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What is Kalamkari Painting?

The word Kalamkari is derived from two Indian words "Kalam" meaning pen and "Kari" meaning craftsmanship.

The origin of Kalamkari can be traced back to the 17th century in the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana regions of Southern India. However, the Kalamkari style was also prevalent in Odisha the northern state of Andhra Pradesh.

A similar style of painting known as Patachitra was prevalent in the eastern coastal states of Odisha and West Bengal. The meaning of Patachitra is derived from the word "Pata" meaning a surface and "Chitra" meaning picture.

The artists of these Patachitra are known as Chitrakars or painters.

Types of Kalamkari Art.

Kalamkari paintings are of two types. They are named Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam style.

The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari, where the "kalam" or pen is used for freehand drawing of the subject and filling in the colors, is entirely hand worked. This style flourished in temples centered on creating unique religious identities, appearing on scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners as well as depictions of deities and scenes taken from Indian epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, etc.

The Machilipatnam style is basically block printing on clothes.

Shiva and Parvati- A Kalamkari painting.

Evolution of Kalamkari Art

Musicians and painters, known as chitrakars, moved from village to village to tell the dwellers the stories of Indian mythology. They illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with simple means and dyes extracted from plants.

Similarly, the ones found in Indian temples are large panels of Kalamkari depicting the episodes of Indian mythology.

As an art form, Kalamkari art reached its peak in the Golconda Sultanate, Hyderabad, in the Middle Ages.

The Mughals who patronized this craft in the Coromandel and Golconda provinces called the practitioners of this craft "Qualamkars", from which the term "Kalamkari" evolved. Owing to the said patronage, this school was influenced by Persian art. Some historians claim the roots of this art form are from Isfahan or Persia.

Kalamkari art has been practiced by many families in Andhra Pradesh, and in some villages in Tamil Nadu by migrants from Telugu-speaking families over the generations have constituted their livelihood.

Kalamkari had a period of decline, then was revived in India and abroad for its craftsmanship. Since the 18th century, the British have enjoyed the decorative element for clothing.

The Process of painting.

The process of creating a Kalamkari painting is as elaborate and contains detailed designs.  It is believed that it comprises up to 23 detailed steps.

Before beginning, the artist assembles the following raw materials: cotton cloth, dried unripe fruit, and milk to make the "mordant," (a form of fixative), charcoal sticks, black kasimi liquid, alum solution, and natural pigments in red, indigo and yellow.

The process of Kalamkari paintings is: 

  •  The first step is preparing the cotton to absorb dyes by washing it to remove starch, sun-drying it fully, and treating it with the mordant as a fixative.
  • The artist then sketches the central figure with charcoal sticks and traces over this outline with a finely pointed kalam dipped in the kasimi liquid. The kalam is wrapped in wool that holds the liquid, so the artist squeezes this wool to release the ink while painting.
  • After the black outline has dried, the artist applies a mordant with alum and begins introducing red color to the cloth.   
  • After a few more repeats of washing and drying, the final steps are applying indigo and then yellow dyes to color the scene. To produce orange, yellow dye is applied to red areas, and for green, indigo is applied to yellow areas.
  • This procedure takes several days as the cloth and ink must fully dry between each step. The final colors are strong and exquisite, and the images are captivating in their depth and complexity. 

Ganesha- A Kalamkari Painting


Where does Kalamkari art stand in the present day?

 In the present day, Kalamkari art is recognised by the connoisseurs of art.

Indian draping material saree painted in Kalamkari style is very popular amongst Indian women. Dress materials are also produced with the Kalamkari art style.

The dyes used are from natural sources thus the finished products are mellow and the bright colours do not look gaudy.

Kalamkari paintings are used for home decor and wall hangings. These paintings are done on different surfaces in the present day.

I have painted a few paintings based on the inspirations of the Kalamkari style of painting. The Hand-painted versions and the print versions of these paintings are available for sale. Please check the links below:   

*Radha Krishna 1

*Radha Krishna 2