Kalamkari: A Traditional Indian Art Form

Kalamkari: A Traditional Indian Art Form

Kalamkari is a traditional Indian art form that has stood the test of time and gained widespread acclaim—originating from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Bhagavatam were the earliest texts to have illustrations made in this style.

Kalamkari:  the Ancient Indian Art of Hand-Painted Elegance

"Kalamkari" describes a specific, elaborate method of hand-painting onto cloth. It is of two types: 

  • The freehand drawing technique is known as Srikalahasti.
  • The method of block printing is known as Machilipatnam.

One of the most common motifs in Kalamkari is the Tree of Life, which represents the triad of earth, sky, and afterlife. It is common to see depictions of peacocks, tigers, or even deer. There are 23 precise steps involved in creating a Kalamkari painting, from bleaching, softening, and sun drying the fabric to preparing and mixing natural pigments, applying colour, and rinsing the fabric between each colour application.

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Kalamkari is an ancient Indian art form that uses only organic substances like many others. Cotton fabric, dried unripe fruit and milk, charcoal sticks, black kasimi liquid, alum, and natural pigments are all part of this list of ingredients. Tones of red, blue, green, yellow, and brown make up the final palette.

The artist can create a wide range of secondary colours by mixing pigments. Each piece of Kalamkari oozes the artist's genuine enthusiasm for art, history, and culture. Due to the lengthy drying times required for the cloth and ink, this labour-intensive process typically takes about a month to complete for medium-sized works. The final colours are powerful and exquisite, and the images are captivating in depth and complexity, so the time and effort are well worth it. 

As a tradition passed down through the generations, a father or grandfather would typically teach their children the art of Kalamkari. Such transmission has ensured its survival and dissemination throughout many generations. Just 16 skilled Kalamkari artists continue to make a living and make art today, with 10 having won national awards.

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