Kalamkari is an art, kalamkari is a craft. Practised with different styles in two distinct places in Andhra Pradesh, Kalmkari from the time it has been displayed before the world, has captivated, fascinated and enamoured all those who have come in contact with it. The colors used, the choice of themes, the sharpness of the lines, the intricate detailing and its applicability over a wide range of fabrics have all contributed to its popularity in the market.
In ancient times, groups of singers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis, moved village to village to tell the village dwellers, the great stories of Hindu mythology. They illustrated their accounts using large bolts of canvas painted on the spot with simple means and dyes extracted from plants. In the same way, one found in the Hindu temples large panels of kalamkari depicting the episodes of Indian mythology, similar to the stained glasses of the Christian cathedrals.
As an art form it found its peak in the wealthy Golconda sultanate, Hyderabad, in the Middle Ages. The Mughals who patronized this craft in the Coromandel and Golconda province called the practitioners of this craft "qualamkars", from which the term "kalamkari" evolved.
Kalamkari art has been practiced by many families in Andhra Pradesh and over the generations has constituted their livelihood. Kalamkari had a certain decline, then it was revived in India and abroad for its craftsmanship. Since the 18th century the British liked the decorative element for clothing.
Kalamkari is from ‘Kalam’ (pen) and ‘Kari’ (craftsmanship), words taken from the Persian for the art of hand painting done on fabrics with the use of a pen and extended to include hand block printing. In the craft Kalamkari a sharp pointed bamboo stick padded with hair or cotton and tied with string on one end to regulate the flow of color, is the pen. The art of Kalamkari comprises hand-drawn, painted and dyed wall cloth, in natural colors that include giant tapestries to small squares. These cloth paintings with their densely packed characters and storyboard narratives have a freshness about them.