Tree of Life

By Shahana Naqvi, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India Observer:


The Tree of Life motif is recognised by cultures all over the world. It is a concept that appears in Science, Philosophy, Religion and Mythology and alludes to the inter connection of all life on our planet. It serves as a metaphor for our common descent.

This concept spans across nations and in nearly every ancient culture as a symbol of connectivity with roots with the soil and leaves and branches reaching sky receiving sun and air.

It dwells in the three worlds of heaven, earth and underworld, acting as a link among the three.

The Tree of Life Motif appears in oriental rugs, art, sculptures, paintings, jewelry ,tiles, stones and in many different types of fabrics.


















Indian Textiles

My article chooses to explore the heritage of Tree of Life motif in ancient Indian textiles, especially Kalamkari. The symbol of a tree was sacred and represents life, endurance, growth and prosperity. It is woven, painted and block printed in a lot of Indian textiles. Kalamkari or Qalamkari is derived from the Persian word Qalam meaning Pen and Kari meaning craftmanship or simply drawing with a pen.

Kalamkari is a hand painted or block printed cotton textile, produced in Isfahan, Iran and in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

The art of Kalamkari originated in Persia or present day Iran.


In India it flourished along the Coromandel Coast during the 17th century and originated as a religious tapestry which later became a secular craft under Muslim rule. Kalamkari paintings became popular especially under the Golconda Sultanate.

In Iran, the fabric is printed using patterned wooden stamps. The Persian city of Isfahan is considered as the centre of this beautiful handicraft, which is appreciated throughout the world and tourist bring them back as a beautiful reminder of their trip.


Original Kalamkari fabrics are made from natural dyes which are extracted from vegetables, flower sand seeds. Dyes are obtained from colours from various roots, leaves and mineral salts of iron, copper and alum. It is a painstaking process that involves at least 23 steps.

Photo credit : Pinterest


Two styles of Kalamkari Art in India include Sri Kalahasti  Kalahasti in Chittoor district and Machilipatnam  in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. Both the Kalamkari styles have earned GI tag or (Geographical Indication Tag).

Photo credit : Jaypore

Sri Kalahasti style of Kalamkari art flourished in temples, creating epic stories and religious myths.

While the Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari is mainly used as dress materials, sarees, curtains and bedcovers, nowdays as doormats too.


The word Palampore comes from the Hindi word Palang Posh, bed spread or Coverlet. Palampore is a type

Photo credit : MET Museum, New York

of bedcover or wall hanging that was made in India for the export market especially Britain, the Netherlands during the 17th, 18th and early 19th century.

They are Hand painted, Block printed and occasionally Embroidered.

Photo credit : Christie’s

Palampore were a regular feature of the 18th century Chintz trade to Europe where they were prized as wall hangings and bed and table coverings.

They typically show a central flower fruit bearing serpentine tree emerging from a hillock with stylized peacocks and rocks.

Most Palampores have a characteristic large Tree of Life motif in the centre.

Luxury Fabric

Only the wealthiest classes could afford to buy Palampore, therefore few examples have survived and have been quite valuable today.

Instead of using Palampores on their beds Europeans proudly displayed them on walls and as bed canopies. It was a Luxury fabric.

In Indian textiles the tradition began to be associated with Palampores featuring a central flowering tree growing from a Rocky mound or arising from water surrounded by sacred Lotus and marine creatures.

The Tree of Life symbol is a tree which is sacred and represents life, endurance, growth and prosperity. It symboliszes “Creation and Resurrection”. It is woven, painted or block printed.

Motifs usually consists of leaves, flowers or figurative designs. Peacocks and other exotic birds, tigers and deer motifs combines elements from Persia, China, Europe and India.

Janamaz (Prayer Rug)

In Islam, Janamaz or Prayer Rug is placed between the ground and the worshipper. It is used for the performance of 5 daily prayers made obligatory on the believers.

The Kalamkari printed Tree of Life motif has been extensively used for making the Janamaz during the 18th century. It became popular not only in India but also in throughout the Islamic world.

Many of these exquisite pieces have found their way into Museums, Websites and Antique stores.


These paintings Speak of our Life, as it branches are spreading so is our life. We come across new people making our life more enriched and fruitful.


I dedicate this beautiful piece of writing to the two most important people in my life, my Mother ( Amma) who motivated me to pick up my threads again and start writing.

To my darling, most precious Anam, who inspires me to live every day, the fruit of my forbearance. She turns 10 this month, InshaAllah, I pray that this delicate plant blossoms into a beautiful human being one day and can be a source of inspiration for her generation.

Also Read more from this Author: Chrismas Story Retold …..

Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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Shahana Naqvi

Shahana Naqvi

CULTURAL MOSAICS : Shahana Naqvi a librarian by profession she loves to read on arts and culture and writes a blog , Museum of Passion, dedicated especially on various cultural traditions of the Islamic world . Having been brought up under the tender care and guidance of her maternal grandmother Ammajaan and the rich heritage tapestry of her beloved city of Lucknow is what shaped her life. Her quest to research Islamic traditions started when she was questioned about her faith, a beautiful journey to unearth the hidden treasures is what she has embarked upon and which according to her is her calling in life ……

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