Bandhani craft is still widely used in traditional attires like 'Dupattas' (5) or 'Odhanis' (1), 'Saris' (drapes of different length) and 'ghagras' (long skirts) by ladies and 'turbans' by the men folk in India. This rich craft holds an eminent role in Gujarati Hindu weddings and is used as part of the bride's wedding attire. The bride wears a 'Panetar Sari' ; a special traditional attire of Gujarati women with just the border decorated by Bandhani dots during the ceremony and is given a ceremonial Bandhani garment known as 'Gharcholu' as a gift by the groom. Apart from its religious and traditional significance, Bandhani has also transcended into urban fashion with contemporary usage as dress material, stoles, bags, skirts and in home decor as cushion covers, bed sheets, curtains etc.
Adored by womenfolk, Bandhani enjoys a huge popularity amongst traditional communities like the 'Kumhars', 'Jats', 'Harijans', 'Memans' and 'Rabaris'.
'Bandhani', the art of tie and dye assumes a different expression in each house. The 'Rabaris' (2) cerate black stoles with red dots dyed on wool, while the 'Muslim Khatris' use it as 'Chandrokhani' (like the moon), a beloved traditional wedding attire worn by the bride and groom on different occasions to mark their wedding or 'Nikah'. The 'Khatris', 'Parsis', 'Memans' and 'Sonaars' have a particular proclivity for Bandhanis done on silk.
The womenfolk of the village mainly do the tedious and intricate task of making the motifs tying tiny knots. These women multi-task as talented textile artists creating beautiful motifs, as well as deftly manage to accomplish their household chores. A typical single stole can have 4000 to 5000 knots (1) and interestingly these women can tie up to 700 knots in a single day. It is comparatively easier to tie knots in finer fabrics like silk or cotton than in wool. Two to three layers of the fabric, depending upon the thickness of the fabric can be tied together to reduce the labor. The latter requires a careful touch, as the knots are fastened by pulling with the teeth.
Special care is taken in the choice of threads for this process; for an improper choice can prove disastrous, as dye penetration leads to distorted motifs. The fine-ness of dots depends on two key elements, the material on which Bandhani is to be done and the number of layers folded-in for tying.
To preserve the rich texture of Bandhani, it is always stored crumpled inside a muslin cloth and this extends its life. Another measure to increase its life is that every two-three months it is taken out and laid in mild sunlight. It is believed that the life of Bandhini extends with body heat and exposure to the sun. The threads that remain after untying of the fabric are made into balls and used again for tying knots on the fabric.
Myths & Legends
The origins of Bandhini are believed to lie in an ancient era, the exact time of which could not be traced. The earliest known examples of the textile have been excavated from a tomb at 'Astana' in Chinese Turkistan, dating 4th century AD.
In India, the earliest use of this craft has been evidenced in wall paintings of the Ajanta caves (1), dating back to the 6th - 7th century AD. Women wearing dotted tie-dye bodice similar to present day Bandhani are depicted in these paintings. The ornamentation, the postures and the musical instruments in the painting suggest that it's a group of women musicians and dancers from the Golden Era of Indian history.
The earliest written reference to Bandhini is in Bana's 'Harshacharita' or the 'Life of King Harsha' (606-648 AD), in which the Royal poet Bana narrates the wedding of King's sister. In this, he describes with beautiful detail, the tie and dye work done on her special 'Odhani' (head cover). King Harsha is known for his taste and works to promote arts and crafts in his reign.
In the Jain manuscripts (2) of 12th century, the craft is documented through various illustrations depicting dot-patterned garments. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the 'tie-dyed silk handkerchiefs of Kasim-bazar' were majorly exported to London and other places, where they were auctioned. The earliest surviving pieces of Bandhani in Gujarat are the small fragments of silk used by Jain monks in interleaving manuscript pages. These were done to protect paintings within. These vestigial remnants of fine silk Bandhini were found in the 'Kalpasutra' manuscript dating back to early 15th century.
Some oral histories and traditions also imply the advent of this technique in Gujarat by craftsmen migrating from Sindh in the 16th century. It is seen that nowhere else has Bandhini reached such heights of technique and design innovation as it has in Gujarat. A wide range of materials like varieties of silk and wool are used in addition to cottons.
The use of wool however is limited to making 'skirts', 'shawls' and 'Odhanis' for the 'Rabaris' and 'Bharwads', the Hindu herding communities of Kutch. The satin weave known as 'Gajji', an expensive Bandhini textile of early 20th century is an appropriate example of finely worked designs that are characteristic to the Gujarati tie-dyed silks.
The Khatri community has been a prominent innovator and promoter of the craft since medieval times. They have largely been engaged in weaving, block printing as well and tie-dye. This community is divided broadly into the Hindu Khatris and Muslim Khatris, though the former have adopted the name of 'Brahma-kshatriya' and they both practice the craft. Their folk history maintains that they came to Gujarat from Punjab in the 15th century. Organizations like 'The Central Cottage Industries Corporation', which have a wide network of state handicraft shops are consistently working towards the sustainability and promotion of the craft by taking it door to door.
