The chief community in Rajasthan involved in the production of block prints is the Chhipa community, which migrated from various parts of Northern and Western India and settled in the small city of Bagru. This community is primarily Hindu and believed to be the follower of Marathi Saint Namdev. Members of the community are segregated into the ones that wash, ones that dye and the ones that print the fabric. Apart from these, several people are indirectly involved as designers, block makers, dyers, tailors, suppliers of raw materials and dealers. The people who print are chiefly Hindus, while the dyers and block makers are Muslims. The block makers and dyers originally hail from Punjab and Sindh.
A block printing artisan at work
The Chhipa Mohalla or the printer’s quarter is the area dedicated to textile printing. The Bagru artisans have carried forward the tradition of printing for more than three centuries. Their prints have ethnic floral patterns made from natural dyes. The eco-friendly nature of this printing technique has received wide acclaim worldwide because of the use of traditional vegetable dyes for printing. Bed covers are the most commonly produced item by this community.
Different forms of block printing are practiced all over the country and the communities from various places produce their own local variations of the art and its production techniques. Gujarat is known for its trader prints called sodagiri and the Ajrak print that originates from the Gujarat’s Kutch district. In Rajasthan Sanganeri prints and the technique of mud-resist or Dabu printing are widely known. In West Bengal, block printing artisans reside primarily in and around Serampore city. As block printing is not traditional to eastern India and was only introduced in the mid 20th century, these artisans have proven their expertise with their ability to satisfy the modern demand for block printed products.
A variety of wooden bunta blocks
Beautiful items that are created are largely purchased by the middles class and the demand for these block printed items are ever increasing. In recent years, this has spurred both the Indian government and non-government organisations to create numerous programs to support the craftsmen who perpetuate the handicraft.
Images: Creative Roots