Kalamkari – Reviving the Ancient Art of Storytelling

by Deepika Dewan

Safer, predictable, little adventurous in terms of cuts and (a)symmetries. Such is the fashion code most of us follow these days. Have we ever tried and attempted wearing a piece of mysticism and history – something that goes back to an ancient civilisation, and yet stands out for the beautiful visual delight no modern fabric can dare come close.  

It’s Kalamkari – Kalam (pen), Kari (craftsmanship). A mystical craft that was found in the fabric samples at the archaeological sites of Mohenjodaro – that’s more than 3000 B.C.

In the course of time, folk singers and painters who used to wander from one village to other narrating stories of Hindu mythology to the villagers took to canvas painting to tell the tales effectively. The initial traces of Kalamkari art continued before the Mughal era, when it came to be appreciated by the royals for its true originality and richness.            

The magic of this ancient art of Kalamkari involves 23 tedious steps – yeah, painstaking could be a better word for this ancient style of hand painting done on cotton or silk fabric, which involves natural dyes and a tamarind pen, in making a wide range of motifs, from flowers, peacock, paisleys to divine characters of Hindu mythology like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The magnificence of Kalamkari is such that one can witness the entire galaxy of shooting stars or an entire species of human creatures on the fabric.

So, what are we doing to preserve this colossal heritage and a reminder of ancient folklore? Nothing, but something needs to be done to make it timeless and global.

Does it need a massive media spend to the size of an IPL match, or would something small scale be enough?   

What the extravagant art of Kalamkari needs is a bit of your love, appreciation and inclusion in the choicest and vintage fabrics of the world. And how can we get that? Maybe the following initiatives can help us make Kalamkari a promising art form.  

  • Get reputed fashion institutes such as NIFT, Pearl Academy, and top fashion schools around the world such as The Fashion Institute of Technology, New York; London College of Fashion etc to conduct a month-long study tour of Kalamkari for its students at Pedana, Machilipatnam, and Srikalahasti districts in Andhra Pradesh. Better still, make Kalamkari a part of the semester project for students studying in India. For first-timers, Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh is the place of origin of Kalamkari around 2000 years ago.   
  • Invite reputed fashion designers and curators such as Gaurang Shah, Anjali Ela Menon, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Rimple and Harpreet Narula to hold curtain raisers-cum-fashion shows on “Kalamkari: The Fabric of Colour and Art” in metro cities and international fashion capitals.
  • Include Kalamkari in the school textbooks as a part of “knowing art and heritage” series.
  • Hold school workshops on Kalamkari from time to time during summer and winter breaks.         
  • Talk to legendary filmmakers such as Shekhar Kapur or Sanjay Leela Bhansali to do a film on “Kalamkari: The Pen of History and Hope”.   

Kalamkari as an art form has a long way to go. It just needs to be given a wider horizon and welcoming. Drop in a line and tell us what you can do at your end to revive this precious kala.


A skilled writer, an advertising professional for over 17 years, an active blogger on fashion, ramp, beauty and health; ex-visiting faculty on advertising and communications and a creative consultant, there is never an end to putting words that click. Coffee, crafts, books, soundtracks and simplicity keep me high.