Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Art of Block Printing at Sanganer

Sanganer is situated about 8 kilometers south-east of Jaipur city. Prior to the 17th century, there is no mention of Sanganer as a centre of printing. At that time Sanganer was known as a centre of plain and dyed clothes. The end of the 17th century, Aurangazeb and the repeated invasions of the Marathas, many craftsmen (Printers) from the neighbouring state Gujarat came and settled in Rajasthan. 

By the end of the 18th century this industry was fully developed in Sanganer. There are at present, about 125 hand block printing units in Sanganer. Sanganer was renowned for its small decorative and delicate floral patterns, called, ‘boota-booties’ which was printed on fine cotton and silk.The dyers and block makers came from Sindh and Punjab and settled here.The printers belong to chhipa community.  Almost every member of the ‘Chippa’ family is involved in the washing, dyeing and printing of clothes. While, the printers are predominantly Hindus, majority of dyers and block makers are Muslims.

                   Water of the Saraswati River that used to flow graciously through Sanganer, was known for its special quality that used to bring out radiance from the natural dyed fabric. This was major source of inspiration for the printing community.

               In olden days, the fabric was printed mainly for use of royal families and rich traders but now it is used as part of clothing for urban families and also exported. The principal items printed here include sarees, dupattas, salwar-kameez, bed cover, curtains, scarves, and printed yardages (running cloth material), etc. Both local and imported cloth material are used. At present,’ mulmul’ (cotton voile), ‘latha’ (sheeting fabrics) and cambric etc. are sourced from Jaipur.

          On Sanganeri ‘chintz’ (printed cloth) usually, yellow, green blue (with different tones) are used as the background. These days one rarely comes across the variety of shades that were found in the old Sanganeri ‘chintz’, but still the ‘chhipas’ for sanganer have the incomparable know-how of matching the back ground on base colour with colours of the prints.

          The main distinguishing feature between Sanganer and Bagru printing is that Sanganer print is usually done on a white ground, whereas Bagru prints are on an Indigo or a dyed background. Local water also has its effects. In Sanganer water, block comes out in its best dark shade, while at Bagru block comes with a reddish tinge. As water has always been abundant in Sanganer, the washing of cloth has formed the main basis of printing and dyeing there. In contrast at Bagru, where water in comparatively scarce, ‘Dhabu’ resist printing and indigo work is mostly done. 

Difference in motifs

Traditionally, motifs printed at Bagru are large with bold line, as compared to sanganer, where somber colours and fine lines, intricate detailing are practiced. 

Sanganeri motifs are naturalistically rendered, with motifs usually based on flowers i.e. iris, rose, poppy, marigold, sunflower, chrysanthemum etc. Bagru motifs are more geometric than the sanganeri motifs.

The craft of block making came to Rajasthan along with printers from Sind-Punjab. Most of the block makers in Rajasthan are Muslims. The basic carving tools are made by block makers themselves form iron rods, bicycle spokes etc. The ‘design” is first drawn on paper and stretched out on smooth surface of wood. The motif or design is then pierced through the needles so that the “impression” is transferred on the smooth surface of wood, later the unwanted areas are carved out.

Iron nails and woolen-felt are also used to improve the quality of impression. Wooden block can be classified in three types viz ‘Rekh’- the outline block, “gudh”- the background block, and “Datta’- the filling block.

‘Rekh’: The key outline block (from the Hindi word “ rekha” which means line) defines the form of pattern. Normally rekh is considered the “key block” which gets printed first in order to give ‘clue’ to other block to fit in. In some cases rekh is split into two blocks in order to print two colours. This kind of block is known as ‘chirai’ (splitting) block.

‘Gudh’: The block which covers the background of patterns in called gudh. Gudh is sometimes treated as the key block and printed first.

‘Datta’: All blocks other than over above mentioned two become ‘dattas’ or filling blocks.
The handle: Once the block is carved, a handle, usually of cheaper wood, is nailed to the block to help the printer in registering the impression with the block comfortable. The handle is a very important part of block making, as it is this part which helps to trace the family who carved the block. One has only to look at the handle to identify the block maker as each family uses special effect in block handle. Some carve the handle out of the same piece of wood on which the design is carved and some shape the handle in a peculiar way.

The wood:  Seesam, a kind of India teak is used for making blocks. Since it is tough wood the outline block which wears out most are made out of it. ‘Roahda’ and ‘Gurjan’ which are softer and lighter wood are used for making the rest of the blocks including mud resist blocks which generally need deep carving and light weight.

The Traditional printing process can be categorized as follows:

Scouring – ‘Hari Sarana’: Cleaning of the impure fabric for good penetration of colour

Tannin treatment – ‘ Peela Karna’- Harda’ : Treating the fabric with ‘harda’ powder to attract the mordant.

Printing (mordanting) ‘Chapai’: Actual printing of the fabric with blocks

Ageing – ‘ Sukhai’: Natural drying of the fabric for penetration of colour

Washing – ‘ Khulai’: Washing Fabric to get rid of excess mordant
Dyeing (fixing of colour) – ‘ Ghan Rangai’: Dyeing of the fabric to react with the mordant and give new colours

Dyeing is a process in which the dye reacts with two mordants at two different locations on the same print giving two different shades of colours. As mentioned earlier ‘alizarin’ is used as the dye throughout Rajasthan. The colours obtained in conjunction with the two mordants are red (with alum) and block (with ferrous). Dyeing is carried out in large copper vessels (‘tambri’) which are heated by wood fire. Alizarin is filled in small cloth-bags (‘potali’) and dipped in the vessel. The quantity of alizarin dye is calculated by the experienced dyer. ‘Dhawadi phool’, a local flower is boiled along with alizarin to avoid patches and staining. Once the dyed fabric is ready (usually it takes half-an-hour), it is taken out of the copper vessel and left on the ground for drying.

Sun bleaching – ‘Tapai’: Sun bleaching of the dyed fabric to make the background look white as prior to dyeing.

Post mordanting – ‘ Fitkari Rangai’: With alum (fitkari) to make the yellow dye fast.
Washing – ‘ Dhulai’: To take out resist paste and excess or unattached dye.

The main resource of water is the ground water which is also receding at alarming rate. Most of the printer’s families have converted their homes into small printing units where printers from Sanganer and nearby villages come and print fabrics. The transition from the traditional dyes to the modern chemical dyes four to five decades back forced the traditional dyers /printers to adapt the new technology with hit and trial method. Most of the printer’s families were uneducated and the dye manufacturing companies too were more interested in selling the products. Though the chemical dyes were manufactured for the organized textile sector, the cottage industries adapted them without much technical know how.

Some images from the blockprint factory at Sanganer and their emporium called "Sakshi" which is very reasonably priced for clothes,bedsheets,duppattas,trays,bags,carpets etc is also nearby the factory.
As it was midafternoon time,i could very beautifully capture the light falling at various corners of the room.

Images and Ideas conceived by Lakshmi Arvind
Pl do not copy the images


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