Characterized by the sheen given to the finished cloth by the waters of the Sanjara River and a robust colour palette of indigo, black and red, green, pink and orange derived from natural sources; and the mud resist, dyed and mordant prints of Bagru catered to the folk, trading, agricultural and artisan communities that constituted the local population. Each of these communities had a specific sartorial code; the combination of colours and motifs used on a printed skirt, veil or garment could identify the wearer`s community and occupation as well as the season.
In the past, textiles hand printed by the chhipa community of Bagru were used to produce fadats, lugdis, angochas and rezais for the local population. Faced by a general malaise in demand and an eroding traditional market the chhipa community has in the past fifteen years successfully adapted itself to a shifting customer base and altered demand patterns. This openness to experimentation and development has resulted in a resurgence of demand from a clientele that extends from urban to international markets. Today the chhipa community of Bagru caters to all kinds of textile market demands ranging from fabric, textiles to home decor products covering almost all possibilities of a product range in the existing field.
Bagru prints are more renowned for their outstanding quality of being environment friendly. Still today, artisans employ conventional vegetable dyes for printing the cloth. For instance, the colour blue is prepared from indigo, red from madder root , green from indigo mixed with pomegranate and the yellow colour from turmeric. Generally Bagru prints have cultural floral patterns in original colours. These prints form the indispensable part of the block printing trade of Rajasthan. The village manufactures some of the magnificent bed covers and other materials. The excellence of this craft has made this small village near Jaipur a much-reckoned name in International fashion. These prints have also made Bagru an important place of tourist attraction. The name of this place will always be remembered by craft lovers as one that faithfully sticks to the rich tradition of the centuries gone by.
Myths & Legends
All the Chiapas of Bagru claim to be the descendants of saint Namdeo of Maharashtra (1270-1350). Saint Namdeo, a contemporary saint-poet of Saint Dnyaneshwar, is considered a prominent religious poet of Maharashtra. He was one the earliest writers who wrote in the Marathi language. He is the foremost proponent of the Bhagwad-Dharma who reached beyond Maharashtra, right into Punjab. He also wrote some hymns in Hindi and Punjabi. His depth of devotion and talent in delivering Kirtan was of such a high standard that it is said even the Lord Pandurang swayed to his tune. Despite being a proponent of the Warkari sect, Saint Namdeo established religious unity across the country.
Saint Namdeo was born in the year 1270 in the village of Narasi-Bamani, now located in the Hingoli District in Maharashtra. He was born to a tailor named Damasheti Relekar and his wife Gonai. Yadusheth, his ancestor in the seventh generation, was a devotee of Bhagawad-Dharma. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Pandharpur, where the prominent temple of Lord Vitthal (also called Vithoba) is located. Saint Namdeo's spent the better part of his life, spanning eighty years, at Pandharpur. His parents were devotees of Vithoba and chhimba by profession.
Namdeo showed little interest in the family outlook. Namdeo is referred to as a chhimba, "chhipro", "Chhipe" and "chhipa". This refers to his profession as a printer of cloth. Chhipas were calico printers/artists and used to decorate, colour and print textiles with artwork. Some of them were also tailors as this was a profession connected with clothes.
India has always been famous for its textiles and Rajasthan, especially for its hand-block printed and dyed textiles. Ancient and medieval literature mention the colourful textiles produced in this region. The earliest specimens on display are small fragments excavated at AL FUSTAT near Cairo, Egypt. French archaeologists, while excavating at Al Fustat, old capital of Egypt, found dead bodies wrapped in coarse cotton fabric printed with bright colours. At the time of discovery, these were not documented as originating from India, but later, the renowned French scholar late Mr R. Fister identified them after closely studying the styles of the costumes and textiles depicted in the ancient Jain miniature paintings from Western India, and on that basis they were documented as being from Gujarat, India. This led scholars to start believing that India was producing colourful printed fabric in the 14th-15th century, which was exported to the European and African countries.
There is no authentic record for reference on backdating Bagru's block printing practices. It is estimated that this art form was introduced 450 years back when a community of Chhipas (literally meaning people who stamp or print) came to Bagru from Sawai Madhopur (Alwar), and settled in Bagru. Even today, their community works together in a place called Chhipa Mohalla (Printer's Quarters), by the Sanjaria riverside.
The Chippas community settled along the riverside like any other nomadic settlement. The bank of the river provided then with clay, which is an important ingredient in getting the base colour of the famed Bagru prints. The artisans smear the cloth with Fuller's earth got from the riverside and then dip it in turmeric water to get the beige coloured background. After that, they stamp the cloth with beautiful designs using natural dyes of earthly shades.
