‘Tree of Life’ in Kalamkari

  • Priti Samyukta HOD, Department of Painting, College of Fine Arts, JNAFAU, Hyderabad. India
Keywords: Kalamkari, Fabric art, modernity, Motifs, Tree of Life.


The present paper attempts to study the traditional fabric art of Kalamkari in South India. Kalamkari means art done with ‘kalam’, a handmade bamboo pen and ink on fabric and is later on dyed in different colours. The art has existed since many centuries but evidences are available from early 17th century.Although it began for religious purposes where mythological stories were depicted and used as backdrop screens behind main idols in temples, in recent times the hand painted and dyed fabric is used more for garments, bed sheets or for making bags etc. The paper will look into popular motifs such as the ‘tree of life’ used in the various art forms while discussing their meanings and how some new elements are transformed or being replaced over the time.


For this purpose, I study the patronage in main centers where Kalamkari flourished such as Machilipatnam and Srikalahasti and how it influences the motifs and design patterns. Both hand drawn and block printing methods are looked into and a detailed analysis of how new technology like digital printing takes over the traditional art form is presented.

 The point of discussion is how traditional arts have been suffering due to modern and post modernity as art is transforming at a fast pace. What happens to these forms as patronage shifts from religious to more utilitarian purposes is the central theme of this paper.


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