Kalagas - Burmese Bead Embroidered Tapestries
Kalaga - Burmese embroidered tapestry
Every item in my home has a story behind it. One of my most treasured items is a Burmese kalaga which is the traditional name for an embroidered tapestry from Myanmar (Burma). This style comes from the Mandalay region and the tradition goes back more than a century.
Kalagas are generally made from linen, silk, velvet and cotton embellished with sequins, embroidery, beads, pearls. Depending on the intricacy of the design and size of the tapestry, this piece of art can take several weeks to make. A kalaga is truly a unique wall art that I proudly display in my home.
What is a kalaga?
Kalaga is the traditional name for embroidered tapestries done entirely by hand from Myanmar (Burma). The ancient kalagas were made for the royal palaces. These are intricately embroidered using sequins, beads, colored stones, small pearls, coral, braids, metallic threads on linen, velvet, silk or cotton. Gold and silver threads, called "shwe-chi-doe" in Burmese were attached to the backing of a cloth and decorated with beads. Items made using the "shwe-chi-doe" method were and still are rare because they were made from real gold and jewels, making them prohibitively expensive for the common person or every day use.
Most Kalagas are best hung in a frame but not under glass so that the detail and texture can be fully appreciated. They can also be hung as-is without a frame.These are scenes from the ancient epic Hindu poem, the Ramayana, or from Buddhist mythology. Every bit of the finished piece is covered so you can imagine that a large piece could take months to complete!
Origin of kalagas in Mandalay royal palaces - Depicted historical scenes
Kalagas were first developed in the Mandalay royal court and they reflected the designs found at that time in the palaces and in the pagodas. These quickly became popular not just as wall hangings but as curtains, room partitions and even coffin covers!! The designs used are inspired from very old stories which gives them an antique look. Kalagas commonly depict stories from the Jataka (Buddha's journey towards enlightenment) and the Ramayana (Hindu epic Journey of King Rama) as well as historical scenes, lucky animals and signs of the zodiac. Like the decorations you might see in an ornate Burmese temple, Kalagas are awash in colorful and shiny details.
Weaving a kalaga tapestry - Attention to detail and lots of patience
Kalagas originated in Burma (Myanmar) many centuries ago. Cloth is stretched over a frame and then beautiful heavy metallic thread is sewn into place by hand. Sometimes padding and sequins are added to give a three dimensional effect. A kalaga begins by stretching a backing onto a frame and attaching it.
The figures are decorated and then attached to the backing. The figures are raised by stuffing them with cotton or a similar material, giving them a quilted quality and a 3-dimensional effect.
Finishing a kalaga tapestry
The last step in making the kalaga is to fill in the background. Kalagas are famous for having backgrounds crafted in beautiful swirled patterns of sequins.
Check this out
The Making of Kalaga Tapestry--step-by-step/
Handbeaded kalagas from Thailand - Affordable works of art for your home, office or give it as a present.
No two kalagas are ever alike. Each one is as unique as the artisan who created it.
Our family's lucky elephant kalaga
The most popular stories illustrated on kalagas have some sort of religious significance. One popular theme is astrology; another is auspicious animals. Elephants, especially white elephants are common. You will also find the Burmese symbol for purity and good character, the hintha (often confused with a duck), depicted. Another popular animal is the peacock, which is a symbol of beauty and also represents the sun.
This is a large 4' x 4' kalaga hanging on the wall of my home. I sewed a pocket behind the tapestry so a rod can be inserted in it. This will make it easy to display the kalaga as a wall hanging. It is intricatedly embroidered with colored beads, pearls, sequins and silk and gold thread.
The elephant, one of my favorite lucky symbols for the home, graces the center of the kalaga. It is covered with sequins; its saddle and collar adorned with green beads and white pearls encircle its legs and the crown of its head. The most important feature of the elephant is that it has its trunk up! This is believed to be a lucky symbol.
The symbols of the Burmese Zodiac are similar to those used in Western Astrology.This piece features one elephant surrounded by the 12 zodiac signs. I attempted to match the embroidered figures on the kalaga with the corresponding Zodiac signs to the best of my ability.The goat (Capricorn) appeared to be missing and instead a dragon-like figure was in its place. This interpretation or misinterpretation of the Zodiac signs add character to the piece since no two kalagas are alike.