“……. It would seem that
the author of nature, as a set-off against other advantages which Europe
enjoys, has granted India ingredients, and above all, certain waters, whose
particular qualities have much to do with beautiful combination of painting
and dyeing presented by Indian cloths.” -Father Coeurdoux
Wisely spoken words draw many a comparison of the geniuses of Indian
craftsperson in the whole world. Their mastery on the colour is truly
appreciated by the wearers of colourful textiles who look equally
mesmerizing to the novice eyes of the foreign land.
Versatility of the
fabrics produced in India can be estimated by the classification done by
John Irwin in his article titled, “Indian Textiles in Historical
Perspective”. He divides the cloth manufactured in following categories; (a)
clothes that are woven & dyed by professional skills of craftsperson’s of
India; for local communities, (b) articles of luxury made under court
patronage or in the court tradition, (c) embroidered textiles and (d)
fabrics of indigenous tribes. Here the dyed articles in first category also
include the printed textiles. Printing and dyeing are the two techniques
that go hand in hand in India.
Indian Art, printing constitutes a large part of textile art manufacture of
India. Printing being done on almost every textile base, it has attained the
highest level of perfection. Printed cloth is a cloth of commoner and there
is no single village in India where one can’t find bright coloured fabrics
all around. Of all the states, Rajasthan constitutes the most number of
styles of printing. Each region has its own specialty. Most of the
uniqueness is based on the different techniques applied. From direct block
printing to discharge and to resist style of printing all are practiced in
the state of Rajasthan.
There has been a shift in the technology with the changing economic, social
and political environment in Rajasthan. The state has seen numerous
successions from ancient times of anarchy to the modern day state
government. All these exchanges had a direct influence on the make and shift
of the cultural traditions. What is visible today is the coalescence of the
Tracing the culture of Rajasthan
Rajasthan covers 10.41% of the Indian Union. In terms of total area
Rajasthan takes only 2nd place next to Madhya Pradesh. The state
of Rajasthan covers 26 districts of which Jaipur comes 7th in
terms total area. This pink city is the capital of the state and also
represents the culture of this region to its extent. Jaipur constitutes
4.11% of the total area of the state. Rajasthan, the name of the state has
leaded on through slow successions from ‘Rajwara’, ‘Raethana’, ‘Rajputana’
Physically the Arravalli Range can distinctively divide Rajasthan state into
two geographical parts. This divide brings about a major cultural variation
amongst the two parts. The western part of the divide is dry and arid and
constitutes The Thar Desert and Eastern part, not devoid of flora and fauna
is hilly and rocky. There is an interesting exchange of material and
philosophical ideas between the two regions.
trace the origins of present Rajasthan’s culture of craftsmanship it will be
a mountainous task for there was no one group or community that stayed long
enough to prosper. It was the continuous invasion through Iranian plateau
that one community swiped another successively. This resulted in the
amalgamation of different cultures. Each invasion brought new traditions,
which were imprinted, with the older ones.
Persians to Arabs, Mughuls, Mauryans, Aryans did not resulted in much of
civilization than continuous successive possession of land. The reasons were
simply to exploit the resources of the land. Rajasthan is rich in mines of
minerals and stones. The craftsmen of Rajasthan therefore use natural
mineral stone colours wether it is for meenakari (enamelling), lacquer work,
dyeing and printing of cloth, pichhwais of Nathdwara, Phad paintings etc.
is only with the rule of Mughal’s that some stability was seen in the land.
The first ruler of Mughal Sultanate, Babar was a descendant of Changhez Khan
and Temurlane. He, with his every succession spared the skilled craftsmen,
artists and men of learning. He would either send them off to his homeland
or bring his craftsmen to the newly conquered land to build new craft
centers. At this era we could say that a stability in the community brought
evolving culture of craft.
Rajputana history, at about 500 A.D. Huns who were the descendants of Turks
of Transoxiana, complete barbarians from the Iranian Plateau overthrew
Gupta’s. They were also based on tribal communities. The Gurajara tribes of
the Huns adopted Hinduism and their leaders were responsible for the origin
of Rajput families.
