Its is a famous kind of wood block printing, practiced by skilled artisans in Bagh village, in Madhya Pradesh, India.
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE
Bagh Print has its roots in Larkana (Sindh) which is now a part of Pakistan.
The art of such printing moved eastwards to Marwar (Rajasthan), India.
Later it moved to Manavar (Madhya Pradesh), India.
From Manavar it descended to the Bagh village with Khatris (community) who comprise of Chippas or Printers.
Bagh Print derived its name from Bagh village of the Kushil tehsil of Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. Village Bagh falls under Indore division of Madhya Pradesh.
Legend has it that the village of Bagh, Bagh river and the famous Bagh caves got their names from the Bagh (Tigers) that inhabited the region. It is believed that this handicraft is 400 years old
RELEVANCE AND INSPIRATION
Bagh printing basically involves wooden blocks that are carved into motifs that represent flora such as Jasmine, Mango, Mushroom and many more.
Some prints are also inspired by Jaali (net) work that is embellished in Taj Mahal and other Indian forts.
Inspiration is also drawn from the landscapes and geometrical figures.
The motifs evoke various emotions in the serenity of the prints and that is the best element of Bagh prints.
Local names of some of the motifs used are-
Nandana – Mango , Tendu – Specific Plant, Mung ki Phali – Bean, Leheria, Jowaria, Phool buta etc.
WOODEN BLOCKS – ESSENTIAL TOOLS FOR BAGH PRINTING
The Bilals or Blocks are the most critical tool in hand block printing. For the Chippas (printers) of Bagh, blocks are Rhoji Roti (money and life).
There are two types of Blocks. One is made up of single piece of wood, which is costly but convenient and the other one consists of two wooden pieces which is cheaper. Despite, the latter being cheaper and feasible, the Khatris in general prefer the first kind of blocks due to their long lasting nature.
For a good print it is very important that the wood used in making of the block is of superior quality. Thus, Sagwan from Balsar (Gujarat) and Shisham from Farakkabad (Uttar Pradesh) are two best quality woods used in the making of blocks.
PROCESS OF BLOCK MAKING
Craftsmen use Sagwan (Teak wood) for carving the blocks.The reason behind working on this particular wood is that it provides perfect base for carving intricate motifs as it is dense and strong wood. It does not absorb water or distort in shape even after years of usage.
The craftsmen use a hand-drill arrangement that involves a bow called Kamthi and a driller called Saarardi to drill out larger portions of the design voids from the block.
For finer carvings and finishing they use a variety of chisels (in varying shapes and sizes).
A basic block of three to four inches takes a day to get carved and an intricate blocks takes almost a week’s time.
Once the blocks are prepared they are immersed in castor oil for few days to protect them against warping and insect attacks.This step is very crucial since the blocks are going to be in constant touch with water based dyes which make them more vulnerable to decay.
The blocks are now ready to be used for Bagh Printing.These blocks range from as small as an inch to as large as sixteen inches in size.
Raw materials used in the process of Bagh printing are –
Base Fabric – Cotton or Silk
Wooden blocks – varying in different sizes and designs.
Natural dyes – derived from plants , fruits, minerals etc.
PROCESS OF BAGH PRINTING
The division of labor in Bagh printing is simple and along traditional lines. The work is done by male members of the family. The labors in the workshop are expected to be more skillful diligent and patient, since block printing requires a stable hand and the capacity to sit and work for hours together.
Every step in the process of Bagh printing is done manually. Even the cotton saris are hand printed. Bagh printing is the slowest process of all.
The process of production is as follows:
Buying the Fabric–
The cloth mainly cotton and sometimes silk is usually bought from the market. The fabric has different names and differ in texture like Bangalore Silk, Cotton or Grey Latha or Cotton- Silk mix.
The cloth is taken to Bagh river where it is thoroughly washed. About hundred single sheets are washed at one time – that is two hundred and fifty cuts of fabric sixty inches wide. The fabric is soaked in water for two hours. It is washed by beating it on the riverside. It is then dried. The beating is done to get rid of starch before final washing of the fabric.
The cloth/fabric is brought back to the workshop and dipped in a particular solution for an entire night, after which it is put out to dry by spreading on floor of stones, out in verandah.
The solution consists of Sanchara (4 kilograms) Rock salt (soaked in 10 liters of water ) Mengni (10 kilograms) and Goat dunk (soaked in 20 liters of water ; softened, grounded on a stone slab with a brick and made into a paste.
Treating with Harara–
Treating with Harara gives an off-white or yellow background to the cloth and also aids in strengthening the shades of red color ,and black color, that are printed later. After repeating this process for several times, when the fabric dries, it turns yellowish. The fabric is now ready to be printed.
Making of Printing Colors–
Iron Sulphate (for black dye) and Alum (for red dye) are soaked in container of water. The mixture is given a boil and kept in the container for ten days. After that Chiyan (tamarind seed powder) which is a substitute for glue is mixed into alum or iron sulphate solution. Thereafter, a paste with right consistency for printing is made.
At this stage the cloth is meticulously and patiently printed by hand with the help of designed wooden blocks. The time taken depends on the design and pattern. An average of about five meters of fabric can be printed by an expert in two or three hours. The fabric is kept for minimum of eight days and a maximum of two weeks for the color to be absorbed properly by the fabric.
The process involves taking the printed bundles of fabric to the river. The printed fabric. The printed fabric is pushed into the river water and taken out swiftly so that the extra color is removed. This process requires a lot of strength. If this process is not followed correctly then stains and smudges can appear on the printed fabric. The water of Bagh river is very rich in Copper which helps in bringing out great intensity of colors on the fabric.
In the Bhatti –
After being washed thoroughly, the fabric is taken to the workshop where it is boiled in a solution of Dhavda Flower for shine and fixation of color , and Alizarin to fasten colors. After boiling, the fabric is dried. The fabric is constantly mixed and turned and shifted in the boiling solution, using long wooden sticks. It is during this process that the colors of the prints develop.
About eight craftsmen work together on a bhatti for six hours and two to three quintals of wood is required for burning the bhatti.
After drying, again the fabric is taken to the river and is washed three to four times, This process is called Tarai. The fabric is allowed to semi-dry and then again it is moistened by spraying water. This helps set the colors permanently.
Thus after such a lengthy and tiresome process, the famous Bagh print fabrics get ready.
PATRON OF BAGH PRINTING
ISMAIL SULEIMAN KHATRI
Ismail Suleiman Khatri moved to Bagh village in the 1950s and began practicing the craft, which he learnt from his father, Ibrahim Khatri.
In the 1960s, due to the lure of synthetics, many artisans gave up practice of Bagh printing but Ismail Khatri stuck to his vocation and began to redefine its concept, process and looks. He got three hundred years old wooden blocks based on traditional motifs inspired from one thousand and five hundred years old paintings found in the caves of Bagh region.
He streamlined the processing of the two important colors – Red (from alizarin) and Black (from iron fillings) . He also discovered new vegetable dyes such as yellow and green.
In 1982, he won the National Award for Bed Cover Designing in which he used one thousand and four hundred different wooden blocks.
PRESENT DAY SCENARIO
Bagh Prints are an all time favorite in India, primarily because of the comfortable fabric. a lot of trendy prints are now being used, not only on Cotton but also
on other fabrics, like Crepe, Silk ,Tassar etc.
Bagh Printing, though a slow process, is Eco-friendly in nature and this is one of the reasons why this craft is gaining a lot of world wide recognition.
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