Kalamkari - Kalam Ki Karigari

Hand-painted Kalamkari 
Source: andhrakalamkari.blogspot.in

Indian textile heritage is so rich that you can pick up any fabric or attire and there is always a detailed history behind it; be it fabrics like silk or khadi, or art forms like dyeing or jari work. Inherited through generations of family traditions, these crafts have been cultivated and preserved under skilled workmanship and have evolved to be a part of the Indian heritage. One such beautiful art is Kalamkari. It derives its name from two words Kalam and Kari. Kalam is a Persian word which refers to pen while Kari means craftsmanship - literally pen work.

Two Diverse Styles of Kalamkari

Kalamkari evolved in two villages in Andhra Pradesh, Srikalahasti (80 miles north of Chennai) and Machalipatnam (200 miles east of Hyderabad). Both areas have a distinct style of Kalamkari. At Machilipatnam, the printing is done using blocks, but at Srikalahasti the printing work is done by using a kalam.

Persian influence on Machalipatnam introduced a range of elaborate forms and motifs representing trees, floral motifs, creepers and animal figures. 

Machalipatnam style painting with motifs like trees, flowers, and leaf designs.
Source: tklvch.wordpress.com

Srikalahasti style thrived under the patronage of the Srikalahasti temple. Thus, the art form here drew its inspiration from Hindu mythology. It exhibited episodes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and other Mythological stories.  

Gods are the primary source of inspiration for Srikalahasti
Source: Indiaemporium.com

So next time you wear a Kalamkari sari or a dupatta, remember it's not just a piece of fashion that you are wearing but you are also showcasing an important part of Indian mythology! 

Check out beautiful block-printed Kalamkari dupattas at Kraftberry here!

What makes it so unique?

  • No chemical dyes are used. Drawings are filled using only natural dyes made from plants, vegetables and mineral salts.
  • It takes 17 complex steps to complete Kalamkari.
  • The cotton fabric gets its shine when soaked in a mixture of resin and cow milk for an hour.
  • Quality of the cotton used is so good that it can take 20 washes without dwindling!
  • Women figures are shown in yellow, Gods in blue, and demons in red and green. The backgrounds are generally red with motifs of lotus

How to identify a real hand painted Kalamkari?

In an original hand-painted Kalamkari, a guidance line is made with a stencil to keep the size of each motif similar. However, as the actual motifs are hand painted individually the designs do not look exactly the same at regular intervals. Though a design might repeat, the motifs never looks exactly the same.


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