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In ancient times, artists were called upon to make free hand drawings on black cloths that were used as the backdrop in South Indian temple rituals. A ‘kalam’ is a pen and is used for doing paintings on the fabric as a canvas. Mythological folklore formed the basis of inspiration to make the sketches which were commissioned by the temple authorities. Some evidence was also found in Gujarat and Rajasthan in ancient sites. There were referred as Pichhwais. The Tanjore king had karrupur work on gold motifs, but that form of Kalamkari no longer exists. Centuries down the lines with the entry of Mughal rule Kalamkari evolved further. Today it is exported to Europe and the west also.

The main technique is very complex. It takes about 17 arduous steps to make a single item in the Kalahasti tradition and 12 steps in the Masaulipatnam way. It is washed at every stage. The use of vegetable dyes, buffalo milk for making the cloth durable and cow dung for bleaching were the main processes. Today the quality of water and minerals are equally important. One can find usage of Kalamkari in art, paintings, sarees, prints, and textiles. Even today apparel, household items and decorative items have Kalamkari work. Today the word denotes ‘Kalam’ (pen) and Kari (work). Sharp tips of the instrument are used for making the creative sketches. To get an authentic kalamkari fabric presently, one needs to look for the yellowness in it. It brings reliability to the product.

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