This Republic Day, we pay an ode to the timeless art of block printing with a beautiful glimpse into the process and the techniques it involves.
While a majority of printed fabrics these days are mass-produced, there a still quite a few among them that feature handmade prints using traditional artwork. Most blocks are hand-carved and are carefully dipped into naturally occurring dyes. Keeping this age-old Indian tradition of block printing alive, artisans from small villages around Rajasthan and many other states have passed down the technique through generations and hence, it still lives on today.
In fact, Indian block prints have gained such prominence in the recent past that India is now one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of block printed fabrics in the world.
Cotton or linen fabric is soaked in water for 24-48 hours and is washed thoroughly to get rid of any starch in the fibres. It is then dried in natural light.
The artisans prepare their designs on paper and transfer it onto the block, usually made from teak or mango wood. Incase different colours are to be used, the artisans prepare separate blocks for each of them. These blocks are generally soaked in oil to soften the wood for better absorption of colour.
The fabric is cut to the specific size and spread across a long table. The colour is evened out on a tray, then the block is dipped into it and carefully moved onto the fabric over a chalk reference line. If different colours are used, the artisans let the original colour dry before applying another. This intricate process requires focus, time and precision.
Once printed, the fabric is left to dry. Finally, the fabric is washed again and left to dry in the sun before ironing. Post this, it is sent for further processing.
Block Printing Across India
Popularly known as Kalamkari, this hand-painted or block-printed technique includes a tedious twenty-three step process. Kalamkari is a Persian word where 'kalam' means pen and 'kari' means art or craftsmanship. It is an ancient style of hand painting on cotton or silk fabric with a tamarind pen using natural dyes. This hand-painted art is then transferred onto a block and printed onto fabric.
Kalamkari motifs usually include flowers, birds, peacocks and divine characters from Hindu mythology. There are two major types of Kalamkari art forms - Srikalahasti
style and Machilipatnam
. The former focuses on religious prints whereas the latter includes Persian inspired motifs.
The art of block printing gained popularity and moved from Gujarat to Rajasthan and eventually reached West Bengal and areas around it in the twentieth century. However, each state has a unique and distinct style.
West Bengal block print features a much more contemporary style. It includes brighter colours and modern designs.
The Paithapur families in Gujarat introduced and passed on the art form from generation to generation. They're known for the Sodagiri print or the trader print. The Kutch district in Gujarat is the place where this art form still thrives.
The popular Ajrakh print originated from this district too and can be identified from its bright colours and geometrical patterns. The print is known to celebrate nature and it's noticeable through the blend of colours and motifs.
The art of block printing spread to Gujarat via Rajasthan to important centres namely Bagru, Barmer, Jaipur, Pali and Sanganer. Bagru is known for its Syahi-Begar prints and Dabu prints. The prints of red chillies come from Barmer. This print includes blue and black outlines surrounded by flower-laden trees.
Motifs also feature horses, camels, peacocks and lions, called Sikar and Shekahawat prints. Sanganer is famous for its Calico and Doo Rookhi printings.