A textile block printing technique that features repeated floral buti arranged in various patterns. Commonly seen butas in Bagru prints include gainda, gulab, badaam, kamal and bel. These motifs appear in varying sizes and combinations throughout the cloth on which they are printed. Other designs feature smaller jaali patterns, also composed of floral motifs. Bagru prints employ natural dyes, most frequently black, derived from a mixture of iron filings and jaggery and gum; red, from a mixture of madder and alum; and grey, khaki and brown, derived from kashish. Other colours in the palette include indigo, green and yellow.
Named after the city in Rajasthan where it originated, the technique is primarily practised by the Chippa community in Bagru, Rajasthan. The city’s proximity to the Sanjariya river was ideal for the repeated washes required by the technique. Bagru’s clay-rich soil is also an essential element in the printing process, and the area’s warm climate allows fabrics to dry easily.
Bagru printing involves multiple stages of washing, drying, printing and dyeing. The fabric, usually cotton, is first washed and beaten to remove impurities and soften the fibres, then soaked in water for twelve to seventy-two hours. The fabric is then treated using a mixture of castor oil, camel or goat dung and soda ash in a process known as saaj. The still-wet fabric is then soaked in a paste of harda, which lends the cloth a yellow tinge. The harda allows the fabric to develop deeper blacks. The fabric is then dried, after which the designs are transferred to the fabric using wooden blocks in multiple stages: first using direct printing — in which dye is applied to the blocks and pressed onto the fabric — then using dabu printing. A single fabric may be subjected to multiple rounds of dabu and dyeing according to the demands of the design.
As with other block printing traditions such as Bagh and ajrakh, karigars print the outline before progressing to the filler colours and other finer details of the designs. Usually, a set of three hand-carved blocks are used to create each floral motif — a rekh block, a background colour block called gadh and a colour-detailing block called datta. The blocks are carved out of sheesham wood, with the process of carving and seasoning each block set taking about a week.
In the past, chippas were printed on coarse, hardy reja cotton for local peasant and pastoral communities for garments such as ghagras, odhnis, sarees and pagdis. Bagru prints were also used for household products such as angocha, bedspreads, cushion covers and razai. Differing stylisations and combinations of the motifs and colours were developed for each community that wore the prints, allowing traders, farmers and artisans to be identified on the basis of the patterns on their clothes.
The original patrons of Bagru prints included Rajputs as well as local communities. Over the last few centuries, the prints have been produced for local consumption, while other floral printed fabrics, such as chintz, have been heavily traded and appropriated in the West. Today, there are about fifty to sixty blockprinting workshops in Bagru, with a community of over five thousand workers. Both women and men participate in the printing process. To cater to contemporary markets, printers use fine fabrics that aren’t limited to cotton. While most of these workshops produce woodblock-printed cloth, some have now employed the screen-printing method, which is less laborious. Many karigars also use chemical dyes.
“Bagru: Origin, History and Development.” Shodhganga. Accessed April 7, 2020. https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/70322/6/chapter-2 f.pdf.
Ghosh, Ruchira. 2017. Mapping Indian Textiles. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre of the Arts.
Jamadi, Mari. n.d. “Block Printing in Bagru.” Maptia. Accessed April 8, 2020. https://maptia.com/nomadichabit/stories/block-printing-in-bagru.
Needleman, Deborah. 2018. “The Ancient Art of Jaipur Block Printing, and What It Means to India.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/18/t-magazine/block-print-jaipur-india.html.
Ranjan, Aditi, and M. P. Ranjan. 2007. Handmade in India: a Handbook of the Crafts of India. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing.
Sethi, Ritu. 2013. Past Continuous: Block Printing on Textiles in India. Craft Revival Trust, https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/past-continuous-block-printing-on-textiles-in-india%C2%A0/wQGDHiAc.