Kalamkari: The Soul of Andhra Pradesh

By Krishnan

Kalamkari is an ancient form of hand painting on canvas, cotton, or silk fabric with a tamarind or bamboo pen and natural dyes. Kalamkari is derived from a Persian word in which “kalam” means “pen” and “kari” means “craftsmanship.” Flowers, peacocks, paisleys, and divine characters from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are among the motifs drawn in this ancient art of Kalamkari. Kalamkari arose from the art of storytelling.


This art form originated in the modern-day states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The first practitioners of Kalamkari are thought to be the Chitrakars, musicians and painters who travelled from village to village to share Hindu mythology with the villagers. To demonstrate their claims, they used giant canvas bolts and painted on the spot with simple means and dyes extracted from plant-based dyes.

Then, on the temple grounds, many Hindu temples began to have large panels with kalamkari work depicting episodes from great Indian mythology. The Islamic culture took a larger synthesis of this art form, and their inherent love for natural motifs surfaced in the Kalamkari fabrics of the time. The lotus, palm, mango, peacock, and elephant motifs were intertwined and blended in their design.

This art gained recognition during the Mughal era, and the Mughal rulers of the Coromandel and Golconda Provinces referred to the skilled craftsmen of this art as “Qualamkars”, from which the term “Kalamkari” originated.

Making of Kalamkari

The process of making Kalamkari fabric involves 23 steps. Before commencing, the artist gathers the following raw materials: cotton cloth, dried unripe fruit, and milk to make the “mordant,” charcoal sticks, black kasimi liquid, alum solution, and natural pigments in red, indigo, and yellow. The steps for creating Kalamkari are:-

  • The first step is to prepare the cotton to absorb dyes by washing it to remove starch, sun-drying it completely, and treating it as a fixative with the mordant.
  • The artist then draws the central figure with charcoal sticks and outlines it with a finely pointed kalam dipped in kasimi liquid. The kalam is wrapped in wool, which holds the liquid, so the artist squeezes this wool while painting to release the ink.
  • After the black outline has dried, the artist can apply a mordant with alum and begin introducing red colour to the cloth.
  • After a few more repeats of washing and drying, the final steps are applying indigo and then yellow dyes to colour the scene. To produce orange, yellow dye is applied to red areas, and for green, indigo is applied to yellow areas.

Types of Kalamkari

Kalamkari is classified into two types: Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam. Kalamkari designs in the Machilipatnam style are generally printed by hand with hand-carved blocks with intricate details. The Srikalahasti style, on the other hand, includes Kalamkari designs inspired by Hindu mythology that depict scenes from the epics.

Kalamkari designs have also emerged, depending on the states where they are made. Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh are two prominent states that practice two distinct types of Kalamkari designs. Andhra Pradesh draws inspiration for its Kalamkari designs from forts, palaces, and temples, as well as animal and bird motifs, whereas Gujarat draws inspiration for its Kalamkari designs from mythological characters.

Current Status of Kalamkari

Andhra Pradesh is currently the largest producer of Kalamkari fabric. Kalamkari is a complicated art form that requires a time-consuming technique to create; as a result, the art of Kalamkari was losing its shine. Kalamkari art was on the verge of extinction with the introduction of high-quality machine looms and the involvement of printed textiles.

However, printed Kalamkari is a new craze among today’s generation because it incorporates traditional and modern trends. The fashion industry banded together to help artisans in Andhra Pradesh resurrect this art form. Kalamkari sarees, kalamkari dresses, and kalamkari blouses are extremely popular.

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