As terrain of Rajasthan
favoured resistance, the enclaves of the old culture survived here more
easily than in other parts of the country. The weather conditions on the
other hand also played a vital role in the favouring of certain resources
than the others. Due to climatic conditions, cotton cannot be grown in this
area. Therefore weaving of cotton is quiet uncommon. The only loom operation
that happens around is the manufacture of blankets from locally produced
wool. Probably that is the reason why Rajasthani craftsmen have excelled at
surface ornamentation technique.
Block printing, tie-dye and embroidery are the basic techniques, which gives
Rajasthan its distinctive character. Decked in bright colours like red,
yellow, green, blue & black, men and women of Rajasthan, make the most
colourful picture of arid and dry land.
Blocks for printing
Before probing further into the background of printed
textiles it is necessary to know what printed textiles mean. A textile on
which a pattern is produced after the completion of weaving, the pattern
achieved through dye-stuff and wooden blocks of design. The wooden hand
blocks are used to make patterns of design on the fabric. In Rajasthan
following processes have been in use for decoration.
Direct application of
the colour and design; hand blocks were used earlier. Today silk screens
have mostly substituted hand block. Hand block printing is not obsolete
though but very few craftsmen are practicing the same.
Resist process, which
means application of colour at first stage; resist application at second
stage and again second application of the colour. Resists like gum, clay
and wax have been used in Rajasthan. Resist is stamped with the block in
place like Bagru near Rajasthan. The resist is named as Dabu which is made
of mud or clay.
Mordant process or the
modern discharge process is used when the direct application of dyes is
not possible. Most of the printers in Rajasthan have started using this
style of printing using synthetic alizarine.
Pigment printing with
gold or more commonly known as Tinsel printing. This style of printing is
most commonly found in Jaipur. Also known as Warak/Gold leaf printing this
style is also used in Pichhwais of Nathdwara.
S. Demand in relation to printing has accounted that, “Two methods of
decorating fabrics are of ancient origin. These are block printing and
resist dyeing, which in the Mughal period were brought to a high degree of
perfection and combined with painting.”
Today also the processes and technique remain the same except the change of
raw materials. Natural dyes have been replaced by synthetic dyes. Materials
like natural wax, gum have been replaced by their counter parts in synthetic
and man-made materials. Hand block printing has been replaced by silk
Studying the origin and
development of printed textiles is a difficult task. There are no hard
evidences to support the beginning of textile printing industry in the
country. As we go down the history lane there are many evidences that prove
printing to be an art for appreciation since long time.
The word ‘Print’ comes
from old French preinte ‘pressed’ or from Latin premere, ‘to
press’.Motichandra in the text from Journal of Indian Textile History V
had mentioned Chitrapata in 11th century source as a
possible form of printed Calico. Further the word Chimpaka for a
Female calico printer and chhipa for a calico printer in 14th&
15th century source respectively.The term chhapa for
calico printing has been evident in Jaisi, 16th Century. An 18th
century text named as Bahar-i-Ajam has accounted ‘chhapa’ to
be a Hindi word for printing block which in Persian is known only as
Old Sanskrit literature
refers to words like ‘phuttak’, ‘pushpvat’, ‘hansalakshyukt’,
‘dhukul’ and the text written by Gorochan known as ‘kadambri’
talks about printed and painted textiles. Use of ‘Hans’ motif in
printing of textiles in ancient India is visible through the paintings in
Ajanta and Ellora caves, Jain miniature paintings and fragments excavated
the Hindi word was modified/adapted to ‘chit’ in Persian which is
also indicative of the primacy of Indian block printing industry.
Words like ‘chints’, ‘printed’, ‘calicoes’ and ‘pintadoes’ were quiet in use
for the Indian textiles during the middle ages. Also words like uchho
(printing industry) and chimppayy (printers) were prevalent in the
dictionaries in middle ages. This denotes that printing of textile was an
evolved industry during that time.
