Some prints are so intricate, that they seem like they are hand drawn with a fine brush, but are actually color impressions of pieces of wood, deftly carved by expert craftsmen. Like the beat of gentle drums these blocks are carved by repetitive thumping of hammers over seasoned wood, creating patterns, geometrical and floral, gently.

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      Introduction:

      Usage:

      The wooden blocks are used to create printed fabrics used for making garments (1), with traditional or contemporary patterns and motifs. The blocks are dipped in various natural and synthetic dyes and pressed on the fabric to imprint the carved design.


      Significance:

      At the heights of the Saudagiri trade period, printing was done in Ahmedabad by a group of printers comprising the Muslim ‘Chippa’ community and thirty Hindu ‘Bhavsar’ families of Pethapur. Each printer specialized in printing a design or a particular set of them. A ‘Khepio’ (messenger) would regularly travel on foot from Pethapur to Ahmedabad, carrying blocks along with special instructions to the printers and bringing back any specifications. He would be paid half a rupee for each trip. The ruler of Pethapur is believed to have granted farms to the craftsmen community as an aid that would help them during financial scarcity. This proved to be a boon for the craftsmen during the monsoon months, when printing work would come to a standstill. Cultivating the land served as a secondary seasonal occupation as well as a much needed source of income during a dry spell.

      A unique feature of these blocks is the use of Teak or ‘Saagwaan’ wood as the only kind of wood used in their making. This wood is of high quality and the veins are spread out, making it highly suitable for chiseling the designs.
      The specifications of block have been kept constant for centuries, keeping the end user in mind. The human hand can only hold block dimensions of 7×7 inches and 3×4 inches for a long period of time, therefore the blocks created for constant use are made in these sizes. The weight of the block is also taken into consideration as it cannot be too light or too heavy. This causes inconvenience during carving and irregular chipping during usage.


      Myths & Legends:

      There is a folktale associated with block making in this region; several years ago the women of Pethapur village got fed up of plain Sarees which they used to wear every day. In those days, not much was done to ornament the textiles. Hence, they came up with an idea of putting patterns on their plain Sarees. They dipped their bangles, pendants and rings in dye solutions and stamped them on these Sarees. As the men in the area took to woodwork and as they got to know about their unique way of printing; they carved those patterns on wood. Printers and dyers from nearby region also started coming to Pethapur for block making.


      History:

