Bagh Block Printing may be a traditional Indian handicraft originating in Bagh, Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, India. The process is characterized by hand-printed woodblock relief prints with naturally sourced pigments and dyes.
Bagh Block Printing fabric motifs are typically geometric, paisley, or floral compositions dyed with vegetable colors of red and black over a white background, and may be a popular textile printing product. Its name is derived from the village Bagh located on the banks of the Bagh River.
History of Bagh Block Printing
The origins of the Bagh Block Printing are uncertain, but it’s believed that the practice is over 1,000 years old, with the techniques having been handed down through family medicine from generation to generation.
Hand block printing in Madhya Pradesh served the local market of Adivasi and Rajput communities who used printed fabrics for their dress and attire.
Bagh’s unique craft of thappa chappai or block printing with natural colors has evolved from a rudimentary tribal art to a useful part of the heritage and cultural identity of Madhya Pradesh.
Some of the wooden blocks he still uses are two- to 3 hundred years old. The traditional designs are inspired naturally, the traditional Bagh Cave paintings, and therefore the jali (lattice) work of the Taj Mahal. Each block has a name: chameli (jasmine), neither (mushroom), leheriya (waves), keri (mango), and jurvaria (small dots).
In the 1960s, many craftsmen abandoned the normal process of Bagh Block Printing in favor of using synthetic fabrics. However, a number of artisans in the 1960s continued to practice and innovate within the traditional framework of the craft and brought Bagh prints to international prominence.
In 2011, a Bagh Block Printing was adopted during a tableau theme of the Madhya Pradesh state at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on 26 January 2011. Featured within the parade was a Shalbhanjika, the celestial apsara of the 11th century, draped in Bagh printed clothing.
Bagh Block Printing previously referred to as alizarin printing, is manual and laborious, involving several processes of repeated washing, dyeing, and printing.
Pre-printing starts with Khara Karna, the initial washing of the material for printing. Cotton is the commonly used fabric; however, other fabrics include the Maheshwari suit material,
Kosa silk, bamboo chicks, chiffon, crepe, georgette tissue, and mulberry silk. The Khara Karna washing consists of washing in running water for two hours and beating the fabric on river stones to remove any starch in the fabric to assist with the dyeing process.
Next, the fabric is soaked in a water solution of rock salt, mengni (goat dung), and castor oil, pressed, rinsed, and dried three times, which is known as Mengni Karna. Then, the cloth is pre-dyed with Harara to provide an off-white base color, which also adds richness to the black and red dyes that will be applied later.
Bagh Block Printing is made by hand applying natural and vegetable-based dyes using carved wood relief blocks. Red and black dyes are the commonest, but indigo, mustard, and khaki dyes also are used.
New blocks for printing are hand-carved from teak or Sheesham wood, but some blocks have been in use for 200 – 300 years. Motifs for the Bagh Block Printing are geometric or floral, sometimes inspired by the 1,500-year-old paintings at Bagh Caves.
Dyes for Bagh Block Printing are derived from plant sources (plants, fruits, and flowers), and minerals. To make the dyes, pigments like ferrous sulfate and alum are boiled in water and mixed with tamarind seed powder to make a paste, which acts as black and red dyes respectively. Other colors like indigo, mustard, and khaki are often made using indigo leaves, dhavdi leaves, or pomegranate rinds.
The blocks, known as bilals, are made of intricate and deeply carved teak or Sheesham wood and are frequently sourced from Pethapur, Gandhinagar, and Jaipur.
The relief blocks can be reused and collected over generations, with some family libraries holding thousands of individual designs. Some blocks are aged up to 300 years old and are in use for therefore long that they’re known by particular names.
New blocks are made approximately every six months to keep up with market demands, but care is taken to ensure that the new design is a variation of a traditionally accepted design. Common motifs include geometric shapes also as natural forms like jasmine, mushroom, mango, or small dots on a field.
In order to use the right amount of dye to the printing block, a wooden reservoir, called a palea, is crammed with dye. A bamboo mesh (kartali) wrapped in wool is about to float within the reservoir, absorbing the dye and transferring the color when the printing block is rested on top.
The cloth to be printed is laid over a red sandstone table, called a Farsi, which is padded with extra cloth or old clothes to ensure smooth printing. The printing blocks are applied by hand, with an expert craftsman producing five yards of cloth in two to 3 hours, counting on the complexity of the planning.
Once the planning is fully printed, the material rests for 8 to 14 days to permit the dye to completely absorb into the material.
Once the material has rested, it’s delivered to the river and rigorously washed for 20 minutes, and beaten against river stones to get rid of excess dye. This process, known as the Bichalna, requires both strength and care, as any smudges or stains that occur from improper washing are permanent.
The fabric is then fixed and finished within the Bhatti process, where the material is boiled during a mixture of water, Alizarin, and Dhavda flowers. The fabric is constantly shifted and turned with long sticks as the temperature of the solution is slowly increased, which aids in the proper development of the colors.
The whole process takes from four to 6 hours. Finally, the bagh print fabric is bleached and washed three more times before the fabric is complete.
The Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), Government of India’s branch office in Madhya Pradesh exercises control on quality. The artisans themselves follow an internal quality control mechanism through various stages of their production through master artisans.
The Textiles Committee of the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, exercises quality control through the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts in cooperation with the stakeholders.