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Kalamkari is a free hand painting and block printing textile art, practiced in Andhra Pradesh as well as in many different regions of India. There are two distinctive styles of kalamkari art in India, Srikalahasti style and Machilipatnam style.

Kalamkari literally translates into “pen craft”; with ‘kalam’ meaning pen and ‘kari’. It is among the most beautiful traditional Indian art forms and involves block printing or hand printing, typically done on pieces of cotton fabrics. The unique feature of the Kalamkari art is that it makes use of only natural colours or vegetable dyes.

The Origin of Kalamkari Art and Printing

Kalamkari art and printing is concentrated primarily in Andhra Pradesh, particularly in Kalahasti and Machilipatnam, and a few other smaller regions of the state. Srikalahasti was the main center of kalamkari art for a very important reason: it received a constant supply of clean river water. Kalamkari art was the household occupation of several rural women and craftsmen in the ancient times and continues to be passed down from one generation to the next. Andhra Pradesh is still the main hub of kalamkari printing in the country.

Craftsmen engaged in kalamkari art had to later modernize some of the ancient, hindu-mythology inspired kalamkari themes because there was an increasing demand for these prints in the international market. Therefore, Persian art slowly became one of the major influences on the original kalamkari designs.

Different Styles of Kalamkari Art

Kalamkari art is available in two distinct styles: Machilipatnam and Srikalahasti. Both these centres are located in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Kalahasti Kalamkari

Craftsmen practicing the Srikalahasti style of kalamkariart continue to make use of the traditional dyeing technique, inheritedfrom their ancestors. Srikalahasti is a small temple town found in the Chittoor district in Andhra. The main design inspiration for the Srikalahasti style is ‘hindu mythology’.

The Srikalahasti style is characterized by one very important feature: free hand drawing. The procedure begins with the craftsman treating the cotton cloth using mordant and sketching the design outline with black colour or ‘kasami’.The only other colours used for filling the outlined sketchare those obtained from natural plants:indigo, green, red and vibrant yellow. Therefore, every piece of the kalahasti kalamkari art is quite unique and absolutely authentic!

Machilipatnam Kalamkari

The Machilipatnam style of kalamkari is different from the kalahasti style because it is not exactly ‘pen craft’. While creating kalamkari art using the Machilipatnam style, the craftsman creates his sketch and its key design features with the help of hand-carved blocks. These blocks continued to be used repeatedly for many years and by different craftsmen. Kalamkari art is known for its beautiful colour patterns that flow through a variety of different themes. You can often spot figures of women in yellow,

demons in green and red and Gods in shades of blue. Lotus motifs tend to be the most common background for these prints.

In the kalamkari printing technique, the craftsman first decides on the fabric and colours. The chosen cloth is then bleached using either cow or goat dung. It is further treated with a milk and myrobalan solution that helps prevent the colour from spreading.


- The first step is to stiffen the cloth by seeping it in astringents and buffalo milk and then drying it under the sun.

- Afterwards, the red, black, brown, and violet portions of the designs are outlined with a mordant and cloth is then placed in a bath of alizarin. The cloth is immersed in indigo dye. The wax is then scraped off and remaining areas are painted by hand, similar to Indonesian batik.

- To create design contours, artists use a bamboo or date palm pointed at one end with a bundle of fine hair attached to this pointed end to ser veas the brush or pen.This pen is soaked in a mixture of

- The next step is to cover the cloth, except for the parts to be dyed blue, in wax,

- Fermented jaggery and water; one by one these are applied, then the vegetable dyes.

- In Iran, the fabric is printed using patterned wooden stamps.


Dyes for the cloth are obtained by extracting colors from various roots, leaves, and mineral salts of iron, tin, copper, and alum. Various effects are obtained by using cow dung, seeds, plants and crushed flowers to obtain natural dye. Along with buffalo milk, myrobalan is used in kalamkari. Myrobalan is also able to remove the odd smell of buffalo milk. The fixing agents available in the myrobolan can easily fix the dye or color of the textile while treating the fabric.Alum is used in making natural dyes and also while treating the fabric. Alum ensures the stability of the color in kalamkari fabric


Kalamkari specifically depicts epics such a the Ramayana or Mahabharata. However, there are recent applications of the Kalamkari technique to depict Buddha and Buddhist art forms. In recent times, many aesthetically good figures such as musical instruments, small animals, flowers, Buddha and few Hindu symbols,like swastika are also introduced to Kalamkari.




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