A block printing tradition originating from the town of Sanganer, Rajasthan, sanganeri is best known for the wide range of motifs it employs. While the exact point of origin of the craft has remained unknown, it is widely believed to have been borne out of the socio-political upheavals caused by the campaigns of Mughals and Marathas in the region of Gujarat in the mid-seventeenth century. Successive incursions forced many Gujarati artisans and printers to flee from the Kathiawar region and migrate to places in present-day Rajasthan, including Sanganer where a group of artisans from the Chhipa community took residence and developed it into a bustling centre of cloth printing.
Before the seventeenth century, Sanganer was known for its bleached and dyed cottons. By the eighteenth century, the presence of Chhipas had developed the sanganeri print as an independent and standout textile. It has been conjectured that Sanganeri block-print may have benefited from the royal patronage of Sawai Jai Singh in the early eighteenth century. The riverbanks of the river Dhoondh also proved to be an asset for the dyers and bleachers.
Before the fabric is printed, it is treated with a solution of bleach. Traditionally, a white cotton cloth was used, but now a wide range of colours are used – red, black and brown – which were derived naturally. The process of printing, known as chhapai, is carried over a long table and the block is placed in a tray carrying colour prepared from the dyes. After this, the coloured block is used to stamp the impression on the fabric. The block is central to the craft. The community of block-carvers has historically been ignored and therefore, there is little known about them. Until the twentieth century, most of the carvings were made in Sanganer. Due to a large scale migration of artisans from Farrukhabad, in the 1970s, the number of block carvers increased. According to the 2008 census, the city has a total of fifty-two block carving units.
The blocks used for printing are distinct; they are small in size and have a detailed carving. The small decorative patterns of Sanganeri, known as bhant in Hindi, and include floral patterns, buta, bel and jaali. Over four hundred types of bhants are employed by the artisans. Traditionally, the design was determined in association with the social group or occasion the textile was supposed to cater to. It was thus divided into three, roughly drawn, categories. The syahi begar style rendered black and red designs on white cloth and was used by the local community for safa turbans or angochha shawls. Fabrics and garments with floral motifs on white or soft-toned colours were patronised by the nobility at Jaipur court; influenced by the imagery of Indo-Persian Mughal repertoire, the butas on these fabrics acquired a slant. When made for ceremonial purposes, such as donations at Hindu temples, the dupattas (veils) and shawls bore red designs on either white or yellow cloth. Clothes mimicking the bandhani (tie-dye) patterns were popularly produced for women. It was used in veils such as mali chunnari which had a single and large red circular motif in the centre of the rectangular fabric. It was also used in the mina chaddar shawl which was covered in small red coloured flower-shaped dots on a dark background.
The influence of Mughals transcended the court and influenced the workshops as well. The repertoire of motifs was extended to include flowers such as iris, tulip and narcissus – which were not seen in sanganeri bhant since they were not grown in the area – while the form of plants, foliage and stalks acquired minutiae and curvature. By the late seventeenth century, trade with English and Dutch East India Companies led to further development of the craft and motifs such as the rose – in the form of cabbage rose – made their way to sanganeri.
In recent decades, the craft has faced competition from machine manufactured designs used by fast fashion that mass-produce garments. In 2010, it received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag from the Government of India. As part of the state government’s initiative through Rajasthan Small Scale Industries Corporation (RSSIC), the craft received a significant push for the foreign market, at the expense of local markets. With recently dwindling exports, the artisans, with no support to fall back on, have moved away from their vocation.
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