Kalamkari is the craft of painted and printed fabrics. It derives its name from Kalam
or pen with which the patterns are traced. It is an art form that developed
both for decoration and religious ornamentation.
The discovery of a resist-dyed piece of cloth on a silver vase at the ancient
site of Haarappa confirms that the tradition of Kalamkari is very old.
Even the ancient Buddhist Chaitya Viharas were decorated with Kalamkari cloth.
The great Alexander is also supposed to have acquired this Kalamkari cloth.
In Andhra Pradesh, Kalamkari is done in Machilipatnam and
With their roots in temple rituals, Kalamkari
cloth also followed the old tradition of religious mural paintings.Craftsmen
painted the narratives of religious legends from which people learnt the
stories of their Gods. Bards recited verses describing these episodes, using
these paintings as illustrations.
Coming to Srikalahasti, temples were a major inspiration. The art flourished
under the patronage of the temples with their demands for hangings with strong
figurative and narrative components. This specialisation in figurative work
continues till today. Richly displayed episodes from the Puranas and other
mythological material form the themes.
Little was known about printed Indian cotton before the archaeological findings
at Fostat, near Cairo. The discovery unearthed a hoard of fragments of printed
Indian cotton supposed to have been exported in the 18th century
from the Western shores of India.
A study of some of these Fostat finds in 1938 by Pfister, who traced them
to India, brought to light evidence of a tradition of those fabrics that were
actually block-printed and resist-dyed with indigo.
Before the artificial synthesis of indigo and alizarine into dye-stuffs, blues
and reds were traditionally extracted from the plants
indigofera anil and rubia tinctorum.
Alizarine, commonly used as a colouring agent,
was found in the ancient times in madder. The madder root,
rubia tinctorum, widely used in India,
chay, the root of the oldenlandia
umbellata were highly estimated as fine sources of red in the
South. The dye roots of morinda citrifoliainn and
morinda tintoria known as al or cirang were to be found in Southern, Western and Central India. These were the main sources of traditional Indian dyes.
The dyers and printers who did their respective jobs belonged to the Hindu or
Muslim creeds. The blocks for printing were made by specialist block-makers,
but sometimes the printers also made their own blocks.
The nature, requirements, the patterning, and the process of traditional
textile usage are highly local for social and economic reasons, as well as for
purely design reasons. It is this traditional inclination towards distinction
that explains the varied vocabulary of what is traditionally available in the
In Andhra Pradesh, block-printed Fabrics come from Machilipatnam, Chirala,
Vijayawada and Tuni.