The great man's 34th Test century, an innings of concentration, heft, opportunism, impenetrable defence, classical stroke-play, and considerable imagination, helped South Africa finish the first day of the first Test on 291 for two from 91 overs.
Hashim Amla's unbeaten 115 was overshadowed by Kallis's unconquered 159, but it was no less vital to South Africa's cause.
The unbroken third-wicket partnership of 285 was a marvellous example of give and take, both batsmen participating unselfishly in the act of pressing the advantage.
Kallis and Amla were brought together by Zaheer Khan's two-wicket burst in the morning.
India's series began wretchedly - Rohit Sharma, brought in for V.V.S. Laxman, twisting his left ankle 15 minutes before the toss, which M.S. Dhoni lost - before Zaheer provided cheer.
Asked to bowl after starting the match a specialist batsman short (India was forced to debut reserve wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha), the home side needed to make the new ball count.
Zaheer did just that from left-arm over.
Having bothered Ashwell Prince with movement from a good length, Zaheer lifted the batsman off his feet with a nasty, cramping bouncer.
The left-handed opener was unfortunate to be adjudged caught-behind, for replays suggested the ball had looped to Dhoni off the arm-guard, but if ever a delivery deserved a wicket it was this.
Graeme Smith has had trouble with his alignment against Zaheer's angle.
For some reason Smith's method breaks down against the left-armer. On Saturday he played outside the line of a delivery that was slanted in. The ball also shaded in off the seam to pass unobstructed between bat and pad on its way to the stumps.
But the gains of the first hour thanks to Zaheer's spell of 6-4-2-2 evaporated. Amla scored South Africa's first boundary with a square cut off Ishant Sharma; it was Kallis however who subsequently dictated terms. Kallis's first two fours came off Amit Mishra long-hops, the batsman putting them away with emphatic pulls.
After steering Zaheer past gully, Kallis turned his attention to Harbhajan.
Two bullying slog-sweeps - the first for six, the second for four - forced Harbhajan to take a backward step.
Kallis's method thereafter was to move to the off-stump and turn deliveries from there to the on-side. This drew the ball on the pads, for the exposed leg-stump was a temptation that couldn't be resisted. Harbhajan even tried having Kallis caught at backward short-leg, but he might have profited from asking the batsmen to drive through cover.
Mishra ripped leg-breaks across both batsmen, deliveries that drifted to leg and broke to off. None of them found the edge however. A marvellous top-spinner nearly had Kallis in front of his stumps, but the batsman was struck just outside the line of the off-stump.
Mishra wasn't as consistent as he would have liked, and as a result, both batsmen knew they had but to wait for a scoring opportunity.
It was a pity more didn't turn up at the VCA Stadium, for there was much to savour in Kallis's batting.
A cover drive off Ishant between lunch and tea was beautiful: the timing and the placement couldn't have been bettered, but it was the physical shape of the stroke that was most alluring. Kallis also used his wrists exquisitely in his on-side stroke-play.
Amla deserves great credit for his patience - he scored only five in the hour after lunch, but didn't let that get to him. He deserves even greater credit for his situational awareness: seeing his partner ease after tea, Amla assumed the responsibility of advancing the game.
South Africa 1st innings: Graeme Smith b Khan 6, Ashwell Prince c Dhoni b Khan 0, Hashim Amla batting 115, Jacques Kallis batting 159, Extras: (B-4, LB-2, NB-5) 11, Total (for 2 wkts in 91 overs) 291
Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-6.
Bowling Zaheer Khan 20-5-67-2, Ishant Sharma 17-2-44-0, Harbhajan Singh 21-0-81-0, Amit Mishra 26-2-71-0, Virender Sehwag 7-1-22-0