Hailing from the land of Maharajas, block-prints with their universally appealing degree of intricacy, competed their way to the weekly 'haats' and 'melas'. Saudagars (the traders) from all over would come and sell their works to the landlords, Maharajas and their ladies. These very intricate and exuberant prints typically made to adorn their turbans and chunris came to be known as Saudagari prints. Although a rarity now, some Saudagari blocks, preserved by the traditional craftsmen can be seen in the museums today.
Today, These fabrics are utilized for 'Sarees', 'Dupattas', 'Kurtas', home decor and many other lifestyle products.
Craftsmen believe that block printed fabrics are known for their versatile quality and their combination of motifs. According to them, working with hands is a never ending process of design exploration as opposed to screen printing. Earlier sold in local markets, these prints came to be known as 'Saudagiri' prints as the traders are called 'Saudagars'. These prints have now become a rarity and only a few of the old fabrics preserved by traditional craftsmen can be found in museums today.
Myths & Legends
Printing and dyeing techniques flourished in Rajasthan in the medieval ages and the influences brimmed over to Gujarat. The craftsmen in Gujarat developed an expertise in printing with wooden blocks. Printed fabric was a frequent element in royal processions with which they made tents for when the battalion rested. Until the establishment of fabric trade routes Europeans used wool, silk or leather as dress materials and cotton was not an extensively explored material. Eventually, plain cotton started being heavily imported by European ports. Absence of knowledge about colors and fabric printing also gave way to the European demand for printed fabrics. The climatic conditions in Europe didn't allow the colors to mature as brightly as they did in India. The traditional weaver clan 'Chaliyans' used to weave the plain fabric and printing on fabric was done in western and northern India. These printed fabrics became popular in Europe as Calico prints, also termed as 'Chintz'. John Ovington came to India in 1689. He summarized his observations by saying: "In some things the artists of India out-do all the ingenuity of Europe, viz., the painting of chintz or callicoes, which in Europe cannot be paralleled, either in their brightness and life of color or in their continuance upon the cloth-.The interest of Europeans in cotton printing and dyeing were clear enough and those cases of 'borrowing' from India were written by Frenchmen in the 70 years between 1678 and 1747, a period that coincided with initial phase of European expansion for the new textile printing industry. Between 1678 and 1680, Georges Roques wrote a 333-page manuscript containing a detailed analysis of the production of textiles in Ahmedabad, Burhanpur and Sironj. The French East India Company's Lieutenant Antoine Georges Nicolas de Beaulieu was the author of a second manuscript, probably compiled around 1734. Finally, the third document was produced as a series of letters by Father Coeurdoux, a missionary from the Society of Jesus who lived in India between 1742 and 1747.The principal cotton textile described by Roques was the less expensive wood block printed Chintz as opposed to the more expensive painted Chintz from the same region and elsewhere in India. The less expensive wood block printed Chintz was produced at Ahmedabad, Sironji, Bhuranpur (Khandesh). Ahmedabad was one of the lowest cost production center for the textile in western. The use of one or more carved block was practiced; Ahmedabad producers used three types of block, one for outline of the design, one for the ground and third types of detail, worker first print outline then ground and then details.Ahmedabad was also famous for its intricate traditional designs that were chipped on the blocks by the artisan families. These prints came to be called 'Saudagiri' prints as 'Saudagars' or traders would gather at fairs, markets or 'haats' to sell their printed fabric to common folk as well as royalty.The 'Gujarat State Handicraft Development Corporation' and its retail wing 'Gurjari' were established in the early 1970s. The aim was to uphold the craft and create a sustainable market. At around the same time, the 'National Institute of Design' was established in Ahmedabad. Designers were recruited from NID to work with the Handicraft Development Corporation staff and the craftsmen from rural areas of Gujarat. Thus the crafts slowly grew with more and more people being aware of it and the markets expanded from domestic customers to overseas. Presently there are about 8-10 big units in the city and each employ almost 70 skilled block printers.
Craftsmen at Ahmedabad are masters of their work on different designs that are traditional as well as have contemporary variations. The blocks are of different shapes and have designs carved at the bottom surface.
The artisan goes on to print with several blocks to attain the final composition, the first block imparts the outline and the other block imparts different colors on the fabrics.
Numerous combinations achievable by the same age old blocks, with some colors and a little playfulness in hand, still stands unparalleled "Hand ka koi end nahi hai", as quoted by the master craftsman 'Farooq Bhai', it means that there is no end to the number of variations you can get by this technique.
The cloth is dyed in a solid color on which a 'latticework' of patterns is stamped with the blocks dipped in dye. These patterns are formed by various motifs. The patterns are floral, free form and geometric. They are mostly inspired from local elements. They can have large 'Botas', small 'Botis', 'Trellis' or 'Jal', (types of designs), small border, large border and sometimes geometric designs too. Each design normally has 2-4 colours and each color is imprinted from a separate block.
Flowing water is a crucial requirement for making block printed fabrics, so the craftsmen now have tanks for the same purpose since the natural waters sources are overridden by marshes. The natural colorants have also been replaced by chemical dyes. Also the modern screen printing technology poses a huge threat to the art of block printing, since it is faster and cheaper.