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Enigmatic India

This blog captures the life experiences of the Enigmatic India team in the beautiful and enigmatic country of India.We capture our experiences through our writings, photos and products that depict the very essence and fabric of India.Through this platform, we invite you to join us in our journey as we explore.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Living traditions of India: Hand block printed fabrics

Block printing technique
(Photo Credit: Internet sources)
The textile heritage of India is a rich tapestry of diverse patterns and designs binding us with our multifaceted history, culture and traditions. The ethnic patterns, designs, printing and dyeing techniques can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian and Mohenjodaro civilizations. Block prints like Ajrakh, Bagh, Bagru, Sanganeri, Dabu, Kalamkari or tie and dye and resist methods like Bandhani and Batik are some forms of textile art that inscribe beautiful stories though colourful floral and abstract motifs and geometrical shapes.

The fact that these living traditions have survived the onslaught of mechanized printing and other economic compulsions of textile industry speaks volumes about how art and craft can never perish, with dedicated practice and patronage. 

Block printing on fabrics like cotton, silk, woollen or linen is a highly skilled process done manually, step-by-step, with incised wooden blocks. It's an art form practised by families for generations, using natural dyes and mordants. The process may be slow and painstaking but that's what gives it the eternal artistic value, simply unachievable by any other method. Most block printing is directly done on the cloth, however, some techniques require the cloth to be pre-dyed. 
This blog post introduces some of the popular block prints of India that are practised by artisans in different parts of the country as a means of sustained livelihood.

Soulful universe of Ajrakh
Like many textile art forms, Ajrakh has interesting stories to tell about its origin. With the sky as its predominant theme, this form embellishes the fabric with symbolic depictions of the universe in indigo, red and black as its primary colours. It’s a 16-step process of dyeing and printing, sincerely practiced by communities in Gujarat and Sindh, Pakistan.

Paisleys of Bagh
Though Bagh belongs to Madhya Pradesh, it traces its origin to Sindh and Rajasthan. The paisleys of Bagh combined with floral and geometric patterns have adorned sarees, dupattas, bed-covers, shawls, stoles and yardage for ages. The credit for keeping the tradition alive goes to Ismail Khatri who was recognized with a national award from the Government of India.

Blocks and dyes of Bagru and Sanganer
Block prints of India
(Photo Credit: Internet sources)
Bagru and Sanganeri are identified with the places where they are printed. This rich art form is more than a century old and it is one of the popular prints in Rajasthan, synonymous with bedcovers, sarees, quilts, skirts and stoles. The flora and fauna depicted in these fabrics are delicately complemented with earthy hues and themes from nature and abstract art.

Distinctly Dabu
Dabu is a natural dye based print using blocks and mud-resist technique with finely sieved clay, calcium hydroxide (Chuna in Hindi), wheat chaff and gum. Dabu belongs to Rajasthan and  its distinctiveness comes from the labourious process of dyeing and printing. The choice of organic colours and pastes with an interplay of the dark and the dull make it subtle and sublime.

Bold and beautiful Bandhani
Bandhani is the most popular textile art that spans the length of India from Rajasthan and Gujarat to Madurai, in the form of Sungudi sarees. This tie and dye form of printing is like playing hide and seek with the fabric in between the dots and the waves. Depending on the manner in which the tying is done, we get patterns like Mothra, Leheriya and Ekdali.

Subtle shades of Batik
Batik actually means writing with wax. The delicate process involves coating a part of the cloth with wax and then dyeing it to create simple and subtle patterns. But best Batik happens only by chance when some of the special effects get created in the natural way wax works on the fabric. Batik is found in many textiles traditions in different geographies of India.

Earthy Kalamkari
Kalamkari means crafting with the pen. It originated under the patronage of Golkonda Sultanate and presently it is identified with two forms: the Machilipatnam style and the Sri Kalahasthi style. The fabric is a unique mix of free style drawing and block printing. The prints are derived from the intricate paintings that had layered drawing and dyeing process.

The next blog posts will focus on the tales each textile art form has to tell and what it needs from us to live and thrive eternally.

(Contributed by Madhuri Dubey)


  1. I appreciate with your fantastic blog information and I mean all blog reader will be happy this information. You should keep up information about new block printing designs.
    Block Printing in Bangalore

  2. I personally feel that block printing has been a great handicraft art of India and I like the amazing chanderi block prints ( from the block print sarees


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