"Lodhra" (लोध्र) is a tree mentioned in Atharvved and Ayurved for its high medicinal value and use in dyeing textiles. Indian system of natural dye derived from the Vedas and Ayurved it is obvious that all the natural dyes of Indian origin whether it is extracting from plant, mineral or animal sources having some medicinal value.
With reference to the Atharvved and Kautilya's "Arthshastra" and other available literature; Lodhra was extensively used in natural herbal dyeing to get the light yellow shade and to get the true shade of natural dyes when it is used as "रंगबंधा" (Colour binder) or mordant.
Modern chemistry and researches done recently reveal that the lodhra tree has a unique property to absorb the aluminum content naturally from the soil and deposited it in its bark and leaves.
It is one of the most ancient plant mordant and one of the most essential ingredient to get the deep Indian red and maroon color shade in textile dyeing with manjishtha roots and lac used in the past. Lodhra as natural mordant and manjishtha (Rubia cordifolia) or Indian madder is considered as one of the classic combination in natural dyes.
In Indian textile tradition use of Lodhra as natural mordant is almost extinct today. Only person we came to across during our search who knows the use of Lodhra as a plant mordant was used in traditional textile is Shri Rahul Salvi. Rahul Salviji is the 28th heir and torch bearer of continuous tradition of Patan Patola weaving in Patan, Gujarat. He shared the information that his late grand father was using Lodhra bark in dyeing threads as a mordant.
Different Names in Different Languages
Lodhra is a Sanskrit name, in Hindi it is known as "Lodh", in Kannda "Pachettu", in Malyalam "Pachotti", in English "Lodh tree" and in scienece it belongs to the Symplocaceae and the most common variety of Lodhra is Symplocos Racemosa. In Bali and Indonesia it is known as "Loba" tree.
Lodhra in a Living Textile Dyeing Tradition
After the discovery of use of alum (Aluminum sulphate) as a mordant in natural dyeing some 2000 years ago use of lodhra started decreasing. Bebali foundation working extensively in Bali & Indonesia with the traditional tribal weavers promoting the only living textile tradition where Lodhra is still used as a natural plant mordant to dye the threads.
Documentation of Bebali foundation mentioned that weavers of Bali and Indonesia learnt the technique of dyeing and mordanting using plant mordant Lodhra from Indian tradesmen some 2000 years ago when there was a trade link in between the India and Indonesia. Here Lodhra is known as "Loba tree" shows the close cultural connection in between the two.
In Bali and Indonesia a different species of Lodhra known as "Symplocos Cochinchinensis" is used as a natural mordant.