Talking about the traditional Hand Block printing is a much appreciated and authentic craft made by the artisans from the Mughal period. As you know that India is recognized for its rich culture and heritage.
I am going to you narrate a thought-proving story of how Hand Block Printing become a well-known technique in India and where did they get the amazing idea of this technique.
Let us dive into the past
Well, the technique is believed to have originated somewhere around 3500 to 1300 BC (Indus Valley civilization). Also, many researchers reported that block print has an ancient connection with China from 4,000 ago. Therefore, it is confirmed that before hand-block print art flourished in India, it had a wide popularity in China.
However, a textile designer and director of MFA Textiles (New York, USA) once said that the Indian history of block print technique is uneven. “The history is patchy,” because “history for Indians comes from what the invaders wrote,” said Preethi Gopinath. But the best historians stated that the Mughal rulers appreciated the art and technique and they used it immensely throughout their era. Not only the textile design but also the Taj Mahal has a touch block print.
Anyways, let’s come back to our interesting story of Hand block printing. Do you know what people used to call it in the local language? The answer to that is ‘ Thappa Chappai’.
But, Why this name? In Devanagri script or you may say in modern Hindi Language, ‘Thappa Chappai’ means Blocks Printing.
Fascinating Story of Thappa Chappai
Once, in that early period, there were caves amidst the dense forest which were inhabited by Buddhists as one could find Buddhist paintings and sculptures in the walls of the caves. After they are abandoned, tigers made it their shelter, and soon the place was named ‘Bagh Caves’ meaning Tiger Caves.
Later, after the partition of India, the Ajrakh Printers who used to wander from one region(Sind) to another(to Pali, Manawar, and Marwadi Thar) in order to sell their printed fabrics, settled down in Bagh in the year 1962. The area was suitable for their work and they could think of something innovative while settling down there. The river Baghini was rich in copper which would be good for providing dark colours to the fabrics and the flowing water would serve the dyeing process as well. Also, the iron content in the water makes the fabric soft and brings out a fine colour to it. Gradually, the block printing began to prosper and one could witness those on the paintings of Bagh Caves and Taj Mahal.
With time, several motif designs were brought into light by the craftsmen that included ‘Leheria’, ‘Jowaria’, ‘Phool Buta’. The most flexible and preferred design developed was the ‘Buti’ and ‘Jaal’ motifs blocks.
They also used Alizarine, as it gives a bright red colour to the fabric (known as Alizarine Print). Now coming to the raw materials used to make the cloth were mainly cotton and silk, wooden blocks, and natural dyes. Cotton comes from Indore (M.P), Silk is obtained from the popular ‘Maheswar and ‘Chanderi’. ‘Mulmul’ or Muslin is taken from Bhivandi but actually, it originates from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
How do they carry out the process?
The fabric is washed initially and lest to dry out in the sun after which it is dipped to a solution several times. Then, they submerge the fabric into a starch solution – ‘Tarohar and Harada’ and dry in shade to retain the yellow tone obtained in the fabric.
A kind of flower ‘Dhavda’ gum is added with the dye and a paste is made out of it. Generally, two types of paste exists – the red paste is obtained by boiling alum and tamarind seeds, and black paste is prepared by boiling the Iron rust. The ready paste is poured into the tray and the dye is applied to the wooden blocks pressing the block on the tray. Now, it’s time for the vital and the skillful task of printing the cloth with innovative designs. The craftsmen start from the outer area of the fabric and move towards the inner. Once done, it is again dried out and washed.
Usually, they used teak wood ‘Sagwan’ because it is a strong wood that will help to carve motifs and designs. Also, they don’t absorb water and deform the shape after continuous usage. An important step they carry out is dipping the blocks in oil for few days to make sure they do not distort and are safe from insects.
The loved by all designs
The Mughal style left a huge impact on Indian art and is practiced by few parts of India even today. The parts of Rajasthan and Gujrat are popular for their Dabu print and Ajrakh print(geometric motifs) respectively. Today this design is loved by all regions like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, etc.
The popular centers of block print in Rajasthan include Jaipur for (animals, flowers, several patterns), Bagru for (Syahi Begar & Dabu print), Sanganer for (Calico & Doo Rookhi), Barmer for (red chilies & trees).
While Gujrat has centers in Dhamadka, Kutch, Bhavnagar, Vasna, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Jetpur, and Porbandar all featuring the geometric motifs of various colors and patterns.
The demand for the block-print in the industry is growing fast and is reaching global attention. We are sure that the block-printing technique will get more customized with increasing time. We would like to list out few interesting facts on block-print that you must know before dealing with it.
⦁ The Indian state Rajasthan is the center of hand block printing.
⦁ Like block printing, screen printing has also gained popularity in past few years but, it is very difficult to differentiate between block-printed fabrics and screen-printed ones.
⦁ The block-printing design was admired and appreciated by the aristocrats during the Mughal era.
⦁ Almost every industry be it fashion or interiors, uses block-printing techniques.
⦁ Phulkari design is 5 times costlier than hand block-print design and at the same time, block-print is 5 times more popular.
⦁ There is 40% more demand for block-print fabrics because of the use of natural colors.