Crafts of India : Block Printing and Kalamkari

Block Printing

Picture by: Seetha Gopalakrishnan

Among the richest in terms of detail and expression, India's block printing tradition, resist print or surface stamp, has evolved significantly while managing to stay grounded in form and faculty. But just as any craft form, there is more than what meets the eye. From the exquisite pattern drafters to immaculate chiselers and carvers; the magicians who isolate dyes and discover mordants that help fix it on fabric; to the expert craftsmen who prepare the mud-based resist and those who dye and wash the coloured fabric, the piece of fabric that reaches us is a multi-step, multi-process piece of art that passes through many hands and feet, and a whole lot of accumulated generational knowledge.

The process is labour intensive and painstakingly detailed. Intricate designs may take carvers days to create, and the printers who transfer the magic onto the fabric may use anywhere upwards of twenty blocks to create a design!


Picture by: Seetha Gopalakrishnan

The most commonly encountered block printed textiles are those from Bagru, Bagh and Sanganer. While the ones from Bagh, Madhya Pradesh are conspicuous in their use of red, black and white, the Sanganeri prints display intricate detailing and finer lines. Did you know water plays a decisive role in the technique choice as well as outcome? Resist printing was preferred in Bagru mostly due to the restricted availability of water while multiple rounds of washing and printing was possible in Sanganer due to ample availability Do you have a favourite? Tell us which one and why. ____________ Kalamkari


Among the most exquisite forms of wearable art, the Kalamkari tradition of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has flourished since the time of the Golconda Sultans and Mughal Emperors. 'Kalam' - pen and 'Kari' - craftsmanship, the process isn't as nearly simple as its etymology.



Picture by: Seetha Gopalakrishnan

Based on the patronage, two distinctive styles evolved. The Srikalahasti style is heavily inspired by epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata with portions adroitly drawn and coloured on cloth that is expertly processed. Free hand drawing defines this style, making the product as unique as the free hand strokes of the artist. The Pedana or Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari thrived under the patronage of the Sultans, and its design sensibilities a clear reflection of Persian-inspired Sultanate rule. This style is known to employ hand-carved blocks that define the design.

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