Alizarin, Madder, Parijaat, Natural Dye, Bagh Print, Ajrakh, Puru Print, Hand block print, Dabu

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Bagh & Bagru Print: Similar process but different traditions

Traditional Process of Alizarin Printing 

1. Purchase of kora/unbleached fabric

2. Scouring (Cleaning of fabrics locally known as “HariTarana” and soak for 24 hours)

3. Yellow dying in Harda(fruit of myrobalan plant) solutionto make fabric off-white. (Prepare fabric for printing locally called “PeelaKarna” or HardaRangai)

4. Printing (Block printed with alum and iron rust mixed with tamarind seed powder paste which is locally called “Chapai”)

5. Drying of printed fabric locally called “Sukhai

6. Washing to remove the excess color locally called “Khulai” or "Vichalai"

7. Dyeing or fixing of colors after washing, locally known as “GhanRangai”. In this process printed fabric is dyed with synthetic alizarin to get red color in place of alum printing and black color get fixed. Previously madder roots or al (morinda tinctoria) roots were used in dyeing. 

8. Bleaching of fabric locally known as "Tapai". Previously it was done near river by pouring water on the fabric under sunlight but now a days ready made bleaching powder is used to remove the stains on the dyed fabric.

9. Fabric ready. If required it is again dyed with different synthetic dyes or natural dyes to get different color backgrounds. 

 Difference between Bagh & Bagru Print

Whenever we think of red and black block printing people think about either Bagh or Bagru print but unable to differentiate in between the two. Most of the times craft lovers even consider both are same but in actual both are different and having its own specialty, tradition and beauty. It is very important to keep the differentiation in mind to keep the sanctity of craft tradition.

Apart from similar red and black printing there are few similarities and many simple and technical differences in craft approach, community and motif. Before sharing differences there are few similarities in between two craft are:

Similarities in Bagh & Bagru Print

Printing style
Both are alizarin block printing technique (Combination of red & black printing).
Both the techniques protected under Geographical Indication act.
Almost similar process of washing, printing and dyeing.

These are the similarities in between Bagh and Bagru print then what are differences?

Differences in between Bagh print and Bagru print

Points of difference
Bagh print
Bagru print
Traditional Motif/Pattern
Buta and jaal pattern
Very small buti pattern
Madhya Pradesh
Printing colors (Traditional)
Red, black, Further developed 2 more colors shades by printing black on white background i.e. Ochre & Golden yellow
Red & black. Now a days pigment colors also used in printing.
Generally bleached white background after printing and dyeing. Sometimes over dye with synthetic dyes.
Off white or cream background.
Muslim Khatri
Hindu Namdev Chippa
All the washing done in flowing river
Washing done in pond
Red color
Vibrant red color comes out with alizarin due to rich copper content in the river.
Brick red shade is the identity of Bagru.

Present Scenario

Today there is no difference of motif and pattern left due to continuous interaction between the two places. Same block makers are making wooden blocks for the printers of both places. But both the traditions are protected by geographical indication need to be identified and marketed in their respective names. 

Whatever printed in Bagh following the traditional process known as Bagh print and whatever printed in Bagru following the traditional process known as Bagru print. 

Peela karna (Myrobalan dyeing process) in Bagh Village

Black Kachuka (Iron rust+jaggery+tamarind seed paste)

Red Kachuka (Alum+Tamarind seed powder paste)

Vichalai process in Bagh (Post printing washing) 

 Usman Khati (Bagh Print)

Traditional Bagh Print Saree

 Traditional Small Buti  (Bagru Print)

A printer in Bagru 

Govindji Chippa (In left) Showing Traditonal Bagru Print Saree

Bagru Print Saree

Monday, 24 December 2018

Indigo Dye: Organic, Natural synthetic & Complete synthetic

Indigo dye

Indigo is one of the oldest known natural dye used in ancient times to get natural blue extracted from Indigofera tinctoria plant leaves. Indian subcontinent was famous for its cultivation and used in dyeing traditional block printed clothes. It was one of the early known natural dye used in cold form by fermenting the indigo leaves or powder extracted from leaves through as certain process. 

In today's time natural indigo is used by very few dyers in organic form. To prepare a vat or dye pot any plastic drum or underground cemented tank is used. Size of the indigo vat depends upon the use and demand. Traditionally a pitcher is used to prepare a indigo vat. There are 3 variants of Indigo color is available in the market today.