      India has been renowned for its printed and dyed cotton cloth since the 12th century AD. The country was one of the largest exporters of textiles from the 16th century AD till the beginning of the 19th century AD. In the exported textiles, ‘Chintz’ was the most sought after fabric though it was also produced in Europe. This was the name given to any cotton or linen fabric with floral patterns and fast colours. The brilliance and fastness of the colours in ‘Indian Chintz’ made it more appealing to the European buyers in the 17th century, than the very same fabric produced in their homeland.
      The Chinese chronicles report the arrival of printed cloth in China from India in 140 BC. Samples of Indian block printed fabric have been found in Europe, in the 16th century grave of ‘St. Caesarius of Arles’. Very few pieces of fabric have survived the wearing of time and season, especially the monsoons. Practically all the material evidence before the 16th century seems to have been washed out.
      Indian fabrics have also been found at ‘Fostat’, in the outskirts of Cairo and were excavated during the latter part of the 19th century. A Frenchman named R. Fisher made the first concentrated study of the fabrics made before the 17th century – distinguishing them into ‘Block printed’ and ‘Resist dyed’. These were exported in bulk and were created for the masses rather than the elite.
      The manner of printing helped distinguish between the fine and the commonplace chintz. The fine one was usually painted. Mordant and resists were applied in freehand using a brush or pen. Whereas the common place chintz was printed. The gum-thickened mordant was applied using printing wooden blocks. In the paintings, outlines were impressed by blocks or blocks were used for transferring the resist material such as wax, clay or starch.
      Block clamps were the substitute of block making when India was the largest exporter of chintz. These were blocks with designs carved on both sides symmetrically. The fabric would be clamped to the block and the dye poured through the holes in the blocks would penetrate the unclamped spaces in the design. These blocks were mostly used when there were heavy Chinese, Persian and European influences in the trade.
      These fabrics thus point to an earlier existence of the craft of block-making and have survived in India since the 15th century. The additions or influences of various elements in design indicate the stages and eras the blocks have gone through. Towns like Farukkabad and Machilipatnam have sustained themselves on European and Chinese trade. The ‘Tree of Life’ motifs are prominent presences. Machilipatnam also has Baroque and Islamic influences since they catered to the Iranian market for a considerable time. Sanganer block prints from Jaipur have existed for around 250 years. The designs of these blocks only feature ‘buttas’ and ‘buttis’ in evenly spaced floral prints. The Ajrakh designs in block printing from Dhamadka in Gujarat have strong resemblances to the prints found in Fostat.
      Pethapur, Gujarat was a centre for block-making for more than a hundred years. It is considered a profession passed on through generations of craftsmen. The profession gained importance and popularity early in the colonial period. Pethapur block makers played a crucial role in heightening the export of the Saudagiri block printed fabric. At that time, almost all of Pethapur was brimming with block-making craftsmen. The village suffered wars and invasions but the craft flourished under the patronage of Indian kings and the British. After the decline of the Saudagiri trade in 1940, much of the work was taken away from the artisans. Many of them turned to other styles of block making in keeping with the changing needs. This led to each artisan mastering certain designs and styles.
      According to the craftsmen, one of the first few families in Pethapur to be involved in this craft was the Bhavsars. The others included Gajjars, Prajapatis, Mistris and Thakores. After the trade died down, the families were quite protective about their skill and would pass them on only to their own. The Bhavsars ended up changing profession whereas the headstrong Prajapatis propagated the craft through their younger generations and also to willing artisans outside the family. Today Pethapur is one of the very few remaining block-making centres. With a craftsman winning National award as a Master craftsperson, increasing the eminence of the village. It is now a thriving centre with many people coming in – both curious visitors and the ones who wish to work with them. This indigenous industry received a great boost during the Swadeshi movement, the effect of which has also diminished over the years.


      Design:

      Traditional Pethapur block patterns were exclusively intended for export fabrics and the patterns were inspired from the medieval architecture of Sarkhej and Patan. The craftsmen have a collection of over 2 lakh designs where some are traditional while others are customized specifications given by designers. The craftsmen divide them into categories based on their origins like ‘Ajrakh’, ‘Bagru’, ‘Sanganer’, ‘Saudagiri’, etc. 

      Ajrakh blocks
      A common feature seen in block print designs are dots that adorn the spaces between the two lines and is mostly seen in the Ajrakh blocks. The dots have the same diameter in most of the designs. Earlier these dots were carved out by hand, but now brass nails are used to fill the spaces between the two walls of the design, wherever required. This aspect is crucial in determining the expertise of the artisan.
      Stark influences of the Mughal era are seen in the designs. The Muslims followed a sense of strong geometry in their patterns and most patterns were formed by the interaction of two or more circles. The Ajrakh blocks were designed taking inspiration from the Muslim architectural elements that form the ‘Mizan’ – balance and order. The repeat patterns were determined by the grid system. Abstract symmetric representation of surrounding elements and environment were used.

      Sanganeri blocks
      These blocks had a strong persian influence in their designs, as the fabrics were exported to Persia. The traditional Sanganeri patterns have been in existence for as long as 250 years and features delicate floral motifs spaced evenly across a white, pale blue or yellow field. The flowers depicted in the ‘buttis’ or ‘buttas’ usually, are iris, narcissus, lily, rose, carnation etc. The flowers or shrubs indigenous to the area are not featured.

      Saudagiri blocks
      These designs trace their origins to when India was trading in Chintz. The Saudagiri block designs borrow immensely from their Sanganeri counterparts with the only variation being that the ‘Buttas’ or ‘Buttis’ were interconnected through a lattice-work or creeper pattern.


