Traditionally, 'Nandna' print fabric was only used by the women of 'Bhil' tribes. Their traditional attire would consist of Nandna printed skirts that doubled as a dhoti when working in the fields. An extended length of cord fabric is attached to the front of the skirt, which when pulled back and tucked into the back of the waist, divides the skirt into a loose pulled back type of trouser known as 'Dhoti'. Having become quite popular, 'Nandna' textiles and techniques are now incorporated into other garments, bedspreads, table cloth, other furnishings and upholstery.
The natural dyeing of cloth depends on three key factors: type of fabric, dye-bath and mordant. About five to fifteen colours or shades can be derived from a single type of plant. Wanting to adopt a more eco-friendly procedure, craftsmen have started using more natural dyes instead of synthetic ones. Nandna was earlier indigenous to Umedhpura in Madhya Pradesh, as the rich mineral content of River 'Gambhiri' enhanced the colours of the fabric. The production of Nandna is said to be equally divided amongst both Hindu and Muslim communities, the 'Chippas' and the 'Nilgars' (printers and dyers). The fabric of Nandna is believed to have united the two religious communities for more than two centuries. The technique of 'Dabu' (mud) printing is only practiced in 'Umedpura' and the craft is so well honed that the prints are in demand by the 'Bagh' printers as well, despite the fame the 'Bagh print' gets. It is the use of 'Datta block' for mud-resist printing in Nandna fabric that sets them apart.
Indigo, a natural dye that is mainly used in the craft is considered highly and revered amongst the craftsmen community. They believe that a cow which drinks the solution becomes stronger and that if they eat with Indigo-stained hands, there won't be any problems with the food or digestion. They say that Indigo has the power to turn anything natural. Wearing Indigo dyed fabric is thereby considered auspicious.
The various motifs like 'Champa', 'Jalam Buta' and 'Amba' were prized possessions among the women of the Bhil tribe. The presence of particular motifs determined their importance in the tribe and amongst other women. These motifs were also considered to be auspicious as they were worn during important occasions like weddings and childbirth. The fabric is also believed to be best for rough use and would last more than a year with frequent washes and no extra care.
No work related to printing is looked down upon or attributed to a certain class of people. The division of labor is only associated with the amount of work and the size of the family. Therefore, an increasing number of family members does not pose a problem but provides extra hands for work. The craftsmen have no fixed working hours and usually work for a minimum of 16 hours a day.
Myths & Legends
Block printing in India is an ancient craft, dating as far back as 3000 BC. It can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization and some historians are of the view that India may have been the original home of textile printing. Archaeological evidence from Mohenjedaro establishes that the complex technology of mordant dyeing had been known in the subcontinent from at least the second millennium BC.
India has been renowned for its printed and dyed cotton cloth since the 12th century. The country was one of the largest exporters of textiles from the 16th century till the beginning of the 19th century. In the textiles exported, 'chintz' was most sought after, 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 of the colors in Indian chintz made it more appealing to the European buyers in the 17th century, than the very same fabric produced in their homeland.
Chinese chronicles report the arrival of printed cloth in China from India in 140 BC. In Europe, samples have been found in the 16th century grave of St. Caesarius of Aries. 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 were found at Fostat, in the outskirts of Cairo. They were excavated during the later part of the 19th century. A Frenchman named R. Fisher made the first concentrated study of the fabrics earlier than the 17th century - distinguishing them into block printed and the resist dyed. These were exported in bulk and were for the mass market than a luxury one. The block printed pieces were believed to belong to the 15th century.
The manner of printing helped distinguish between the fine and the commonplace chintz. The fine one was usually painted. Mordants and resists were applied in freehand using a brush or pen, whereas the commonplace chintz was printed. The gum-thickened mordants were applied using printing wooden blocks. In the paintings, outlines were impressed by blocks or blocks were used for transferring the resist material such as mud, wax, clay or starch.
Block printing was practiced in places like 'Kukshi', 'Dharampuri' and 'Thikri' by a group of people called 'Chhipas' or 'Bhavsars'. A few Muslim dyers called 'Rangrez', practiced color printing in the town of 'Dhar'. They catered to the clothing of the 'Adivasi' tribes. The patterns were mostly raw and coarse cotton was used.
The printers and dyers, in their quest for ideal conditions to hone their craft, also settled in the villages of Tarapur and Umedpura of Madhya Pradesh. The craft is believed to have existed for over three hundred years here, and grown to attain characteristic forms which make it exclusive to the region.
The traditional motifs of the Nandna prints are not necessarily influenced by the flora and fauna in that locality. The erstwhile nomadic life of the Chippa community has brought in influences from all over Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab. The blocks were also sourced mostly from Pethapur, where designs were eclectic. Therefore, the traditional motifs are inspired from nature and have no cultural influence on them.
'Champakali' (Frangipani) is worn by the unmarried women of the tribe. It also symbolizes fertility in some regions. Nandna fabric was worn by all the women of the Bhil tribe as it was most comfortable during their daily physical activities like farming. This is also a reason for the prevalence of dark colours like blue, and green as backgrounds. The skirts with 'Amba' (Mango) print are worn during marriages and also a few months following childbirth. It is traditionally gifted to the sister by the brother on 'Raksha-bandhan', 'Diwali' and 'Teej'.
Champakali : Inspired from the Champa (Frangipani) flower, this motif has the stem bent to one side and the leaves on either side of the stem, ending in a flower.
Mirchi : As the name goes, the motif is inspired from the Chilli. The form is slightly bent towards the right side with respect to its background. The stem is mostly printed in Ochre and the chili in red and white.
Jalam Buta : This motif is of a fruit-bearing tree. The upright stem flourishes into leaves and branches with flowers on both sides. The stem is printed in Ochre and the foliage in red and white.
Amba : One of the most used motifs; the 'Amba' (Mango) has a stem which is bent in opposite directions at both the ends - to the right on top and to the left on the bottom. The stem has branches on both sides. It represents the mango tree and is mostly printed on a background color of blue.
Dola Maru : This is a combination of the 'Champakali' and the 'Aekal' motif. The name is rooted in the famous love story of the Rajasthani prince 'Dola' and the princess 'Maru' of the Poogal kingdom in Rajasthan.
The process of making 'Nandna' is very time-consuming. It takes around a month to complete one lot of fabric; roughly 800 meters. Skilled workers with years of experience are required to carry about the processes.
Many traditional methods of Nandna printing have been forgotten because of their labor intensive nature. The designs and patterns have been varied and retained according to the market demands, which are not that particular about the manner of printing anymore. There has been a stark decline in the volume of production over the years. Training is now being given for the less time consuming method of printing to cope with the fluctuations in demand without having steep effects on the craftsmen.
With the growing environmental consciousness, the craftsmen are seeking eco-friendly alternatives for various processes like dyeing and disposal of dyes. Preliminary steps like neutralizing the dye baths by adding acid or alkaline before draining are being carried out.
Due to the opening of factories in Jawad, many craftsmen have moved on for more income and less or fixed working hours.