How Kalamkari Became Chintz

The British took the ancient textile tradition global. Its artisans have yet to benefit.

GettyImages-170964672 kalamkari chintz
Intricate drawings of ancient art form kalamkari in Andhra Pradesh, India (Anil Kr Sharma/IndiaPictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Vaishnavi Naidu


April 10, 2024


10 min

In 3000 B.C., perhaps even earlier, chitrakars enthralled villagers in India with tales of Hindu mythology and the people and places they had seen. As they spoke, they used dyes from local plants to visualize their stories on large fabrics. The rich reds, blues, yellows, and pinks on these textiles, made over several months, stood the test of time, giving birth to the art form we now know as kalamkari.

Centuries later, chintz — the multicolored, floral-themed fabric — would take the world by storm, ubiquitous in everything from home furnishings and wallpapers to maxi dresses from Balenciaga. 

Though they might appear worlds apart, chintz, in reality, is another avatar of kalamkari, the ancient South Indian art. But chintz’s rise came at the cost of the very art form that birthed it.

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