Let us take you on virtual spin from Jaipur, on the highway to Ajmer, to this Rajasthani town of Bagru.
Dynamism of Indian block printing is risen further into eminence by centuries old heritage of Bagru prints and textiles.
A stroll through the vast drying fields connecting the Chhipa Mohalla —the printers’ quarters brimming with the fragrance of drying fabric would feel as though you are embraced by a vivid imagery of history in motion.
With walls and ground soaked in resplendence of oranges, blues, and pinks, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the ambivalence of beauty seen birthed, nourished and crafted in a frenzy of emotions.
Carving nature into heritage:
The number of colors and shapes in the envisioned print design guides the number of block to be carved and used .
By norm, a printer first stamps the background block (a gudh), followed by an outline block (the rekh). Filler blocks called as datta help complete the design.
A printer will need about a minimum of four blocks to create a hand printed fabric.
Specific to each pattern’s design, selecting and preparing the local wood resource is a collaborative effort which means it could take at least one or two days to carve and prepare a single block.
In Bagru, woods like Sheesham (Indian Rosewood), Sagwan (Teak) or Rohida (Desert Teak) are used for constructing the blocks.
Sagwaan is preferred when durability and softness is of concern, while the relative hardness of Sheesham is gainfully utilised for intricacy in motifs.
Post being sketched on paper and cut to size, the pattern is drawn on the wood. It is then when drilling and chiselling, hammers, nails, and files are turned for recreating the pattern on the block.
Rooted and functional inevitably on community spearheaded work scheme, the master printers, block carvers, dyers, dhobiwalas and designers operate on a historic sociological matrix of emotions, passion, aspirations and livelihoods.
Printing the imagined glory:
A typical paraphernalia of long and low-lying printing tables, rustic looking assortment of blocks , rolling trolleys holding dyeing trays and an array of utilities meets the sight of a bemused non-native passerby.
To begin block printing, a printer firstly dips the wooden block in the dye tray before pressing the centre of the block onto the fabric and repeats the process.
Traditional Bagru prints use coloured or dark patterned designs on cream or dyed backgrounds.
In Bagru, the cloth carries a cream coloured or a dyed base, but Sanganeri prints carry a white base. Sanganer prints are distinguished by delicate leaf and floral motifs. Bagru prints essentially entail geometric shapes — such as jaali or grids, wavy lehers , chaupadi or checks, and kangura or triangular patterns.
Soaked in harda that serves as a natural mordant sourced from myrobalan fruit, the color is locked into the fabric before dyeing, giving it a yellowish hue.
In varying proportions, alum, Babul gond or gum, lal mitti are concocted to produce red whereas indigo is used to generate the blue color.
For darker shades, fermented waste iron, water and jaggery are blended to create blacks while greys are made with alum.
With monsoons halting this heritage enthused medley of textile making, the hotter and drier months bless the Bagru craft with a nature guided production.
Declining water tables, the ubiquitous threat of digital printing and pan-industrial race for commercial viability are potent impediments to the long-term future of this craft and its historic stature.
A potent ray of hope is seen when our dearest clients of Gulabchand reinstate their faith year after year in our workmanship that commits to sustain the splendour of Bagru textile making and other textiles from Rajasthan.