Printed cotton textiles from India were known with various names like
chidneys, chites, scriltores, toiles, peintes, indinnes, palampores and
salampores which also prove that Indian textile were not only famous
throughout India but there demand was indispensable in the whole world.
can say it is though very difficult to find the exact source of origin and
date of printing in India but it can be surely said that printing industry
did existed from a very long time. Few examples mentioned above promote the
existence of printing industry and that too in a much evolved state. Though
there is no physical evidence available in India due to the weather
conditions which could not conserve the old textiles but fragments found at
Fostat provides us with enough proof for the same.
Evidences of significance
The earliest specimen of
the Indian resist dyed cloth is said to be discovered by Sir Aurel Stein in
8th century which was a fragment of cotton cloth with a floral
motif. Silk specimen of block printed style was also discovered by Sir Stein
in Central Asian sites.
Long standing tradition
of dyeing and printing in Rajasthan can be seen through the evidence of an
old printed cloth found in Jaisalmer Jain Bhandar. The cloth was probably
made with madder process and found wrapped around a manuscript. The design
of the cloth was found similar to the stylized boota found in Egyptian Tomb
which dates back to 12th century A.D. The printed fabrics found
in Central Asia made in resist techniques probably dating 8th
century A.D. were said to be produced in India. Old banner paintings from
Tibet were coloured in Indian red, black & yellow a very common colour
combination found in India and the design patterns seem typical contemporary
most noteworthy and exemplary evidence of printing history of India is the
madder dyed fragment pieces found in Al Fustat, Egypt whose origin is
sourced to India. The earliest specimen dates back to 12th
century. It provides with an ample proof that by 15th century
block printing and dyeing were the two arts that Indian craftsmen excelled
at. Not only were they being used in home but they have reached the outer
world through trade. The analysis of these fragments mentioned in the book,
“Les Toiles Imprimees De Fostat” authored by R. Pfister gives an impression
that the fragments were originated in Gujarat. Gujarat port however catered
all the near-by centers
for printing like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh. By observing the prints
visually it will be difficult to decide the exact provenance of the
Fragments of printed textile at Fostat
Place of Manufacture: Gujarat
These specimens allow the
textile historians to speculate the origin of the printing in the world.
Some scholars argue the
origin of printing to China but the claims are not confirmed but it is
established that first paper printing was practiced in China. Sir Aurel
Stein had discovered Chinese hand printed silk dating from T’ang dynasty (7th
century) in the “Cave of the Thousand Buddhas” at Tun Huang in Chinese
Turkestan. R. Pfister recorded that printing was practiced on silk by
Iranians in 11 the century.
It is also been claimed
that it is from China that the art of printing spread to middle Asia and
Persia. From Persia hence it travelled with Muslims to Western India.
Although an account by Chardin (1666) opposes this argument claiming that
Iran’s cotton printed textiles were not as fine as that of India.
Irfan Habib in his article ‘The Technology and Economy of Mughal India’ has
also mentioned two methods of pattern dyeing as basic to Indian craftsmen in
17th century. These were application of resists to confine
colours and of mordants to take colours.
Various anecdotes and accounts ascertain that printing existed in India even
before the arrival of Mughals. It can be attested to the favourable
conditions in India like water resources that printing has reached its
zenith. Though there are no evidences or fragments available of wooden block
but there is one stone block from 5th century as mentioned by Dr.
