Kalamkari art makes a visual feast
Jonnalagadda family of Srikalahasti pursued the complex form of Kalamkari art across four generations and won accolades. The fourth generation artist Niranjan’s propagating it further with his modern approach across the country
The astonishing Kalamkari designs known for their beauty and quality are always a visual feast. The age-old culture has regained its lost glory during the past few decades with the dedicated hard work of the artisans in Srikalahasti. Kalamkari has been considered as a culture over the years as the colours and the peculiar designs forming a pattern with repeated designs on the fabric create an aura among everyone.
There are around 20 original Kalamkari artisans in Srikalahasti also called 'Dakshina Kasi' which is known for the art along with the famous wooden carvings. Upto another 500 artisans are there who are said to be Kalamkari artisans though they do not stick to its original traditions. The monthly turnover of the Kalamkari artisans would be around Rs.2 crores which only underlines the craze for these works across India and even in some other countries as well.
The credit of reviving the faded Kalamkari tradition undoubtedly goes to freedom fighter Kamaladevi Chatopadhyay who was the driving force behind the renaissance of handicrafts, handlooms etc., She visited Srikalahasti in 1957 and motivated a teacher Jonnalagadda Lakshmaiah who learnt the skill from his father earlier, to train others to bring light to the art again.
He trained a few others along with his son J Gurrappa Chetty who later won national award and also the recipient of Padma Shri in 2008 for his workmanship. The latest among the four generations of Jonnalagadda family is 54 year old Niranjan who propagated the ancient art with his dynamism and modern approach.
Niranjan's efforts have succeeded in making Kalamkari as a brand and the classic designs have won accolades across the country and even abroad. He has been getting a host of offers to showcase his talent. His works found place in the beautification of several public places including Tirupati and Delhi airports, Tirupati, Anantapur, Magnalagiri, Guntakal and Dharmavaram railway stations, Nagpur metro station to list a few. He has been associated with IIT Tirupati and has been supplying the Kalamkari designed folders to keep the certificates during the convocation, MoUs and other purposes. Niranjan obtained the 'Geographical Indication' tag for the art in 2006 itself.
Apart from various other awards, his 'Tree of Life' won a bronze award at the international contemporary craft competition held at China in 2014 in which 64 countries took part. He was awarded doctorate too from a University in Delhi in 2017. He is always engaged in the work, workshops and training programmes. Niranjan was invited to some of the Universities in UK, USA, Singapore and Taiwan etc., and given live demonstrations which in turn helps in the promotion of the art.
It takes more time and labour to follow the traditional Kalamkari motifs in which natural colours and vegetable dyes are used. Though several duplicates are coming up in the market which resembles the Kalamkari style, Niranjan's family stick to the original procedures which is earning fame for them. With several freebies coming to the doorstep of people, it has become difficult to find manpower to work with the art, he explained.
"It involves a lot of intricate work and a time consuming one. To make one piece it may take even 20 days as the process of preparing natural colours and the designing takes time. Still, my ambition is to revive Srikalahasti Kalamkari, to see that this art will flourish forever and that it will have a better chance of survival. If more artisans come together and follow the original traditions, we can make Srikalahasti once again an icon of Kalamkari art", said Niranjan with optimism.