I never fail to appreciate my mother’s look whenever she wears her beautiful Jaipuri traditional hand block print salwar suits that are indeed bright and colorful. As I grew up I started growing admiration for traditional and authentic wear. Later, I decided to explore the real Jaipuri tradition and the ancient hand block printed fabrics and the history behind that.
I made up my mind to visit Jaipur as it is one of the best tourist places to visit in India. So, I set my journey to Jaipur to recce the beauty of the ‘Pink City’ and also where my curiosity lies ‘ The hand block printing of Jaipur’. My entire journey was a unique experience and I would love to share some facts and history behind the ‘Hand-Block printing’ stuff.
Memorable Journey to the ‘Pink City’
My friend and my cousin accompanied me on this incredible journey. Firstly, after checking into the guest house we headed to witness the popular ‘Hawa Mahal’ on my cousin’s repeated insistence. Most of us might have seen Hawa Mahal in numerous movies, videos, and also in photographs, but watching it closely in real, hits differently! Isn’t It?
Anyways, like everyone, I too loved the city completely as it is full of colors and life. I was feeling a little restless as I still could not quench my thirst of exploring the secrets of my mother’s most preferred hand-block print clothes. I set out my feet outside our lodge to visit the local market and enquire on the best hand block print market or textiles areas in Jaipur. Few localities asked me to check on the ‘Anokhi Textile Museum’. They say the place is well known for its amazing and authentic hand block prints. A lot of foreigners visit there daily to gain knowledge of Indian traditional fabrics. The words proved to be true when my own eyes witnessed the Museum the very next day.
The Anokhi experience of hand block print
As the name suggests, the ambiance of the place along with the design of hand block print is ‘Anokhi’ meaning Unique. The museum is located in the outskirts of Jaipur near Kheri Gate, behind Amer Fort and it took us around 1 hour to reach there from our guest house. They also have a showroom or you can say a textile shop in Jagatpura, Jaipur with huge varieties of block printed clothes. Initially, I wished to visit the museum because I was curious about knowing the procedure of Hand Block Prints. They handed over the entry tickets to us and we entered the museum. The museum looked like typical Havelis in Rajasthan. It is said that it was built in the 16th century and was called ‘Chanwar Palkiwalonki Haveli’ and later bought by Mr. John Singh in the 1970s.
We observed exclusive showcased hand block printed clothes that are both traditional and with a modern touch. Not only that, but they also have an ancient collection of wooden blocks and for the very first time I came to know that gold was exclusively used in block printing for the royals and aristocrats. Now, coming to the most interesting part is the history of hand block printing. One of the localities of that area helped me with all the detailed questions on the history of hand block printing.
Let us dive into the past
Well, He said that the technique is believed to have originated somewhere around 3500 to 1300 BC (Indus Valley civilization). But, I also remember that I have read somewhere that block print has an ancient connection with China from 4,000 ago. It might be possible that the Harappan civilization started practicing the technique after China.
And, 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?” He asked me. I nodded my head saying no in response. The answer to that is ‘ Thappa Chappai’.
“But, Why this name?” I asked in return. In Devanagri script or you may say in modern Hindi Language, ‘Thappa Chappai’ means Blocks Printing. Without much delay, he continued narrating to us the story of Thappa Chappai.
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 have abandoned the place, 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) 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. I personally love the ‘Buti’ motif and I own a beautiful cloth on this motif for myself.
Moreover, they also used Alizarine, as it gives a bright red color 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. That is all about the entire story behind block print according to the localities.
How do they carry out the process?
I further explored the museum along with other tourists and knew about the methods carried out to make the fabric and present it beautifully for us to use.
The fabric is washed initially and left 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.
Then, 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.
My journey to the museum came to an end with this. We were already getting late and then had to rush to grab some delicious Rajasthani food.
The loved by all designs
In the evening, I visited the showroom of Anokhi textiles and was amazed at the huge collection of hand block printed clothes. I and my friend purchased few clothes for ourselves. So I am going to mention the designs I got to see there in the showroom.
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 chillies & 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. I am sure that the block-printing technique will get more customized with increasing time. These beautiful printed designs are something which I would never be bored wearing. I would recommend everyone to try out more hand block print clothes like dresses or home decors including bed sheets, covers, cushions, etc who loves and prefers India’s rich culture and heritage. With these final words, the alluring story of Thappa Chappai or Hand Block Print ends here.