      Challenges:

      Block making is a craft that requires high levels of concentration and looking at the designs really up close. Constant pressure on the eyesight of the craftsman causes deterioration over time. They work from morning to early evenings, as this is when they can harness maximum natural light with less strain on the eyes. All the work on the block is hand-done. The smoothening of the blocks cannot be done in factories since the heat applied would split the veins of the wood. It is thus done manually which is time consuming.


      Introduction Process:

      The beautiful patterns on the wood blocks are a product of the craftsman’s skill, dexterity and diligence. These wood pieces are chosen according to their weight, grain and quality of wood. Patterns passed on through various eras of textile trade and ruling influences, are carved out of the seasoned blocks. The carved surfaces of blocks dipped in treys of dyes are then pressed onto fabric by hand to imprint elaborate and vibrant designs.


      Raw Materials:

      Saagwan – Teak is a tropical hardwood of high quality and is usually purchased from Dharampur village. It is purchased during the winter months as low temperatures prevent it from cracking. The wood is stored in a cool corner of the house.

      Pigment dyes – The blocks are dipped in a wide range of color pigments to create prints on the fabric.

      Sunlit bond paper – It is used to draw the designs on them.

      Nadi ki Reti – Sand from the river is mixed with water to create slurry and is added to the millstone called ‘Kakada’.

      White poster paint – It is used to coat the wood blocks and helps in increasing the visibility of the design.

      Tracing paper – The original design is transferred on to the tracing paper and is used to transfer the design onto the wooden block. The tracing paper is attached to the block and the design is chiseled on to the block.

      Water – It is mixed with river sand to create slurry for the millstone.


      Waste:

      The waste normally comprises of wooden chips and splinters. These are collected and sold to scrap dealers on a weekly or monthly basis. The scrap is then used by ply-making industry or burnt as fuel.


      Tools & Tech:

      Chorsi / Polada –It is a chisel and is a carpentry tool use in carving wood.
      Thashya chorsi – It is a flat shaped chisel.
      Butha chorsi – It is a blunt chisel where soft pressure needs to be applied.
      Jaadi chorsi – A thick chisel used in carving out larger chunks of wood.
      Patli chorsi – It is a thin chisel used for delicate and intricate chiseling work.
      Kuntiya chorsi – A curve shaped chisel that is used to carve curved portions in the design.
      Kalam chorsi – It is a flat shaped chisel and is used to carve straight lines in the wood.
      Kamthi – It is a drill used to create air vents in the wooden blocks for trapped air to escape.
      Thapi – A heavy weighted hammer that is made from a long rectangular piece of wood.
      Saw – A carpentry tool used to cut the saagwan wood into appropriate sized blocks.
      Aedi – It a solid tool used to carve out a form in the blocks.
      Kakada – It is a millstone used to polish and shape the surface of the wood block.
      Lissa – It is a polishing stone and is used to give a fine polish to the wood surface.
      Mekhana – These are metal pins and are used to attach the tracing paper holding the design to the wood block.
      Thapadi – It is a small wooden hammer and is used when moderate pressure needs to applied. It is used when carving the intricate portions of the design.


      Rituals:


      process:

      The beautiful patterns on the wood blocks are a product of the craftsman’s skill, dexterity and diligence. These wood pieces are chosen according to their weight, grain and quality of wood. Patterns passed on through various eras of textile trade and ruling influences, are carved out of the seasoned blocks. These designs are traced on to the wood pieces which are then chiseled by the craftsman using a wide range of custom-made tools.

       

      Preparing Blocks
      The purchased wood is seasoned and then cut into geometric shapes with a broad chisel. This is an approximate shape of the final design. Pieces with cracks, holes, wormholes and other defects are carefully avoided to avoid distortion or breakages.
      The ‘Kakada’ stone is placed on the floor. The sand is sieved and spread on the stone along with some water, forming slurry. The surface of the wood is sharpened with the help of a millstone and the side that needs polishing is faced towards the millstone. The piece of wood is rubbed in a circular motion with pressure applied with both hands. After the surface is smooth, the block is left to dry. Later, it is again polished using ‘Lissa’ stone to attain a superior working surface.

