What is Kalamkari Art?

by Annie Saxena on Mar 06, 2023

What is Kalamkari Art?

The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is the source of the hand-painted cotton textile known as kalamkari. In the twenty-three stage process of Kalamkari, only natural dyes are employed. In India, there are two distinct Kalamkari art styles: the Machilipatnam style and the Srikalahasti style. The "kalam" or pen is used to draw the subject and fill in the colors freehand in the Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari, which is totally done by hand.

This artistic movement thrived in temples that focused on forging distinctive religious identities. It can be seen on scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners, and representations of gods and scenes from the Hindu epics (e.g. Ramayana, Mahabharata and Purana). The genre owes its current popularity to Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the first chairman of the All India Handicrafts Board.

What is Kalamkari Art?

Using a pen made of bamboo or date palm, Kalamkari is a traditional Indian art style that entails hand-painting or block-printing on fabrics. The term "Kalamkari" literally translates to "pen workmanship" because it is made up of the two terms "kalam," which means pen, and "kari," which means craftsmanship.

Kalamkari art can be divided into Machilipatnam and Srikalahasti styles. While the latter is renowned for its use of hand-carved wooden blocks for printing, the former is renowned for its elaborate designs and freehand drawing.

Kalamkari art is produced by a number of phases, some of which include:

To ensure that the cloth will be able to absorb the colors, it is washed and given a treatment with a myrobalan and cow milk solution.

The design's outline: To outline the design on the fabric, the artist uses a kalam, or pen. Black or brown ink is usually used for this.

The artist utilizes natural dyes or pigments to fill in the colors once the pattern has been sketched out.

Drying and washing: Following the application of the colours, the fabric is washed, dried, and then dyed again to eliminate any excess dye.

Traditional Indian motifs like flowers, animals, and mythical scenes are frequently seen in kalamkari artwork. It is widely prized for its exquisite design, vivid hues, and connection to India's extensive cultural heritage. Clothing, wall hangings, and other decorative objects are just a few examples of the many uses for kalamkari materials.

Types of Kalakari Art

Srikalahasti style and Machilipatnam style are the two primary subtypes of Kalamkari art.

Srikalahasti Kalamkari: The traditional Kalamkari art form has been practiced for centuries in the little village of Srikalahasti in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Using a bamboo or date palm pen, the Srikalahasti technique of Kalamkari entails freehand drawing. Direct drawing on the fabric by the painters results in incredibly detailed and elaborate designs. Natural dyes like indigo, madder root, and pomegranate peel are used to create the hues in Srikalahasti Kalamkari.

Machilipatnam Kalamkari: The Andhra Pradesh town of Machilipatnam is well-known for its distinctive block printing design. This design method uses wooden blocks to form the designs, which are subsequently printed into the fabric. Compared to Srikalahasti Kalamkari's freehand designs, the patterns are often bigger and bolder. Indigo, madder root, and turmeric are a few examples of natural dyes that are utilised to create the hues in Machilipatnam Kalamkari.

Both Machilipatnam Kalamkari and Sri Kalahasti have distinctive styles and methods. Machilipatnam Kalamkari is renowned for its striking and graphic patterns, whereas Srikalahasti Kalamkari is famed for its detailed designs and minute details. Both fashions are admired for their elegance, skill, and cultural relevance.

Which City is Famous for Kalamkari Art?

Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam are two Indian places that are particularly known for their kalamkari art. Machilipatnam is a port city in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, while Srikalahasti is a town in the Chittoor district.

The elaborate and freehand designs of Srikalahasti Kalamkari are well known. The elaborate drawings are created by Srikalahasti artists using pens made of bamboo or date palm sticks. The designs are filled by the artists using natural dyes and colors.

Machilipatnam On the other hand, Kalamkari is renowned for its block printing method. The designs are printed on the cloth using this technique, which employs hand-carved wooden blocks. The 17th century Dutch colonial era is thought to be when this method was created.

Both Machilipatnam and Srikalahasti are renowned for their long histories and Kalamkari art traditions. Nowadays, craftsmen all around India still use the Kalamkari technique, which is prized for both its aesthetic appeal and cultural importance.

What is the Special About Kalamkari Art?

Indian culture and history are strongly ingrained in the distinctive and elaborate art style known as kalamkari. Some of the characteristics that distinguish Kalamkari art are as follows:

Natural dyes are employed by Kalamkari artisans to produce their vibrant patterns. These dyes are created from plants and other organic components. Because of this, Kalamkari is a sustainable and eco-friendly art form.

The entire process of making kalamkari art is done by hand, utilizing age-old methods that have been handed down through the generations. As a result, each work of Kalamkari art has an own personality.

Kalamkari art is renowned for its elaborate patterns and designs, which frequently incorporate traditional Indian motifs like flowers, birds, and mythological scenes. The artist draws the delicate, intricate lines used in these patterns with a pen made of date palm or bamboo.

Indian culture and spirituality place a high value on the Kalamkari art form. Hindu mythological themes or historical accounts of India are frequently shown in it.

Versatility: The Kalamkari technique may be used to create artwork on a range of fabrics, such as cotton, silk, and wool. It is a flexible and useful art form because it may be used to make garments, wall hangings, and other decorative items.

