Painted Tales: Kalamkari paintings of Srikalahasti

Detail of a Kalamkari Painting. Courtesy: Sushmit .

One of the exquisite examples of hand painted textiles of India comes from the temple town of Srikalahasti in Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh. In the last century it sailed through murky waters, barely surviving with the help of patronage provided by temples and rich landlords. After Independence attempts were made to revive it to its former glory, which met with difficulties in the beginning but today these attempts paid off. The craft not only continues but also gaining immense popularity with demands from the fast emerging urban community.

The word, kalamkari, literally means working with a kalam (pen). The Srikalahasti style unlike the other kalamkari traditions heavily emphasises on the importance of the kalam and the entire painting is done free hand by an artisan using it. The process is painstakingly long, but to describe it in a simpler way, it begins with the preparation of the base cloth, which is soaked in a mixture of cow dung and bleach for hours and washed to get a uniform off-white colour.  After that,it is again soaked in a myrobolam and buffalo milk solution which would prevent the colours from smudging. Then it is washed again. Over this prepared cloth, stories are then outlined using a charcoal, made from burnt tamarind twigs, which are further darkened by a fermented jaggery-iron mixture or an alum mordant. The areas to be filled with colour are all done by hand using only vegetable colours. After that it is dried, washed and colour fixed using an alum solution.

The themes of the kalamkari paintings of this style are predominantly religious in nature, illustrating episodes of the great epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Various Hindu gods and goddesses along with their incarnations are also frequently painted. In the recent years, Biblical themes and life scenes of Sakyamuni are also seen, which is an attempt to reach out to a larger demographic.



Anand, Mulk Raj, ed. Homage to Kalamkari. Marg Publication, Volume XXXI Number 4, April 1979.

Ramani, Shakuntala. Kalamkari and Traditional Design Heritage of India. New Delhi: Wisdom Tree, 2007.

Varadarajan, Lotika. South Indian Traditions of Kalamkari. Bombay: The Perennial Press, 1982.

Detail of a Kalamkari Painting. Courtesy: Sushmit.
Painted Tales: Kalamkari paintings of Srikalahasti

2 thoughts on “Painted Tales: Kalamkari paintings of Srikalahasti

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s