How to Authenticate a Kalamkari Painting?

Kalamkari is a traditional Indian art form that involves intricate hand-painting or block-printing on cotton or silk fabric using natural dyes. Highly prized for their detailed designs, vibrant colors, and historical significance, Kalamkari paintings have been produced for over 3,000 years and passed down from generation to generation. To determine the authenticity of a Kalamkari painting, it's important to understand the art form's unique characteristics. Like Tanjore paintings, Kalamkari paintings have received a Geographical Indication (GI) status in India. This status recognizes their origin from a specific geographical location and attributes unique qualities or characteristics to them. The GI tag safeguards the authenticity and quality of Kalamkari paintings and provides legal protection against imitation or misuse of the name. If you're looking to purchase an authentic high-quality Kalamkari painting that represents the true beauty and value of this traditional Indian art form, here are some tips you can use!


1. An Authentically Strong Scent


One of the most distinctive features of a genuine Kalamkari painting lies in its unmistakable scent. Traditional Kalamkari artworks are often characterized by a strong milk-like aroma. This unique fragrance is a result of the meticulous preparation process involved in creating these masterpieces.

To begin, the cotton cloth used for Kalamkari painting is soaked overnight in a mixture of cow-dung, water, and bleach. This step helps eliminate impurities from the fabric. After thorough washing and sun-drying, the cloth is treated with a solution made from a blend of myrobalan bud, flower paste, and buffalo milk. The inclusion of buffalo milk serves as a mordant, preventing the colors from bleeding and ensuring their adherence to the fabric. Furthermore, the milk-solution imparts a uniform off-white hue to the cloth, further affirming the authenticity of a Kalamkari painting.

It is important to note that not all Kalamkari paintings exhibit a strong milk-like odor, as the intensity of the scent may vary depending on factors such as materials used and the age of the artwork. Over time, this aroma may fade, but it remains an essential aspect in determining the authenticity of a Kalamkari piece.


How to Identify a Kalamkari Painting?


2. Decoding the Distinction

Delving into the captivating world of Kalamkari, it becomes increasingly important to discern the nuances between its various styles, as this knowledge serves as a crucial tool in determining the authenticity and true craftsmanship behind each exquisite piece.

In the Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari painting, the traditional method of block printing is employed. Skilled artisans meticulously carve intricate designs onto wooden blocks, with each design element carved into separate blocks to create a comprehensive set. The artisan applies natural dyes to the carved wooden blocks, ensuring an even coating. The block is used to create an impression on the fabric and this process is repeated using different blocks to create layered and multi-colored effects. The handcrafted nature of block printing results in slight variations and irregularities in the design, adding to the authenticity and charm of Machilipatnam style Kalamkari paintings. In contrast, the Sri Kalahasti style of Kalamkari painting employs a unique form of hand painting. Skilled artists use a fine-tipped pen-like instrument called a kalam (hence the name "Kalamkari") to create intricate freehand drawings on the fabric. The kalam is dipped in natural dyes, and the artist applies them directly onto the fabric, creating detailed outlines and filling them in with vibrant colours. This meticulous and time-consuming technique requires great precision and artistic skill. Once you know the difference between the two and study other artworks through online image directories, you will be able to understand the traditional Kalamkari style of art better. 

To determine the authenticity of a Machilipatnam style Kalamkari painting, carefully examine the fabric for signs of block printing. Look for intricate designs with sharp and well-defined edges, layered and overlapping colours, and subtle inconsistencies that arise from the handcrafted nature of the process. Block printing often leaves a noticeable texture on the fabric due to the raised surface of the block. Screen printing typically results in a smoother finish on the fabric.

Similarly, when assessing a Sri Kalahasti style Kalamkari painting, focus on the fine details and fluid lines created through the use of a kalam. By learning to observe the finer details between the two, you will be able to better appreciate the art and determine its authenticity as well.




3. The Human Factor 


Small errors, blotches, and irregularities in the motives of Kalamkari paintings are a common occurrence due to the hand-painted nature of the art form. Unlike Machilipatnam, Sri Kalahasti Kalamkari paintings are entirely hand-drawn, and this human factor can sometimes result in imperfections in the finished product. However, these small errors are not considered defects but are instead viewed as a part of the art form's charm and uniqueness. In fact, the presence of small irregularities in Kalamkari paintings adds to their authenticity and value as each piece is one-of-a-kind. The human touch in Kalamkari paintings is not just integral to the art form's identity but also enhances their beauty and allure.


How to Identify a Kalamkari Painting?


4. The Colours


Kalamkari paintings are well-known for their use of natural dyes made from various natural sources such as plants, minerals, and even insects. Understanding the distinctive colors employed in Kalamkari is essential for discerning the authenticity of these artworks. Kasim Kaaram, a fermented iron black solution, creates bold outlines and fills areas with black. Indigo leaves produce a serene blue hue, while roots like Chavalakodi and Surudu Chekka yield a rich red tone. Pomegranate skin provides a soft yellow shade, while a mixture of Myrobalan flower, Kasim Kaaram, and alum creates a mesmerizing green color.

The use of natural dyes is a crucial aspect of Kalamkari painting, as it is an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to synthetic dyes. However, natural dyes produce colours that are typically not as bright and intense as synthetic dyes, and they may vary in tone and intensity, making each painting unique. The reason for the subdued shades produced by natural dyes is due to the differences in their chemical composition compared to synthetic dyes. Natural dyes contain complex molecules that are often affected by external factors such as pH levels and temperature, which can affect the final colour produced. Synthetic dyes, on the other hand, are made from simple chemical compounds that can be easily standardised to produce consistent colours. 

It is important to recognize that the mere use of natural dyes does not always guarantee the authenticity of Kalamkari paintings. Certain artisans may employ synthetic dyes to create Kalamkari designs on mass-produced textiles such as sarees. Although these pieces may adhere to the traditional Kalamkari techniques, they cannot be classified as genuine Kalamkari paintings. Consequently, it is crucial for buyers to remain mindful of this distinction and make sure they acquire authentic Kalamkari artwork if that is their desired choice.


How to Identify a Kalamkari Painting?


5. Check the Back!


Checking the back of a Kalamkari painting can be a useful way to determine its authenticity. An authentic Kalamkari painting will typically show some bleeding of the natural dyes through the back of the fabric. This is due to the traditional dyeing process used in creating Kalamkari paintings, where the fabric is dipped in natural dyes and then excess dye is squeezed out. This bleeding is usually visible as discoloration or staining on the back of the painting. In contrast, if the back of the painting is completely clean or shows evidence of synthetic dyes bleeding through, it is likely a reproduction or a modern interpretation of the traditional art form. The background colour of traditional Kalamkari paintings is typically off-white or creamish, which adds to their distinctive appearance and beauty.



We hope that these tips have provided you with valuable insights to identify an authentic Kalamkari painting. If you are interested in purchasing genuine, artist-centric Kalamkari products, we invite you to explore Memeraki's exquisite catalogue, which offers a wide range of authentic creations.



Leave a comment