All things considered, Kalamkari art is a distinctive and lovely art style that is firmly rooted in Indian culture and tradition. It is a true gem of Indian art since it uses organic materials, handmade methods, and exquisite designs.

What are the Steps Used in Kalamkari Art?

Using a pen made of bamboo or date palm, Kalamkari artists in India traditionally paint by hand or use blocks of wood to create prints on textiles. Kalamkari art is produced by a number of phases, some of which include:

Fabric preparation: To ensure the cloth can absorb the colours, it is cleaned and treated with a myrobalan and cow milk solution.

In order to draw an outline around the design on the fabric, the artist utilizes a kalam, or pen. Black or brown ink is usually used for this.

The artist utilizes natural dyes or pigments to fill in the colors once the pattern has been sketched out. Use a brush or a small piece of cloth to apply the color.

Drying and washing: After applying the colors to the fabric, it is washed to remove any excess dye before being dried.

The Kalamkari technique comes in a variety of forms, some of which may include extra phases in addition to these fundamental ones. Some Kalamkari artisans, for instance, employ a resist technique where they apply wax or paste to the fabric to create a barrier between the colors. They are able to produce complex, multicolored designs because to this.

Block printing is a different way to use the Kalamkari method. This process involves printing the designs on the fabric using hand-carved wooden blocks. The design is made by pressing the blocks into the fabric after they have been dipped in natural dyes.

Ultimately, making Kalamkari art is a labor-intensive, time-consuming procedure that calls for tremendous expertise and patience. Nonetheless, the end result is a stunning and distinctive work of art that is firmly anchored in Indian culture and history.

Who Created Kalamkari Art?

Although the actual roots of Kalamkari art are unknown, it is thought to have started in India more than three thousand years ago. Kalamkari art has been practiced and passed down through generations of artists in a number of Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat.

Indian history and tradition are strongly ingrained in kalamkari art, which was initially used to adorn temple walls, fabrics, and clothing. Hindu mythological tales were also portrayed using this style of painting, and textiles for aristocratic and wealthy clients were also produced.

Kalamkari art has changed over time to reflect the seasons and fashions that have come and gone. It is now a thriving art form that is praised for its elegance, complexity, and cultural importance.

What are the Materials Used in Kalamkari Art?

Traditional Indian art known as kalamkari involves hand-painting or block-printing natural dyes or pigments onto fabrics. The following supplies are used in Kalamkari art:

Cotton and silk are the two textiles that are most frequently used in Kalamkari artwork. To make sure the fabric can absorb the colours, it is cleaned and treated with a myrobalan and cow milk solution.

Natural pigments or dyes: Kalamkari artists employ natural pigments or dyes that are derived from minerals, plant extracts, and other naturally occurring substances. Indigo, madder root, pomegranate peel, and turmeric are a few typical natural dyes used in Kalamkari art.

Kalam or pen: The kalam is a bamboo or date palm-based pen used to trace the contour of the pattern on the fabric. The kalam is covered in black or brown ink created from plants like lampblack or tamarind twigs that have been burned.

Animal-hair brushes, like those made of goat or squirrel hair, are used by kalamkari artisans to add colour to their designs.

Hand-carved wooden blocks are used to print the designs on the fabric in the Machilipatnam form of Kalamkari art.

In general, Kalamkari art is created with sustainable, natural materials. Kalamkari art is a distinctive and priceless cultural heritage due to the use of natural dyes and pigments as well as the traditional processes used to create it.

How to Identify Kalamkari Art?

Traditional Indian art known as "kalamkari" is prized for its dexterous patterns, vivid hues, and distinctive appearance. A few distinguishing characteristics of Kalamkari art include the following:

Natural dyes are used in the Kalamkari art form. These colours are created from plant and mineral extracts as well as other natural ingredients. Instead of choosing vibrant colours, go with muted, earthy hues.

Detailed and elaborate motifs are a hallmark of the Kalamkari style of art. Find designs with floral, animal, bird, and other naturalistic themes.

Hand-painted or block-printed: Hand-painted or block-printed are the two methods that can be used to make kalamkari art. Indicators of hand painting include differences in line and brush thickness.

Black outlines are frequently used in Kalamkari art, which is made with a pen made of bamboo or date palm called a kalam.

Traditional Indian themes, such as paisleys, lotuses, and peacocks, are frequently seen in kalamkari artwork.

Fabric quality: Fine cotton or silk fabric is often used to produce kalamkari art. Look for indications of a fine, tightly woven cloth.

All things considered, Kalamkari art is a distinctive and lovely art style that is firmly rooted in Indian culture and tradition. Kalamkari art is easily identifiable for its elaborate designs, natural hues, and traditional themes whether it is hand-painted or block-printed.


Kalamkari is a well-known and adored style of traditional Indian art that may be found everywhere from stretched canvases in contemporary houses to 17th-century temples. Kalamkari actually serves as a reminder to me of how important art is to our sense of contentment and wellbeing, and how it is a representation of culture and tradition. As an Indian craft, Kalamkari is entwined with our iconography and mythology. I passionately think that art has the capacity to connect us to our humanity and our history.

The name was also used in the Medieval Ages to describe cotton fabrics manufactured throughout India that were block printed or free-hand painted with vegetable dyes to create patterns. The kalam (pen) is used to draw finer details and to apply some colours where the fabric has been block printed.