Maheshwari handloom cotton tie dyed with organic natural indigo

Organic Natural Indigo

First we talk about the indigo used to ferment using organic process with natural ingredients. It is very important to use natural ingredients if any dyer is using natural indigo otherwise it is of no use to make a natural indigo vat. The natural ingredients used in preparing organic natural indigo vat are:

1. Water

2. Natural indigo cake or powder

Indigo cake

3. Cassia tora seeds (It attracts bacteria to fasten the fermenting process and extracting the color from indigo powder)

Cassia tora seeds

4. Lime (To make water alkaline and maintaining the ph value of the vat)
Lime in crystal form

5. Jaggery or sugar (A natural source of fructose works as a reducing agent)
Jaggery crystal

By mixing all the natural and organic ingredients in water with indigo powder a natural indigo vat get prepared.

Organic natural indigo vat by EcoFab

Using all these natural and organic ingredients in preparing organic natural indigo vat requires 12 to 24 hours in activation. It also depends upon the weather and use of ingredients in proportion.

Natural Indigo with synthetic process

Natural indigo is prepared using natural indigo with synthetic chemical ingredients. Ingredients used in preparing natural chemical indigo vat are:

1. Natural indigo cake or powder
2. Lime
3. Caustic soda (Heavy chemical with toxic property)
4. Sodium hydrosulphite (Heavy chemical with toxic property)

If some dyer is using synthetic chemical ingredients as a reducing agent in preparing natural indigo then it is of no use because the natural herbal properties of indigo got nullified while using heavy synthetic chemical based reducing agents in preparing the vat. 

Why people use synthetic chemical ingredients in natural indigo?

1. It get activated within 30 minutes of preparing vat
2. Easy to maintain using chemical ingredients
3. Non- availability of cassia tora seeds or unaware about it
4. Sometimes no access to knowledge of preparing organic indigo vat

Synthetic Indigo 

Most of the indigo products available in the market are flooded with synthetic chemical indigo dyed products marketed as natural indigo dyed products. After introduction of synthetic version of indigo in the market every hand block printing cluster is using synthetic (chemical) indigo to dye the fabrics. 

Synthetic indigo vat get prepared using synthetic chemical ingredients only.

Ingredients used in preparing synthetic chemical indigo vat are:

1. Synthetic/chemical Indigo known as German indigo
2. Lime
3. Caustic soda (Heavy chemical with toxic property)
4. Sodium hydrosulphite (Heavy chemical with toxic property)

Why hand block printers or dyers use chemical indigo?

1. Pricing of synthetic chemical indigo is 2 to 3 times cheaper than natural indigo
2. Maintenance of chemical indigo vat is easy
3. Quick demand 
4. Lack of  knowledge about preparing natural organic indigo vat

Now the million dollar question is how to identify the difference in between synthetic chemical & natural indigo?

It is not easy to identify the difference of shades in between organic natural, natural chemical and chemical indigo dyed fabrics initially. It all depends upon the level of honesty and transparency of block printer, dyer or marketing company to mention it. 

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Ajrakh in India: Two different school of thoughts

School of thoughts 

One of the most mystical colorful and oldest known technique of hand block printing is Ajrakh. We already discussed about the history and interesting story about Ajrakh in our previous blog "Ajrakh story" wrote more than an year ago. This blog will provide insight about two different school of thoughts based on the opinion of two different masters of Ajrakh on the evolution of Ajrakh. One modern thought developed in Gujarat about Ajrakh and another is from Barmer district of Rajasthan which stick to the old school of thought.

On the basis of my study and meeting with two legends of Ajrakh hand block printing National Awardee Shri Ranamalji Khatri from Barmer & Dr. Ismailji Khatri from Ajrakhpur, Gujarat during my PhD., I am sharing different perspectives of Ajrakh as told by them. It is important in recent times to have a clarity about different school of thoughts about Ajrakh.

One school of thought considers its Arabic meaning of Ajrakh as true other school of thought considers its literal meaning Ajrakh as a process.

While talking to the Ranamalji Khatri about Ajrakh he told the story of Ajrakh that in ancient times some 2500 years when Arab tradesman from Mesopotamia of today's Iraq visited Sindh region and saw traditional hand block printing for the first time where geometrical patterns created on the fabric with penetration of indigo blue in the base they instantly said "Oh, ye to ajrakh hain" (Oh, this is blue sky). In Arabic language "Ajrakh" means blue or sky. Since then it is known as Ajrakh to the world. They stick to the Arabic meaning of Ajrakh as it is used for geometrical pattern printed with red, black and white and dyed background with indigo blue gives the feeling of blue sky. For other color background they have different names such as "Nashpal" for green background. This approach what I can call "Orthodox" or Old school of thought.

