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Design

Sayali Goyal of Cocoa and Jasmine gives us an insight into the lives of Gujarat’s Kalamkari craftspeople

JAN 24, 2020 | By Sayali Goyal
Tools for the traditional craft
Stretches of painted fabric laid out
Local artisans sketching patterns onto the fabric
A typical Kalamkari design
Black and red are predominantly seen hues in this craft
The raw materials for dyes
Boiling and rinsing of the textiles

Just 10 minutes from the heart of Ahmedabad, Kiritbhai resides in a humble village that’s preserving the 800 year old Mata ni Pachedi, the craft popularly known as Kalamkari. The artform first emerged when the Vaghri hunter community—excluded from the social system and prevented from entering temples—began painting the goddesses on a sacred cloth and hung it behind temples to worship. Through these hand painted drawings, the commune explored narratives from Hindu mythology and Indian folklore.

Kiritbhai belongs to the ninth generation of the artisanal family Chitara from the Vaghri community. His family of 20 artists draw daily, creating works that are commissioned by private collectors, galleries and even, craft organisations. Some of these pieces take weeks and months to complete and may not always fetch a fair price after production. Kiritbhai explains that the demand of the fast paced market has seduced many artists away from hand painting and natural dyes. Several opt for chemical colours and pre-carved blocks to make similar drawings. Yet despite competition from these cheaper and more convenient adaptations, Kiritbhai’s family chooses to remain loyal to traditional ways.

The family’s alfresco workshop features symbols of faith on pink choona walls. Layers of white fabric are laid on a bed to be painted on. Natural dyes of mustards and reds against brick walls lend this space warmth. The artworks that lay around are mesmerising and one particular piece stands out—a wedding scene of dieties Shiva and Parvati, which uses indigo in an ocean of reds and blacks. Kiritbhai explains that the vibrant red and black are quintessential to Mata ni Pachedi.

A local artisan drawing the design with a kalam
An artist holds a kalam or bamboo stick dipped in alum and mador for scarlet and begins to draw a mythical scene from Mahabharata, and mini motifs are added along any blank space. The kalam, like pens from quill pens, need to be dipped in ink and refilled from time to time. Once ready, the fabric is boiled in water with mordants to realise true colours i.e. when black turns red. Over a cup of tea, Kiritbhai talks about his eagerness to work with traditional methods and innovate them into wearable art, a thought fuelled by his aspirations for appreciation, recognition and remuneration. He’s worked on a project to create a kimono with this technique and also received commissions to make scarves for a museum. He wants more spaces like this to open up and revitalise this craft that he holds so dear.
Mata ni Pachedi