After founding the new city of Jaipur, Sawai Jai Singh brought all the royal departments to his new capital and renamed them. Bhakhata Rama Shah, a Jain poet, writes in his work Buddhi Vilas, composed in 1770, (twenty seven years after the death of Sawai Jai Singh) that the Maharaja changed the Persian names of all his thirty-six karkhanas into Hindi. Out of these, four - Toshakhana, Chhapakhana, Rangkhana and Siwankhana, were associated with costumes and textiles.
Toshakhana: Toshakhana probably had to deal with daily-wear clothes.
Chhapakhana: In the Chhapakhana, the printing on cloth was carried out by means of a wooden block.
Rangkhana & Siwankhana: Rangkhana and Siwankhana, as suggested by their names, looked after dyeing and stitching work. The Rangkhana records frequently mention dyeing and printing of Mahmudi.
The social structure of ancient India was based on the Caste System or Varna Vayavastha. The Chhipa community practised the art of hand-block printing only and, till today, it is peculiar to this community. Not only in Bagru, but also in Akola, near Jodhpur and Bagh in Madhya Pradesh, the Chiapas are practicing the traditional art of hand-block printing. All the Chiapas of Bagru claim to be the descendants of saint Namdeo of Maharashtra (1270-1350). They had to migrate due to the incessant warfare and raids between the Mughals and the Marathas. The Chiapas had settled here about 400 years back and some families had migrated from Gujarat. It is said that the Thakur had brought the Chiapas from different places and helped them settle here. He provided the patronage to the Chiapas, which was the watershed event in the history of Bagru. It is said that formerly a lake existed here, whose water was the lifeline of all printing activities; tie and dye work was also done here. During "chhappan saal" there was a drought when people migrated in large numbers and settled in Bagru. Tie and dye work was being done here also and the newcomers brought the skill of block printing here. The cloth originally used to be bought from local villages of Narena or from the haat in Jaipur. These days mill-made cloth is purchased from Jaipur.
Bagru is an important centre of hand-block printing and though it originally produced textiles for the local market, today it caters to the international and the export markets. Bagru prints are done on black, brown, beige, cream and red backgrounds. Shades of blue with much use of indigo blue dyeing processes are a characteristic of this centre. For the purpose of creating motifs printers use various natural objects like neem leaves, Rose petals, chilli, and dhaniya ki bel (coriander sprig). These motifs have changed over the time. Traditionally, 'Bagru Motifs' are bolder and more geometrical in nature. Bagru prints are used for making kurtas, shirts, quilts, bed sheets etc.
The motifs printed at Bagru are large with bold lines, inspired by the wild flowers, buds, leaves and geometric patterns.
Bagru boasts of a handful of crafts persons who still use traditional vegetable dyes in their hand block prints. Bagru's method of printing is completely eco-friendly. From treating the base cloth with Fuller's earth (Multani Mitti), soaking it in turmeric (Haldi), to stamping the cloth with beautifully patterned blocks of wood using natural dyes of earthy hues, Bagru's prints are epitome of eco-friendly textiles and printing practices. Added to that, natural colouring agents such as alum, turmeric, pomegranate, dried flowers, indigo, etc. are used to add colourful designs and motifs to the fabric. Blue from indigo, green from indigo mixed with pomegranate rinds, red from madder root and yellow from turmeric.
Block carving and printing has a very local dialect. The number of blocks per design depends on the number of colours that the design will have. The outline of the motif(s) is called 'Rekh'; the block for the background is called the 'Gadh'; the block used to fill in colour is called 'Datta'. In other kinds of block printing, if the number of colours is more, the number of 'Datta' will be more too. Sometimes, designs do not have the 'Rekh' or the 'Gadh', but that is only because of the play of negative-positive spaces, which designers have started working with. However, traditionally, a design had to have all three of these blocks.
Like any other trade, Bagru's blck printing also comes under considerable flak for its adultery in art form. While retailers sell Bagru products at a premium price, a fraction of this reaches the actual workers. The printers are looking out for cheaper, faster options of increasing the output -“ putting this trade at a risk.
Market demand, poverty, poor living and working conditions have forced these craftsmen to resort to trade shortcuts that range from using synthetic dyes, machine cut tools, to fabrics of sub-standard quality.
While modern tools, techniques and synthetic dyes, are increasingly replacing traditional art forms and methods Bagru prints are finally getting recognized. With attention back on preserving the near extinct art forms, there is a revived interest in preserving the rare art of hand block printing with vegetable dyes.
Bagru prints are unique, captivating and exotic. Erstwhile used for clothes and turbans, Bagru textiles are increasingly in demand for home furnishings and dÃ©cor. Bagru prints and motifs are preferred for bedspreads, bed sheets, table linen, and home accessories.