The 'Bandhini' technique with its highly elaborate motifs is used on different types of traditional saris to achieve different effects. These motifs include flowers, creeper plants, bells and jalas (web).
Knots with a different name are placed in clusters, for example: a single dot is called 'Ekdali', three knots is called 'Trikunti' and four knots is called 'Chaubundi. Such clusters are worked intricately into patterns such as the 'Shikargah' (mountain-like), 'Jaaldar' (web-like), 'Beldaar' (vine-like) and many others.
In Bandhani, different colors are used to convey different meanings. Red signifies that a woman is a newly wedded; a yellow background suggests that a lady has recently given birth. Some of the more common designs are, 'Dungar-Shahi' or the 'Mountain-Pattern', 'Boond' or 'a small dot' that has a dark center, tear-shaped 'Kodi', and the 'Laddu-Jalebi' or 'Swirl pattern'. In 'Tikunthi', circles and squares appear in groups of three; in 'Chaubasi' it appears in groups of four and in 'Satbandi' it appears in groups of seven. The difference between 'Boond' and 'Ekdali' lies in the fact that the former is a dot with a dark center while 'Ekdali' is just a single dot.
The following are a few traditional fabrics made using the Bandhini technique.
This is the most highly valued Bandhini worn as 'Odhani' or veil in the traditional weddings of Rajput clan and other affluent groups of Gujarat. The bride who wears a 'Panetar Sari' during the ceremony, is given the ceremonial 'Gharcholu' as a traditional wedding gift from the groom.
As a rule, the 'Gharchola' has a red background and the red field is divided into square compartments by woven strips of golden brocade. The prominent 'Gharchola' designs are either twelve sectioned / 'Bar-Bhag' or fifty sectioned / 'Bavan Bhag'. Sometimes, the checks are tie-dyed to the cloth instead of the woven brocade work to save cost.
Traditionally, Bandhini work is done in white, yellow or green and the common motifs used are 'Haathi' (elephant), 'Putali' (doll), 'Pachek' or 'Kharek' (geometric motifs). All these are enclosed in a 'Zari' square.
'Kalghar', that is also red in color but with simpler patterns is worn by brides during the 'Saat Phere' or 'Seven Vows', a central part of the elaborate Hindu wedding ceremony. It is characterized by a diamond grid pattern in the central field with intricately done borders and 'Pallav'. Apart from the traditional red, 'Kalghar' is also made in various colours like purple, green and blue.
'Panetar', a traditional wedding sari worn along with the 'Gharchola' is traditionally white in color with red colored borders and Pallav. The Bandhini patterns or motifs are created in white along with yellow borders. Occasionally a circular patch of red (called Gul) with a medallion worked in white or yellow dots is made on a white back ground. The motifs commonly used here are 'Haathi' (elephant) and 'Pachek' (geometric motifs). The motifs in 'Gul' can be 'Raas-mandal' (dancing maidens) or the 'Cairy' (paisley).
The bridal apparel of the Khatri community includes 'Chandrakhoni' (odhani), 'Abha' or 'Abho' (kurta) and 'Ejar' (trousers). 'Chandrakhoni' meaning 'like the moon' is a square shaped fabric comprising two identical halves that join at the center. This is sometimes embellished with a strip of gold lace along the central seam. The basic design consists of a central medallion or 'Gul' with four smaller 'Guls' around it. Sometimes a 'Sarpvel' meaning 'snake border, a type of scrolling pattern is made around the central 'Gul' and is believed to ward off evil.
Mata ni chundadi
This is a special kind of Bandhini, which is used by Hindus as an offering to mother Goddess. 'Mata-Ni-Chundadi' literally meaning 'The Sari of Mother Goddess' is characterized by a red background with specific geometric motifs formed by white dots and lined with 'zari' or gold embroidered borders.
This is the name given to the sari where more than two colours are used. The name means a flower garden as the sari with the colours and dotted patterns looks like a garden in aerial view.
This actually means the placement of flower motifs in a square pattern. This is an overall pattern with each unit formed by a cross consisting of 'Kodivel' (border formed by Kodi pattern). The 'Pasa' (a diamond shaped pattern) is filled in the four gaps formed in between the cross of the 'Kodivel'.
The 'Rumal' is a head covering or scarf made by the Khatri Muslim dyers, to be used by Khatri women. It is dyed in the traditional red and black colors, which are also associated with their bridal costumes. There is a central medallion placed in a black background called the 'Chandrakhoni'. Absence of any human or animal motifs in the design indicates that the prominent usage is by the Muslim community.
The traditional patterns used in Bandhini involve a time consuming and tedious process, creating a large gap between the production and demand. This has triggered the cheaper screen-printed imitations of the craft in the market. The patterns have become bolder and the individual motifs are more spaced out, largely reducing its production costs.
Bandhini was earlier done exclusively by the Khatri community whose expertise was honed over years but presently many others are adopting this craft as a means of supplementing family income. This focus on financial output at the expense of creative quality has led to a gradual deterioration in quality. However, it also enables freedom to explore more creativity, creating healthy competition for everyone in the industry.