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About Exquisite Kalamkari

Kalamkari is an exquisite ancient textile art form that involves hand drawing or block printing fabrics with the traditional use of natural vegetable dyes. Though an item of Kalamkari may be hand block printed rather than hand drawn, artisans will still employ the use of a pen to create the finer details of the overall design.

A traditional Kalamkari depicting Ravana, the Demon
A traditional Kalamkari depicting Ravana, the Demon

The word ‘Kalamkari’ is derived from the Persian words ‘ghalam’, which translates as ‘pen’, and ‘kari’, which translates as ‘craftsmanship’ or ‘work’. As with many other traditional Indian textile arts, the intricate techniques of Kalamkari have been passed down from one generation to the next for over 3000 years. Kalamkari was born in ancient times as a means of transcribing Hindu mythology.

Kalamkari with several traditional motifs  Floral motifs in Kalamkari
L: Kalamkari with several traditional motifs
R: Floral motifs in Kalamkari

From the 16th century, Mughal rulers were patrons of the textile art form. During this time, Kalamkari was also considered a sign of opulence, donned by the wealthy throughout the Golconda Sultanate. Just as it was in earlier times, Kalamkari continues to be produced in Andhra Pradesh in the ancient city of Machilipatnam, situated in the Krishan district and previously known as Masulipatnam during the British Raj.  The ancient town of Srikalahasti, situated in the Chittoor district, is another production hub. For a short period of time, Kalamkari was in decline. However, the ancient textile art was revived in the 18th century with the arrival of the British, who found the textile art’s craftsmanship to be most exquisite.

Temple of a Goddess  An intricate design using the Kalam
L: Temple of a Goddess
R: An intricate design using the Kalam

The creation of a Kalamkari product is a time consuming, meticulous process wherein the fabric can undergo up to 20 washing processes before all dyes are applied to complete the design. Needless to say, Kalamkari’s outstanding characteristic is the fine details and colours of its intricate hand drawn pen work.

An intricate floral motif
An intricate floral motif

Colours in Kalamkari are few, however, the variety of shading contributes to the art form’s entrancing style. Kalamkari designs now feature across a huge array of contemporary items, including mobile phone cases and coasters.

Block printed Kalamkari
Block printed Kalamkari


Images: D'Source, India Netzone, Deccan Herald