Motichandra in her book titled, “Jain miniature painting from western
Ajanta and Ellora caves are very significant to the textile historians. Some
of the frescoes in Ajanta are illustrative of block printing of cottons.
an illustration of the Mahajanak Jataka from Cave I, the chowri bearer has
an upper garment decorated with the “hamsa” motif- similar motifs have been
found both in Fostat specimens and in costumes detailed by Dr. Motichandra
in his book on Jain Painting.”
just the historical architecture but travelogues and accounts of famous
foreigners have mentioned the art of hand block printing. There is a
reference of export of cotton printed goods from Coromandel coast to Baruch
in Gulf of Cambay in a book named “Periplus of Erythrean Sea” written in 1st
century A.D.From the anonymous Greek text it is clear that the trade from
India to Roman Egypt included spices and aromatics, gems, ivory and
especially textiles, in exchange of which were sent metals, wheat, glass and
silver, but also linen from the Nile Delta. It is interesting to note that
Duarte Barbosa who was serving the Indian government in 1500 AD, almost 1500
years after wrote about the same export centres; Gujarat, Coromandel Coast
and Bengal. The centre’s were producing patterned textiles for export since
Megasthenes in 4th century writes about the costumes of Indian’s.
“Their robes are worked
in gold, ornamented with precious stones; they wear flowered garments made
of finest muslin.”
Francois Bernier in his famous work of “Travels in Mogul Empire” has
mentioned of his meeting with Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in his tent which was
beautifully lined with hand painted cotton manufactured in Masulipatnam.
“The outside was red and
the inside was lined with those chittis or cloths painted by a pencil of
Masulipatnam, purposely wrought and contrived with such vivid colours and
flowers and flowers so aturally drawn, of a hundred several fashions and
shapes, that one would have said it was a hanging parterre.”
Frenchman Jean Baptiste Tavernier talks of cotton floral printed canopies.
He has used the words chintz and calicoes for the printed wall
hangings and bed spreads used in the Mughal times which were exported from
Memoirs of kings and queens also form a very important source of historical
evidence for textile researchers. Abul Faizal’s, Ain-i-Akbari which is an
account of the Mughal king Akbar’s life has mentioned printed textiles of 16th
century. There is a mention of printing of cotton textile too.
“…….in stuff as zardozi, kalabatun, kashidah, qalghai, bandhanun, chhint,
alchah, purzdar to which His Majesty pay much attention.”( Abul Fazl’s
Ain-i-Akbari translated by Ibn Mubarak)
Records of East India Company show the trade of printed cloths of Baharanpur
or either pintadoes of Masulipatnam as curtains and quilts to western
countries. Various trade records of different places have illustrated the
chintz of Ahmedabad and Pintadoes of Baharanpur and Surat which proves the
17th century existence of printing industry in India.
Thevenot, a French traveler in his account of Agra from 1666 has mentioned
the use of printing
block for direct colour impressions. He also mentioned the same process
being used in Iran but
further mentions that the cloth used to come from Indies.
Development of printing in Rajasthan
Of how the printing
centers were developed in Rajasthan we only have speculative data. As
discussed earlier Rajasthan was dealing with various excursions by foreign
rulers as well as tensions from domestic front. The social upheavals that
occurred during the wars of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb during the mid17th
century, followed by incursions of raiding Marathas, must have forced the
Gujarati printers to abandon their land and shift to Rajasthan. Therefore we
can say that Gujarati and Rajasthani designs have so much of similarity in
terms of colours and designs and yet they manage to sustain their
individuality with the course of time. With new avenues and resources
available the printers settled at various places in Rajasthan. Slowly and
gradually each printing center developed its own unique style of printing.
There is also a story related to how printing actually started in Sanganer
region of Rajasthan. The elders recite the tale of Sant Namdev. Sant Namdev
an otherwise popular saint of Maharashtra has been known to be a son of a
textile printer in Maharashtra who gave the knowledge of dyeing and printing
as he travelled towards north-west region of India. Other story relates that
one night Sant NamDev had a dream about the processes of dyeing and
printing, which he conveyed to his friends and relatives in the morning. In
this way the process of dyeing and printing came into practice.
Traditional patterns and designs are still in existence in Rajasthan. Each
center of Rajasthan has its own unique style of printing. We can clearly
distinguish the centers of printing with their unique styles in terms of
colours, techniques and designs.
uniqueness of the printed cloth had pale background in light pink or cream,
designed in delicate floral designs, which were outlined in black giving it
a bold appearance. The patterns were further detailed through shades of red.
