Kalamkari fabrics

Kalamkari Fabrics: A Complete History

Feature image for kalamkari fabrics blog

kalamkari art

In ancient India, musicians and painters were storytellers.

The adventures of the battles, historic stories of the Mahabharata and Ramayana are all spread by them.

kalamkari artists at work

People often called them the Chitrakars (Meaning the painters or artists).

Most of the time, they would illustrate the stories by painting on a blank canvas, with simple paints and dyes extracted from plants.

The artwork would be then bought by the wealthiest among the villagers and would be either worn as a dress or kept as a collectible.

This became more popular when the Mughals started to rule India.

They patronized art and crafts which resulted in the infusion of Persian art in the works of the chitrakars.

The Mughals called them the “Qalamkars”, which evolved into “Kalamkari”.

Kalamkari fabrics were exported to European countries since the 12th century.

The trade flourished until the 18th century.

That was the time when the industrial revolution happened in England.

They decided to stop importing fabrics from India as fabrics of cheaper price and higher quality were being made there.

This decrease in the exports, gradually resulted in a loss of interest to make more of them, and also the makers started to lose their techniques in the craft.

Only after the independence in 1947, there was an attempt to revive the handcrafts industry of India with the leadership of Kamaladevi Chattpadhay.

There are many centers formed in India to train people in the art of “Kalamkari”.

Now more than 2000 people work in this industry.

In India, the “kalamkari” art is practiced mostly by the people of Andra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

It is believed that some people migrated from Andra Pradesh during the Mughal period, bringing with them the Kalamkari art.

Kalamkari fabrics have become famous again in India and abroad.


Common motifs drawn

kalamkari god depictions

  • Flowers
  • Peacock
  • Paisleys
  • Divine Hindu characters
  • Buddhist figures



kalamkari colors

  • Indigo
  • Mustard
  • Rust black
  • Green


Process of making Kalamkari (Courtesy of Utsavpedia)

Making kalamkari fabric

Below is a pictorial chart flow of the step-by-step process involved in the making of kalamkari fabric.

Process flow for kalamkari making









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