India is a country of many art forms, so much so, that it becomes almost impossible to keep track of them all. However, the vivid and bold art of Kalamkari continues to be a popular one, thanks to the art meeting design in the form of Kalamkari sarees, rugs, hand towels, paintings, door covers, bed covers, dress material, etc. The art continues to remain a favorite with designers as they reinterpret to suit the contemporary fashion styles in Kalamkari ethnic wear and western silhouettes as well. Kalamkari with its gorgeous intricacy and detailing, the use of natural colors and patterns continues to entice classic and nouveau fashion lovers alike.


Kalamkari is originally an ancient style of hand painting done on canvas or cotton or silk fabric with a tamarind or bamboo pen, using natural dyes. The word Kalamkari is derived from a Persian word where ‘kalam‘ means pen and ‘kari‘ refers to craftsmanship. This art involves 23 intricate steps of dyeing, bleaching, hand painting, block-printing, starching, cleaning and more.  Kalamkari motifs can vary from flowers, peacock, paisleys to divine characters of Hindu epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kalamkari, in its recent applications, is seen depicting Buddha and Buddhist art forms.

Kalamkari art primarily uses earthy colors like indigo, mustard, rust, black and green. Natural dyes used to paint colors in Kalamkari art are extracted from natural sources with no use of chemicals and artificial matter. Natural dyes that are used as paint colors in Kalamkari are extracted by blending jaggery, iron fillings and water; and it's used for outlining sketches. Alum is additionally used for creating natural dyes for Kalamkari fabric and also for treating the material. Alum ensures stability of the color in Kalamkari fabric. This fabric features a characteristic shine because it's soaked in resin and cow milk. Distinct effects on the Kalamkari fabric are achieved by using trash, seeds, crushed flowers and different sorts of plants. After every single application of dye on Kalamkari fabric, it must be dyed again for better results.

The color pattern used for Kalamkari also follows certain special themes and rules. Women figures, for instance, are always depicted using Yellow color, gods are in blue, while demons are projected using green and red. Lotus is the most common background figure and red is the most commonly used color for backdrops.


Kalamkari flourished in Andhra Pradesh and further was promoted by Britishers in the 18th century in India owing to its decorative designs and extreme craftsmanship. Though this art dates backs to 3000 BC, it has been used for centuries for the art of storytelling. Singers, musicians, and painters used to travel from village to village used canvas paintings to depict stories and that's how Kalamkari art came into existence. Soon the art was being used on glass panels in Hindu temples where stories of gods and other mythological legends were being depicted using Kalamkari. It looked much like stained glass paintings in Christian Cathedrals. However, it was in the Mughal era that this art truly flourished. The Mughal rulers of Golconda and Coramandel provinces patronized this art form and gave the skilled craftsmen the title of QUALAMKARS and that's how the craft got its name.


There are two identifiable types of Kalamkari art in India – Srikalahasti style Kalamkari and Machilipatnam style Kalamkari. In case of the Machilipatnam kind of Kalamkari, motifs are essentially printed with hand-carved traditional blocks with intricate detailing painted by hands. On the opposite hand, the Srikalahasti Kalamkari style of painting draws inspiration from the Hindu mythology describing scenes from the epics and folklore. This style holds a robust religious connection as it has its origin within the temples.

In recent times, two other kinds of Kalamkari patterns have also emerged, supported the states where it's created. Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh are two prime states in India, where two different kinds of Kalamkari patterns are done. The Andhra Kalamkari borrows design inspiration from forts, palaces, and temples of India, alongside motifs of animals and birds.  Gujarat Kalamkari, on the other hand, depicts motifs of mythological characters like Krishna-Arjuna from Mahabharata, Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesha, Lord Buddha, etc.


The states of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat are the biggest producers of Kalamkari sarees in India. Kalamkari sarees have a lot of detailing in terms of the patterns that could be block printed or hand-painted. Each saree tells a story- sometimes just plant vines, flowers, forts, animals are depicted in such minute detail that one gets lost in the art.

Besides the painting, other innovative ways of bringing Kalamkari stories alive on fabrics involve embroidery and appliqué work. Kalamkari sarees are occasion wear so they go great with attractive blouse patterns and traditional jewelry.

Kalamkari is nowdays also used for making various decorative decor items and accessories.

Much like most ancient crafts, Kalamkari has also seen its ups and downs. Commercially made factory based fabrics pose a grave threat to artisans and Qualamkars, but since there are still a lot of genuine art lovers and fashion designers who support and encourage this craft, the industry continues to thrive.

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