hyderabad: Little known to many, behind the fine art of Kalamkari is a story of survival of the fittest. Of the two distinct gharanas from where the art originated, one has flourished while the other is on the threshold of fading into oblivion.

The 3000-year-old traditional craft of Andhra Pradesh, the Qualam-kari (qalam meaning pen and kari, work) originated from Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam. The Srikalahasti style, drawing inspiration from temples and Hindu mythologies, involves graphics using the pen alone. The second has a distinct Islamic influence, what with the Qutub Shahi rulers being behind developing the style. The Islamic form involves work with the pen as well as engraved wooded blocks.

Today, while Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari has flourished with the villages developed into an artisan's hub, the Machilipatnam tradition lags behind and the future of this Islamic style of the art, needless to say, looks grim.

Explaining the Islamic influence on the art, Salma Farooqi, associate professor of History, Manuu, says, "Qutub Shahi rulers were formative in establishing a strong trade relationship with the Persian Safavid empire which was particularly interested in acquiring Kalamkari textiles. Mughals followed suit and patronized the craft in the Golconda province. With the import of the Dutch and the British, the art flourished and evolved according to their taste, and Machilipatnam, being a port town, played a major role in its trade and export." This style of Kalamkari was majorly used in prayer mats, canopies, door covers, long skirts, and cloth belts, all of them majorly produced for the Middle Eastern market. The primary motifs were floral butas, mihrab of the mosques, the famed tree of life (cypress tree) and animals mentioned in the Quran and in Sufi writings.

"While Kalamkari is a major hit with the foreign tourists in India, the styles have evolved with time," says Laxmi Devi Raj, an art activist who works out of Machilipatnam. However, the Islamic Machilipatnam style is much less organized when compared to the Srikalahasti market, agrees Salma Farooqi. "There are social reasons associated with this. 

Machilipatnam style had the patronage of the Islamic rulers and catered to a particular religious taste. With the decline of the Muslim rule in Andhra Pradesh, their market is dying out and so the artisans, whose only source of income has been the Qalam over generations, have moved on with the changing taste of the market," observes Farooqi. Another reason for the decline is the rising prices of the Rajahmundry 'betills', 'salempores' bordered stout calico, which were the specific textile used for Kalamkari work in this region, feels Farooqi.

In Srikalahasti, the picture was the same till Dwaraka, a socio-economic empowerment programme, was born to save the dying art a few years ago. Dwarakanath Reddy and the Ramanarpanam Trust supported a programme in which the entire village could learn to develop a sustainable market. The village has worked to develop an entirely new and exclusive dimension to Kalamkari by designing a comprehensive product range that caters to the needs of a global market. Not only so, they now even have a website, where anyone can choose to interact with the artisans in person. "It would be great if something on the similar lines can be done in Machilipatnam. The basic problem lies in the fact that what was once a major international trading port has now been reduced to a fishing village. Maybe, the government and more number of NGOs should come and explore these territories," feels Salma Farooqi.

(Courtesy: The Times of India)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on January 21, 2012. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on January 21, 2012. Filed under , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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