Bed covers, quilts, bed spreads were designed in large floral patterns while
the borders were in pure white colour and the scrolls made on this ground
were either of hibiscus type or Palmyra types in an expanded form. The
flowers were alternately of dark and light red. The end pieces of clothes
like saris had pillars panelled and flowers in cusped arches.
region forms the desert circuit with three other regions namely Jodhpur,
Jaisalmer and Bikaner. Amidst the arid desert land, Barmer brings out the
most brilliant of printed cloths in bold patterns. The katar buti
design is actually famous from the region. The technique followed in Barmer
is Ajrakh done on both the sides of fabric. It is done on both the sides of
the fabric in the usual blue and red colour combination. Balotra is another
centre of Barmer region known for Ajrakh printing as well.
Here we can find the oldest designs and techniques. Wax resist printing is
famous for Jaisalmer region which is done only in three to four months of
winters and that too at night time. The cold weather cools off the hot wax
immediately on the fabric. The cloth is then dyed which causes the resisted
area to take lighter tone of the dyed colour. This technique creates
effective tonal end result on the cloth.
Udaipur: It is
home to famous Nathdwara Temple of Lord Krishna. The influence of Nathdwara
painters is quite evident on the printers of Udaipur. Many of the
distinctive designs have found Pichhwai to be the source of
inspiration. Cloths in white or almond colour background were seen printed
with sandalwood blocks which leave behind sweet fragrance after printing.
The cloth was decorated
either with dark red colour or if dyed in lighter background it was
decorated with bands of green colour and flowers on it with yellow colour.
The printed clothes mostly included dupattas and odhanis.
centre is known for its yet different style of printing. Dabu is applied on
a white cloth which is then dyed in red or blue colour. Kota though is more
famous for its unique woven fabric which has its name from the place itself;
the kota fabric. Block printing is done on this fabric mostly in Indian red
and indigo. Today the market is flooded with the fabrics of Kota. The
products are mostly stoles, duppattas or odhanis and dress material.
This district has numerous small printing centers one such is called
chhipo ka Akola. This center is famously known to print ghaghra
for local village women. Also one of the largest printing communities of
Rajasthan, the ghaghra printed is usually in dark blue indigo
with a famous traditional mirchi buta design.
Jaipur: is one
of the most popular printing centre. Being the capital of the state, this
pink city portrays the entire culture of Rajasthan. Two famous printing
centers of Jaipur region are Sanganer and Bagru. Both the places are known
for distinct styles of printing.
“The Sanganer town of
Jaipur State must, however, be regarded as the very metropolis of the
calico-printing craft of India so far as art-conceptions and techniques are
concerned” – Sir George Watt.
Sanganer is known for intricate and detailed floral design done in direct
style of printing. While Bagru is known for dull coloured clothes designed
in single buti design done in resist paste. Mostly earthy colours are used
in this style of printing. Established by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh printing
succeeded after settlement of printers in Jaipur. Sanganer was already
producing printed clothes but there is no evidence. Kaladera, another centre
of printing near Jaipur prints pharad on bue background whereas Jairampura
centre prints in red and black colour. Bassi near Jaipur was known for
printings of bed sheets but today it also produces garments.
center’s so mentioned became popular and sustainable for some reason. It is
the available resources that make this printing industry viable in some
centers only. For example, Dhund river of Sanganer and Nargaasar river of
Barmer had special minerals in the water that produced brilliant colours.
Being a desert state, Rajasthan weather influenced the use of bright and
bold colours. Availability of raw materials also caused the development of
printing in few centers only. Most of the raw material came from the tribals
who travelled between Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan for food and resources.
They bartered the wax, gum and wood like material with essentials like food
and grains. Another very important reason for thriving of the industry is
consumers. Most of the tribal population of Rajasthan wore printed textiles.
eastern Rajasthan Meena, Jat and Gurjar men wore white sash and Meena women
wore Mein pharad or Jammardi pharad. Today Meena and Jat women both wear the
ghaghras of Mein ki pharad. Pipad, in western rajasthan produces textiles
for village population of Mali and Bhishnoi community.
