Kalamkari Saree

Kalamkari was originally a way of telling a story on cloth. It was used to illustrate stories from the great Hindu epics. Bolts of Kalamkari fabric would be hung in temples or carried from place to place and used like picture-books.

The sarees from the temple town of Srikalahasti are drawn on and painted completely by hand. But this is no ordinary fabric-painting. It is an elaborate, traditional process involving more than 20 stages. The fabric must be prepared and washed several times in between. Each colour is also applied separately.  

Kalamkari is deeply connected to the land, specifically to the Swarnamukhi river that flows through Srikalahasti. The fabric is washed several times in the river--to bleach the fabric, to intensify or wash away dyes, or simply to provide the final finish. The quality of the water, the amount of silt, the intensity of the current all affect the final creation.

The artists use a variety of local plants and materials in the process. The artist draws the outline of the design freehand using a charcoal pencil made by burning the twigs of a tamarind tree. For surer strokes, a sharpened bamboo reed (the kalam) is used like an ink-pen. Flowers and roots are used to create paints, seeds are ground to make fixing agents.

Origin: Srikalahasti, Andhra Pradesh

  • Originally used to illustrate stories from the great Hindu epics.
  • Completely painted by hand using a bamboo pen (kalam).
  • Elaborate multi-stage process with each colour needing different treatment.
  • Process has deep ties to the land. Organic pigments and fixers are made from local plants, and even the Swarnamukhi river plays a critical role.

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