From 17th century temples in Andhra Pradesh to stretched canvases in modern homes, Kalamkari is a time-honored and widely beloved form of traditional Indian art. Deriving its name from the word ‘kalam,’ which means pen, ‘Kalamkari’ refers to a particular, intricate style of hand-painting onto cloth and is noted for its beautiful earthy tones.
Although even art historians do not know exactly when Kalamkari began, it originated in the modern-day states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Kalamkari was first used to portray scenes from sacred texts such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Bhagavatam. These paintings were often used as decorative backdrops in temples, depicting the stories of deities. Today, these subjects are still common in Kalamkari, as well as other spiritual and ancient symbols. The Tree of Life is one especially popular Kalamkari motif, deeply rooted while growing towards the sky — it connects the heavens, earth and underworld. It is also a symbol of nourishment, with many animals feeding on its leaves, living in its branches and enjoying its shade.
Kalamkari art primarily uses earthy colors like indigo, mustard, rust, black and green. Natural dyes used to paint colors in Kalamkari art are extracted from natural sources with no use of chemicals and artificial matter. Natural dyes that are used as paint colors in Kalamkari are extracted by blending jaggery, iron fillings and water; and it's used for outlining sketches. Alum is additionally used for creating natural dyes for Kalamkari fabric and also for treating the material. Alum ensures stability of the color in Kalamkari fabric. This fabric features a characteristic shine because it's soaked in resin and cow milk. Distinct effects on the Kalamkari fabric are achieved by using trash, seeds, crushed flowers and different sorts of plants. After every single application of dye on Kalamkari fabric, it must be dyed again for better results.
Kalamkari fabrics include minute details and it is painted using natural dyes. There are two identifiable types of Kalamkari: Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam.
In case of the Machilipatnam kind of Kalamkari, motifs are essentially printed with hand-carved traditional blocks with intricate detailing painted by hands. On the opposite hand, the Srikalahasti Kalamkari style of painting draws inspiration from the Hindu mythology describing scenes from the epics and folklore. This style holds a robust religious connection as it has its origin within the temples.