Chemical dyes might come in zillion sophisticated formulations. But you can’t match the depth and uniqueness of colours derived from nature.
Mrs. Rukmini Devi Arundale started the Natural dyeing unit of Kalakshetra in 1970, and the person she chose to head it was Mrs. Shakunthala Ramani. I had an opportunity to interview Late Mrs. Ramani two years back and she enthusiastically showed her books on Kolam, and spoke a lot about her hobby, batik painting.
The Kalamkari unit of Kalakshetra was established in April 1978 with the sponsorship of Crafts Council of India and a small grant of Rs.50000/- from the social welfare board, to provide employment to women.
Mrs. Shakunthala had trained Mr. Prabhakar, who heads the pen kalamkari unit currently. Mr. Dakshinamurthy who heads the block printing department is a store house of information on natural dyeing and printing.
Here’s a video of an interview with Mr. Dakshinamurthy, on what differentiates a Kalakshetra Kalamkari as against the rest!
I have summarised the key points here:
- No figures of Gods and goddesses in sarees or dresses – only floral or other prints are used
- Gods/Goddess, mythological stories only for panels
- 100% natural dyes
- The block printing follows the Machilipatnam style and the pen kalamkari follows the Sri kalahasti style
- While the original machilipatnam style uses dark colors for background, Kalakshetra sticks MOSTLY to beige background
- The key colors used are maroon and black on the foreground