After negotiating an obstacle course of dusty sidestreets, stray dogs and wide eyed children, we eventually turn up a narrow laneway, cross some worn, cobbled steps, and arrive at the home of Chandrakaht, one of Ahmedabad’s most renowned kalamkari artists.
He is expecting us, and is busy working in his front room as we arrive. His family is with him, helping him by handing him tins of dye and bamboo pens. He is in the early stage of a large mata ni pachedi (or temple cloth) and is drawing the intricate background pattern with a thin, pointed bamboo stick.
Kalamkari is the technique used to create these exquisite mata ni pachedis textiles – kalam meaning ‘pen’ and kari meaning ‘work’ or ‘craftsmanship’. To start the piece, the cotton fabric is soaked in a myrobelum solution which has the effect of making the natural dyes used colour fast and permanent. It is then stretched out and dried and the artist begins the painstaking work using bamboo sticks dipped into the dye solutions. The paintings, although following certain visual themes, are all hand drawn.
The dyes used to colour the kalamkaris are all natural - they are extracted from the roots and leaves of plants along with minerals including iron, tin, copper and alum which also serve as fixatives.
Mata ni Pachedi are produced as temple offerings to honour Shakti, the Mother Goddess. They are traditionally produced by artisans of the Vaghari community who developed the art form 300 years ago. The exquisite and detailed imagery typically displays the Mother Goddess as a central, dominating figure, usually seated or standing on a throne or animal, brandishing a weapon to ward off evil spirits or demons. Around her appear detailed scenes of every day Hindi life, such as cooking and preparing food, collecting water from a well, praying and celebrating.