Significance of printing
Textile printing had enjoyed the royal patronage in centers like Sanganer
and Bagru. After the beneficial alliance between the then Raja of Amber,
Raja Bharmal and the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1562, the royal court adopted
the Mughal style administrative system. 36 karkhana workshops were
established of which two were rangkhana; that supervised the dyeing
and chapakhana; that managed textile printing. The royal collections
now available in Indian museums and private collections were collected
through various ways. Some of them were gifts from the clients or
subordinates while some were a part of military-political alliance. The
finest example of this type is what is called ‘khilat’ or the robe of
Craftsmen worked for the three types of patrons; nobility, courtiers and
temple devotees and everyday clients or commoners. The depiction of exotic
flowers in a most exquisite manner was the emphasis on courtly cloth while
the everyday client’s cloth was adorned with flora, fauna of local habitat.
The temple textiles included red coloured duppatta’s that were offered to
the diety along with the sweets. These gifts to the diety were then offered
by the priests to the prominent devotees. As an act of veneration craftsmen
printed naamwali textiles. The artisans would chant ‘pancha namaskara
chants’ while stamping the cloth in a unison.
court patronage provided with all the facilities to the artisans. These
artisan printed clothes as per the royal demand only. The independent
printers were not supported by the royal courts and they were not
facilitated by the perks which were otherwise available to printers
associated with the court.
Rajasthan till date is the most extensive printing center in India. The
charm of the bright colours still finds place in the hearts of people of
Rajasthan, compensating for the otherwise dull terrain. Printing happens in
almost all the places in Rajasthan. Though many centers are now obsolete due
to lack of demand and availability of resources but some centers like
Sanganer have flourished beyond the boundaries of India. The printing styles
so unique to their places are known by the place only. ‘Sanganeri’ is one
such example. Other styles are ‘Daabu’- the mud resist printing, ‘mendh’-
the wax resist printing, ‘Ajrakh’- a complicated yet beautiful printing
bock printing industry faced a blow with the introduction of mechanized
systems of printing. Screen printing overtook hand block printing at most of
the printing centres. The speedy new method in combination with modern
pigment inks enabled large scale factories to produce enormous quantities of
inexpensive patterned cloth. This had a three way damage of the industry.
Consumers shifted to less expensive products, printers were gaining more
profit through cheap raw materials yet marginal profits even in cheaper good
they sell and decline of the age old traditional skill. The demand increased
with the increase in production.
recent years there have been issues of increasing environmental concerns.
The trade of artificial dyes started in around 1980’s in Sanganer region.
There was also an introduction of pigment and binder systems for screen
printers. The 1990’s witnessed the introduction of discharge printing
methods and newer forms of pigment systems including revolutionary new
Procion colours which were highly reactive and specially made for screen
printing. This easily availability of cheap raw material triggered the
printing activities and therefore increased the levels of pollution in the
block printing is dependant on clean water supply. Pollution in water causes
the changein mineral water content and it effects the dye uptake on clothes.
There has been no awareness about environmental concerns and the situation
is getting worst every time.
the census done in 2009 it was established that screen printing units
outnumbered the hand block printing units. There were 350 block printing
units in comparison to 423 screen printing units.
There has been an effort by the government and private organizations to
change the disappointing scenario. In 2003 All India Artisans and Craft
Workers Association (AIACA), a membership group of craft NGO’s established a
Craftmark to educate the consumers and establish the local craftsmen in the
global market. This branding has helped the printer community in improving
their sales enormously.
United Kingdom’s fair trade organization, Traidcraft, in partnership with
AIACA, is working on the ‘Switch Asia Project- Promoting Sustainable
Consumption and Production’. The project is exploring environmental concerns
as well as issues like ethical work standards, labour laws, health and
safety standards etc.
future of the industry therefore stands in the hands of block printers
community and the efforts of private and government organizations in
creating a sustainable environment for hand block printing industry.
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