In discussion with Dr. Ismailji Khatri; he considers "Ajrakh" as a process of doing hand block printing with a particular process of traditional importance and steps need to be followed. In his words Ajrakh means "Aaj hi rakh" (Keep it for a day), that means each and every step done in Ajrakh for a day only, one can not do next step of the process on the same day. One step need to be followed in a day only. So as per talk with the Dr. Ismailji Ajrakh is considered as a process with its literal meaning "Aaj hi rakh" (Keep it for a day). There is no restriction of color pattern without disturbing the traditional steps, use of natural color and process.
I consider this thought as Open or Modern school of thought.

But still I think more and more research and interaction needed to explore hidden truths of this one of the oldest tradition of hand block printing.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Tarapur Print: A Craft Jewel of Madhya Pradesh


Ummedpura-Tarapur twin villages situated on the banks of "Maa" Gambhiri river in Neemuch district of Madhya Pradesh. It is a twin village demarcated by a bridge made on the river were famous for its 400 years or even older than this craft of Nandana hand block printing practiced in these two villages only by traditional "Hindu Chippa" community belongs to the Sant Namdev tradition supported by "Muslim Nilger" community famous for indigo dyeing. 

Limited to tribal market, laborious process, limited design and color combination,  and increasing cost of nandana print was the reason behind decrease in demand too. It was clearly an indication for them to do something new or stop the work. Many families stopped their traditional work of nandana 2 decades ago and started other business. Few families still continued their family tradition with concern for future of their tradition. While they were in dilemma to continue the craft or not few started searching for new markets and possibilities to innovate the existing techniques. In this time less than 10 families were left in this business who were practicing nandana hand block printing and sometimes other techniques of hand block printing. 

Tarapur print mal cotton stole

In this struggle period some 3 decades ago few exporters contacted hand block printer family of Late Shri Purushottamji Jhariya for indigo and different design combination in red and indigo color. Though they were doing it since ages but not commercially marketed well and it is how a new technique of block printing evolved.

In this technique they started concentrating on use of alizarin print (red and black) combining with indigo Indigo dabu work to get a red. black and indigo blue color combination with variety of block designs. 

They started calling this technique as "Alizer-Indigo" technique to differentiate it.

Tarapur print modal by modal Saree

Marketing as Tarapur print

When Pushyamitra co-founder of EcoFab started working with the family of Late Shri Purushottamji Jhariya in Tarapur some 3 years ago while doing his thesis started documenting the various techniques practiced by the 2 families left in this place comes to know about 4 techniques practiced by them were:

1. Alizarin print (Red & black) 

2. Dabu print (Resist techniques and mainly dyed with indigo)

3. Alizer Indigo print (Combination of Alizarin red and black & Dabu indigo)

4. Nandana print (Traditional signature craft of hand block printing)

Tarapur as a craft village and home to a varieties of craft of hand block printing was facing an identity crisis. Bagh and Bagru villages were already famous for its unique alizarin hand block printing depicting their geographical identity. Then it was decided by Pushyamitra with Jhariya borthers (Pawan Jhariya & Banwari Jhariya) to market this unique combination of alizarin print and dabu print as "Tarapur Print" in the market.

It is how name of Tarapur print came into existence. Today Tarapur print evolved as an important hand block printing technique and quite famous among craft lovers. 

 Tarapur print fine cotton Saree

 Tarapur print fine cotton Saree


Process of Tarapur print is time consuming and laborious too as it is a combination of two different hand block printing known as Alizarin printing and Dabu printing. 

Fabric is first treated with a solution of soda ash, castor oil and sea salt now a days a ready combination known as TRO (turkey red oil) is available in the market is used. After this pre washing treatment fabric is dyed with harda (myrabalan) solution then it is ready for printing with alum mordant and paste made of iron rust and jaggery solution mixed with tamarind seed powder. 

Shri Pawan Jhariya doing washing process after alizarin printing

After printing it is kept for 2-3 days then washed in flowing river or in tank then it is dyed with alizarin using bhatti (boiling) process. After bhatti process fabric again printed with resist paste made from clay, gum and lime to hide red portion and where we need white design in base now fabric is dyed with indigo an kept for a day. After washing and post mordant fabric is ready to market.

Shri Banwari Jhariya seeing his printed clothes in Tarapur Print

Bagh & Bagru Print: Similar process but different traditions

Traditional  Process of Alizarin Printing  1. Purchase of kora/unbleached fabric 2.  Scouring (Cleaning of fabrics locally known ...