Tracing Back Kalamkari

The term ‘Kalamkari’ evolved from ‘qualamkars’ where the Mughals patronized this craft in the Coromandel and Golconda province. Highly trending now amongst the youth, Kalamkari art dates back to being practiced by many families in Andhra Pradesh, India over the generations, making for their livelihood writes Elora Majumder. She pens down how it is crafted and how it evolved to reach the streets of Dhaka.

Kalamkari describes a freehand drawing with a pen. The fabric includes minute details and it is painted using natural dyes.

Kalamkari is a highly popular form of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile and paintings, practiced in Andhra Pradesh, India and it has been practiced by many families in Andhra Pradesh over the generations.  It is a form of painting cotton fabrics with a kalam (pen), which involves a sharp-pointed pierced bamboo regulating the flow of color on the fabric.

The word Kalamkari is derived from a Persian word where ‘kalam’ means pen and ‘kari’ refers to craftsmanship.

Unknown facts
The kalamkari had demands both from the domestic and international markets and was exported to different parts of the world resulting in a major source of trade. This form of Indian textiles was also used as a form of currency in the spice trade in ancient times.

The Process
The process of making Kalamkari fabric involves 23 steps. This involves bleaching Kalamkari fabric, softening it, drying it in the sun, preparing natural dyes, air drying, and washing. The entire process needs to be inspected now and then. Generally, cotton fabric is used for making Kalamkari. However, silk fabric can also be used. The fabric is first treated with a solution of cow dung and bleach. After keeping the fabric in this solution, it gets a uniform off-white color. To avoid smudging of dyes on the Kalamkari fabric, it is also dipped in a mixture of buffalo milk and mylobalans. This fabric is then washed twenty times and sun-dried. After this, the fabric is ready for printing. Kalamkari designs are then painted on the fabric, by hand.

Playing in Colors

Craftsman extracts black color by blending jaggery water and iron fillings which they essentially use outlining the sketches while mustard and yellow are derived by boiling pomegranate peels, red hues and created from the bark of madder and algirin. Blue is obtained from Indigo and green comes up by mixing blue and yellow together.


This print is available in most big cities of India and is getting higher popularity day by day. Most of the Bangladeshis go to Kolkata (new market) for shopping and this print has its stock in most of the next door shops. It has also got a good amount of attention in our country Bangladesh where get the prints available in popular shopping places for ladies like Chadni Chowk, Priangon market and Gausia and few other places. It is available rarely in meters and mostly in unstitched pieces. This print is also seen in sarees.

There are knowingly two types of Kalamkari prints: Srikalahasti and Machiliptnam

  • Machilipatnam style includes Kalamkari designs printed in hand-carved blocks with intricate details, printed by hand.
  • Srikalahasti style includes Kalamkari designs inspired by Hindu mythology that describe the scenes from the epics.

Way to popularity

With the emergence of high quality machine looms and acceptance for printed textiles, Kalamkari art came on the verge of extinction. However, printed Kalamkari is a new craze among the current generation, as it is a combination of traditional and modern trends. Kalamkari sarees, kalamkari dresses and kalamkari blouses are a running trend. Many renowned fashion designers beautifully portrayed kalamkari sarees on fashion runways and got a great response. Designers like Neetu Lulla has Kalamkari prints in her bridal and ethnic collection and and many of the new designers are on the way to portray and design the Kalamkari print on their dresses.

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