Kalamkari – A traditional Indian Art


Making your clothes talk a story for you, Kalamkari was introduced centuries ago were folk singers and painters used to wander from one village to another, narrating stories of Hindu mythology to the village people , and as the time passed and era’s changed, the process of telling tales transformed into canvas painting and that’s when Kalamkari art form saw its light of the day. This colourful art is still practiced in many families in Andnra Pradesh, India and this has served as the prime livelihood for them, over the generations . Now let’s get into the history of Kalamkari.

Beautiful Actresses in Kalamkari Sarees

History of Kalamkari

Dating back to more than 3000B.C. according to history this specific artform has been in practice for thousands of years . But, it was during the Mughal era where this style of painting got recognition. Under the medieval Islamic rule, the term Kalamkari is a Persian name were the word “Kalam” means Pen and “Kari” means Craftsmanship meaning drawing with pen. Mughals promoted this skillful art in Golconda and Coronadel province were proficient artficers known as “Qualamkars” used to practice this art that’s how the word Kalamkari evolved.

Making of Kalamkari

Kalamkari is a type of hand printed cotton textile. It refers to the ancient style of hand painting that is done with a Tamarind pen, using natural dyes. Motifs drawn in this ancient art of Kalamkari, include Flowers, Peacock, Paisley and also divine characters from Ramayana and Mahabharata. As it is famously said , kalamkari is born out of an art of story telling. This art is primarily used to make Sarees. Its the very detailed and complicated painting that results in beautiful and elegant designs. The colours and designs are very vibrant and bright. Designs are generally drawn using the tamarind pen with free hand and further the filling is also completely done with hand . What an inspiration to the younger generation were everything depends on technologies now, whereas the olden days were all about Craftsmanship. Kalamkari is famous for its earthy undertones like mustard, indigo, rust, green and black. The actual process of making a Kalamkari saree involved 23 steps. Bleaching the fabric , softening, drying in under the sun, preparing the natural dyes, air drying and then washing. As it is a long and sterdy process you require an eye for detailing. Generally cotton fabric is used to print the design but nowadays silk fabric is also been used.

Definitely a non-vegetarian art form, Kalamkari fabric is first treated with a solution of cow dung and bleach. After keeping the fabric in this solution, it gets a uniform off-white color. To avoid smudging of dyes on the Kalamkari fabric, it is also dipped in a mixture of buffalo milk and mylobalans. Kalamkari fabric is then washed twenty times and sun dried. After this, the fabric is ready for printing. Kalamkari designs are then painted on the fabric, by hand. Kalamkari fabrics include minute details and it is painted using natural dyes, a special quality of this beautiful art form.

Exploring the Mystical Art of Kalamkari

Types of Kalamkari Designs

There are two identifiable types of Kalamkari:

Srikalahasti kalamkari

Kalamkari designs inspired from Hindu mythology, that describe the scenes from the epics are basic style of srikalahasti kalamkari.

Kalhasti Kalamkari Fabrics

Machilipatnam Kalamkari

Pedana kalamkari designs are vegetable dyed hand block painting with intricate details, printed by hand.

Pedana Kalamkari saree

Designs based on States

Kalamkari designs are also emerged, based on the states where it is created. Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh are two prime states where two different types of Kalamkari designs are practiced.

Andhra Pradesh

Kalamkari design inspiration from forts, palaces and temples, along with animal and bird motifs are key characteristics of kalamkari design in Andhra Pradesh.

Andhra Pradesh Fort Kalamkari block


Kalamkari design inspired from mythological characters are the key characteristics of Kalamkari craft in the state of Gujarat.

Patron Goddess of Transgender and Women Depicted through Kalamkari painting

Present Day Scenario

After being world famous, the artisans modernized Kalamkari designs and came up with new ideas and themes. These artisans came up with innovative ideas highly influenced by Persian motifs. As we mentioned earlier on another blog about Jamdhani, the kalamkari craft and trade also found its downfall amidst the growing hunger and innovations on new designs and technologically new art forms . But it is truly the fashion designers of the country who bought back this ancient art form back to its life in recent years. Especially creative minds like Gaurang Shah beautifully portrayed Kalamkari sarees on the fashion runways which brought back this immortal art back in the limelight. Now, in recent days this art has become famous amongst youngsters for its elegant earthy shades and vibrant prints and designs and the comfortable cotton material on which the designs are printed on.

Late Actress Sridevi in a Sabyasachi Mukherjee Kalamkari Saree

Television Actress Ratchitha in Kalamkari Cotton Saree

Kalamkari and it’s other uses

The initial form of Kalamkari is widespread through its painting. Kalamkari paintings are still widespread accross India and around the world. Kalamkari bedsheets are as famous as Kalamkari sarees. Made in the comfortable cotton fabric the subtle prints and vibrant shades are liked by many people to decorate their bedroom. Kalamkari dresses and Dupattas are also in current trend. Youngsters of the current generations prefer easy and comfortable wear, Kalamkari cotton dresses and salwar suits with Kalamkari Dupattas are worn by many. So it is safe to say that this ancient art form have a long life ahead paving a good life for kalamkari artisans families.

Kalamkari Wall Paint

Kalamkari cotton bedsheet

Actress Manjima Mohan wearing a red suit with Kalamkari Dupatta

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