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The Dawn of Tie and Dye

India's long and varied history of textile production stems from its many rich and vibrant cultures and Gujarat and Rajasthan are steeped in textile traditions spanning millennia. The process of tie and dye in textiles can be traced back to prehistoric times. The earliest fragments of tie and dye fabrics come from ancient Egypt around 1000 BC and pre-Columbian Peru from 500-810 AD. Tie and dye in India surfaced about 5000 years ago, arriving from Egypt by means of trade. Tie and Dye was a prominent luxury and favoured by nobility in India's early centuries. Banabhatta, a 7th century Sanskrit poetry and prose writer, wrote a biography of Indian Emperor, Harsha, entitled Harshacharita. He wrote of bandhani textiles as luxurious dowry gifts when Harsha's sister, Rajaysri, was to marry.

The Khatri community of the Kutch region of Gujarat are renowned for their tie and dye creations and have a virtual monopoly on its production. The Khatri migrated from the Punjab region in the 12th century, bringing their tradition of tie and dye that has evolved to be native to Gujarat. It is an ongoing tradition that bandhani items produced by the Khatri are purchased and worn by local castes and communities, namely the Hindu Khumbar whose expertise lies in pottery, and Sindhi Muslims. The gharcholu is a zari-woven saree with gold or silver threads and tie and dye embellishments that a man gives his bride to wear on the day of their wedding and is a sought-after item produced by the Khatri community.

Tied and dyed rumal found in the Kutch region of Gujarat, early 20th century. The abstract design and colours used are of Khatri origin   Gharchola sarees can be found in a wide variety of colours and designs
L: Tied and dyed rumal found in the Kutch region of Gujarat, early 20th century. The abstract design and colours used are of Khatri origin
R: Gharchola sarees can be found in a wide variety of colours and designs

Leheriya is a method of tie and dye that emerged from Rajasthan. The distinct pattern of complex waves was popularised by local merchants and traders in the 19th century, who wore turbans showcasing the bright, dramatic pattern. The leheriya method of tie and dye is still used today to produce the pattern of the same name, largely in Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Nathdwara.

Leheriya tied and dyed fabrics dried and ready for use
Leheriya tied and dyed fabrics dried and ready for use

As with many textile arts of India, 17th and 18th century Europeans were intrigued by the colours and methods of tie and dye that exuded luxury. With the establishment of the East India Company, local merchants and traders began to produce textiles for the Western market. This was not limited to the British market and these goods were also exported by the Dutch and Portuguese. Tie and dye continues to draw attention from men and women in its contemporary form that was popularised during the 1960s which is inspired by traditional Indian, Japanese, Indonesian and Thai tie and dye patterns. These days, visitors to India are intrigued by the centuries of tie and dye history. It is common practice to leave ties in place when items are displayed for sale. This exemplifies the craftsmanship of hand-dyeing and places the item in a tradition of production, distinguishing it from its mechanically-printed counterpart.

Tie and dye items for sale are displayed with ties still in place
Tie and dye items for sale are displayed with ties still in place

 

Images: Victoria and Albert Museum, Gujarat State Handloom and Handicrafts Development Corporation, India1001