The art of hand block printing on to cotton cloth is thought to have existed in India for over 4500 years. Traced back to Mohenjodaro, in the ancient civilization of the Indus Valley, impressions of a small fragment of coarse cotton dyed in Aal (madder red) was found wrapped round a metal vase, suggesting the advanced geometric patterning, dye technologies and unsurpassed prowess of the Indian craftsmen.
Rajasthan is the fertile land where block and hand printing have created a niche for themselves. The important centers for this form of hand printing are Jaipur, Bagru, Sanganer, Kaladera, Balotra, Jodhpur, Jaiselmer and Barmer. Pali, Nagaur and Kishangarh in Marwar also practice the art, on a very small scale, though. Sanganer is famous for its Calico printed bed covers, quilts and saris. Bagru and Kaladera are famous for their Syahi-Begar prints and Dabu prints. Balotra in Barmer is known for its prints of red chilies with blue-black outlines, surrounded by flower-laden trees.
Indian Textile Industry and its degeneration:
The Indian textile industry has a fairly complex structure. At one end of the spectrum is the hand spinning and hand weaving operations and on the other, a highly sophisticated, capital intensive and high speed manufacturing activity. Between the two extremes, the industry manufactures a staggering range of fabrics, furnishing, dress materials & floor covering, made-ups and garments. Although a major source of revenue for the country through exports and internal trade, the actual potential in the Indian textile industry remains very partially tapped.
In the context of the hand block print industry, a craft based discipline; there are still very many issues that remain to be tackled. There are difficulties and it is the artisan, the most important aspect in the supply chain, who has to confront the most serious of the difficulties with the least resources. Master-craftsmen from age-old traditions are today in an extremely vulnerable situation all over India due to the decades of assault by mechanization and powerlooms and indifferent governance. The fine skills, which have travelled with the weavers and printers through generations, are being slowly erased as inevitable migration to the burgeoning metropolises fractures ancient links and channels of inheritance.
Experienced weavers, marginalized by mechanization, land themselves in squalid and near destitute conditions of survival in urban slums. “Block printing allows for the maximum play of imagination and creativity on cloth…one can change the block’s direction, experiment with the placement of each block, change colors at whim, and go from blocked out motifs to the most minute detailing on the same fabric. Silk screen can never achieve such freedom. True, you can only print 1000 metres with a block – much less if the print is fine with many colors. So we loose customers. Those who care to distinguish hand work from machine work are few and far between. Nowadays young boys from the community opt for city jobs. They sell vegetables or slippers; they even collect garbage scraps. A few more years of that and their backs will be unfit for this work. The older generation is worst hit. At 50 you can’t change your profession just because your skills are not appreciated and what about the block makers’ self respect and pride? A surgeon can’t suddenly start breaking stones!” - Sardar Hussein, Block maker
Hand printing of clothes and textiles has been practiced since the ancient times in Rajasthan. These prints reflect the history, tradition and lifestyle of the native people. In the present context, these prints assume another significance. As the world is waking up to environmental consciousness and eco-living, the ancient art and craft form becomes special because it is “high on ecological consciousness and uses eco-friendly hand block printing practices.”
Rajasthan boasts of many centers for hand and block printed textiles, including Jaipur city, Bagru, Sanganer, Kaladera, Bassi, Jahota, Jayarampura, Balotra, Jaiselmer (now extinct), Barmer, Akola, Pipad, Kota, Sikar and Pali, Nagaur and Kishangarh in Marwar.
- MAMTA MANTRI