India's printed textiles are a living testament to the fact that art has no boundaries. The Indian artisans are renowned for their expertise in the printed-textiles and a block is one of their most prized possessions. When it comes to block printing, each region of India has its own distinct aesthetic. Traditional painting techniques typically use wooden, copper, cast metal, or nail blocks.
Out of all the printed textiles, Bagh Printing of Madhya Pradesh is famous for its unique style and personality.
Bagh is a small beautiful tribal town in Madhya Pradesh popular for its hand-block printed textiles. A saying goes that the town got its name from the tigers (known as Bagh in Hindi) that once wandered the locality. Originally, tribal residents were the only ones who wore these Bagh patterned clothes.
A Bagh printed outfit is easily identified by a simple outline motif in black and red. The beauty of this print is that it is hand-printed using only natural dyes and traditional designs. The printing is largely done by the Khatri community who are believed to have brought this craft from Sindh 400 years ago.
The Bagh printers employ only high-quality woods such as Sagwan and Sheesham. An intriguing story is that the Khatri's have thousands of blocks that have been inherited across generations and are preserved separately and meticulously maintained, even if they are damaged or broken.
Geometrical and floral designs are alternatively printed in red and black dyes on a white backdrop. The most popular motifs of Bagh are flowers, mango, coconut, zig-zag lines and honey bees. Chain or anklet designs are some commonly used designs in the borders.
The native people traditionally wore odhani and lugdas (sarees) made from the Bagh printed fabrics. However, to meet the urban demands, these prints can also be seen now on bedsheets, table cloths, cushion covers and handkerchiefs.
The Bagh printing process is time-consuming and involves 6 stages. The stages involved are as follows:
Preparing the fabric
The fabric is soaked for 2 hours and thoroughly washed to remove starch and later sun-dried.
The fabric is soaked overnight in salt, castor oil, goat droppings and then washed, dried. This step is repeated a couple of times till the fabric becomes soft and absorbent. It is then treated with Myrobalan for 10 minutes, which gives the yellow colour to the cotton fabric and aids the dye uptake later.
Printing of Mordants
The printing pastes used are usually in red and black colour which uses alum and iron sulphate as mordants respectively. Instead of glue, these paints are mixed with chiyan (tamarind seed powder) to get a perfect consistency. The printing is carried out by meticulously stamping small hand blocks usually square or rectangular in shape.
It takes around 3 hours to print one saree. After printing, the fabric is allowed to dry thoroughly and then kept away for 15 days so that the dye can be properly absorbed by the fabric.
Now, the mordant-printed fabric is rinsed to take off any leftover gum or mordant by soaking it in water for 20 minutes or pounding it on a stone. If this step is not carried out properly, stains will appear in the finished fabric.
Application of red dye
After washing, the cloth is boiled with alizarine and dhawada ka phul in a copper vessel. Once it dries, you will notice that the areas printed with iron paste turn black and the alum printed parts develop a reddish maroon colour.
After drying, the fabric is washed again 3-4 times. This process is called tapai.
Each block print is unique and different in its own way, and Bagh printing definitely has a special place in our history and heart. It is our responsibility as torchbearers of India's rich cultural heritage to honour, protect, and nurture these crafts. Sundari Silks take great care to ensure that these lovely prints are cherished as they should be. You can find our collection of block printed sarees on our website.