      Applying white paint
      This step is also known as ‘Khadi lagana’. White poster paint is mostly used in this process and is spread evenly on the surface of the block. White paint has a tendency to dry faster than traditional ‘Khadi’ and is also much cheaper in price. The white coat of paint is applied to the block to increase the visibility of the design.

      Tracing the design
      The original design is transferred to a tracing paper. This is pinned onto the block with the help of metal pins. With the help of chisels and thin pointed tools, the design is traced onto the wooden block. The small wooden hammer known as ‘Thapadi’, is used to work with the chisels, as small amounts of pressure is only needed to create the intricate and delicate portions of the design.

      Drilling
      The negative spaces in the design are drilled out to aid in the final carving procedure. Tools such as ‘Kamthi’, ‘Thapadi’ and ‘Chorsi’ are used in this stage. This process takes almost a day to complete.

      Carving
      For certain designs, drilling is not required and the carving is done right after the design is traced. The carving process requires maximum skill and precision, and the process can take as long as a day or even two. The larger negative spaces are carved out first followed by the interior portions of the design that are carved using different sized chisels. The two opposite edges are always carved out one after the other. A heavy hammer known as ‘Thapi’ is used as this stage, to enable the chisels to penetrate deeper into the wood. The pressure of the Thapi and chisel create depth in the design.

      Making air-vents
      If the design is intricate, air gets trapped in the spaces of the block when it is being used to stamp the design onto the fabric. This causes air bubbles in the dye, which does not allow the block to print properly leading to uneven spaces in the printed pattern. Therefore, the vents in the blocks are necessary to help the air bubbles escape. These holes are drilled through the flat spaces in the design and are also drilled through the centre of the block’s height, through and through.
      The kamthi tool is used and this process involves two or three people. One artisan clamps the block between his feet and holds the kamthi in his hands. The other holds the two ends of the cord attached to the kamthi and moves it to and fro. This rotates the drill bit. First, the holes through the height of the block are drilled and then the holes through the flat surfaces are drilled.


      Cluster Name: Pethapur-Gandhinagar

      Introduction:

      Pethapur is a town in the state of Gujarat. It lies on the banks of River Sabarmati, five kilometers away from the state capital, Gandhinagar. Pethapur is a quaint dusty town with about four to five main landmarks like the bus stand, panchayat office, wood block workshops and two temples.
      district Pethapur-Gandhinagar
      state Gujarat
      population
      langs Hindi, Gujarati
      best-time Augest - March
      stay-at many options
      reach State transport Bus, Local auto from Gandhi Nagar, Taxi
      local Auto, walkable distance
      food

      History:

      Pethapur erstwhile was a part of the princely state ruled by the Waghela Rajput family. They were descendants from a line of the Waghela monarchs of Anhilvada Patan. One of the sons of the last Raja of Patan, Sarangdev or Simamshi, was granted the region of Kalol and the adjacent villages as an estate. Himaloji was a tenth generation descendent from Sarangdev. He murdered his maternal uncle, Pethaji belonging to the 'Gohil' tribe in 1445 AD. He then seized the territory and renamed the region as Pethapur, after his late uncle. The native rulers of the princely state of Pethapur held the title of 'Thakor'. After the initiation of the railroad and development of other trade routes, Pethapur which was once a thriving mercantile center during the 19th century, suffered greatly due to the loss of business to other regions. The state was unable to recover from its losses and remained buried in debt. The territory later came under Agency management. In 1940 AD, the state was attached to the princely state of Baroda, under the 'Attachment Scheme' of 1943 AD. The 'Thakor of Pethapur' was ranked in the 4th Class of Mahi Kantha states. The class system was later abolished in 1928 AD. After the Indian independence from the British in 1947AD, the last native ruler of the princely state of Pethapur surrendered the territory to be merged with the newly independent Union of India. After the country was divided between India and Pakistan, the native rulers of the states were given the choice of coming under the Indian or Pakistani governance. The ruler of Pethapur decided to merge with the Republic of India.

      Geography:

      Pethapur lies in the northern part of Gujarat, around 5kms away from the satate capital, Gandhinagar. The Sabarmati River lies to the east of the town and the geographical coordinates are 23° 16' 0 North, 72° 40' 0 East. Pethapur does not have a railway station, and the nearest station is Gandhinagar, located 6 kms away from Pethapur. Trains from all the major cities are connected to this station. The nearest airport is in Ahmedabad and is situated about 27 kms from there. It can be reached by road, in a cab or by bus.

      Environment:



      Infrastructure:

      Pethapur is a small town equipped with basic needs. It has water supply, electricity and basic medical facilities in form of clinics. The town has schools up to higher secondary stage but no colleges and institutes. Food and objects of daily needs are purchased from the central market place. Further needs are met through the cities like Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad which lie in close proximity.

      Architecture:

      The town of Pethapur is almost circular in design and the lanes lead up to the central market place. The entire town is made up of interconnected lanes. These narrow lanes are lined by brick houses with slanting roofs covered with asbestos sheets. The houses have only one or two storeys and are painted either white or green. A few parts of the town still retain the 'Pol' system. 'Pols' are a colony of houses where the houses are joined to each other with a common wall separating them. It has only one 'Darwaza' or door which is the main entry as well as exit. Rows of houses and the pols are dotted with old houses with intricate woodwork and little temples or shrines which provide a rare glimpse to a bygone era.

      Culture:

      The major festivals celebrated in Pethapur are Uttarayan (kite festival), Navrathri, Diwali, Dhuleti, Holi, Raksha bandhan, Janmashtami, Eid and Bhadra purnima. All these festivals are celebrated with gaiety. New clothes are purchased. The townsfolk gather and decorate the place with lights. Music is played loudly as the youngsters dance and make merry. Families dine each other and play gracious hosts. The joint family culture does not exist and most families live around their relatives and parents but not together. Marriages take place at an early age. The girls marry at 18 or 19, while the boys marry at 21 or 22 years of age. The folks of Pethapur love eating simple food consisting of rotis and vegetables. Most people are vegetarians and 'Thepla' (roti mixed with fenugreek) is a specialty of the region. It is eaten with sweet and spicy raw mango pickle called 'Murabba ka Aachar'. Most of their food is cooked with a bit of jaggery to add a mild sweet flavor. The block makers do not work during the last day of the month called 'Raza' meaning 'holiday'. The workshops are shut during this time. According to the Hindu calendar it is a moonless night. The craftsmen get the dues for the month, and any debt is payed off during this time. Followers of Lord Swaminarayan, do not work on 'Igyarvi' or 'eleventh day' of every month. This day comes four days before the full moon.

      People:

      Most of the townsfolk are self-employed. They are block makers, carpenters, tailors, shopkeepers etc. Very few go out of town and work with daily wages. The women mostly stay at home unless they are the sole breadwinners of the family and the children are educated up to higher secondary levels, as the town has a school. They only pursue further education if they feel there is a need for it. The costumes are simple and are chosen based on how comfortable they are to work in. Women wear 'sarees' or 'salwar-kurta' while men wear shirts and trousers. The older men wear kurta-pyjama as well as a gandhi-topi (cap).

      Famous For:

      Pethapur is renowned for its wood block carving craft. The town holds award winning craftsmen and their rich tradition of craft. This town caters to the block printing needs of neighboring cities and states even today.

      Craftsmen

      List of craftsmen.

      Documentation by:

      Team Gaatha

      Process Reference:

      Interview – Shri Govindlal Prajapati
      visited: Pethapur, Gujarat,
      http://www.indianetzone.com/61/princely_state_pethapur.htm

      Cluster Reference:

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