If one ever feels the slightest urge to better understand culture, upon travelling a thirty kilometre stretch lying between Jaipur and Ajmer, a moderately brief distance, one shall be able to discover for themselves, the other-worldly but quaint town life of prolific Bagru, an aesthetically charged dwelling inhabited by the supremely skilled yet simplistic populace of the Chhipas – a dynastic- natured band of artisans and craftsmen who could single-handedly and deservingly be well acclaimed for keeping the painstakingly immaculate and unique artwork of Bagru block printing breathing and alive for well over three centuries now.
To create the art of Bagru, Mother Nature herself must have picked up her brushes in the form of the skilled artisans of the Chippas Community, and blotted them upon neat and delicate sheets of white, ivory or beige coloured cotton fabric to splurge her remarkable ingenuity upon. Each element which goes into the craftsmanship of a Bagru Woodblock Textile is nature at its very crudest.
Delicately crafted intricate blocks of wood bearing century old patterned designs inspired from purely natural elements are gently dipped by the artisans into large metallic vessels containing densely thick dyes of rich hues, eclectically inspired from our natural surroundings, which are then imprinted upon the treated sheets of cotton to allow the airy and delicate surface of the fabric to absorb and retain the immaculately classic patterned drawings of the Bagru Textile Woodblock Artistry.
The dyes used are kinfolk of Mother Nature herself:
The inky black dye is extracted from worn-out iron horse or camel shoes dipped in water, while the fiery red dye is created from gum paste and phitkari. The leafy green must have been manifested upon mixing indigo with pomegranate pulp, and turmeric is ground to derive a yellow toned dye.
It seems that the Chippas went about lending from Mother Nature of its colour and lavishly presenting them on the beautiful cloths they together create on a daily basis. The Chippas Mohalla must have stolen the black from the midnight sky, while the red came from the fiery flames, as the greens must have been plucked away from leaf pigments and the brown absorbed from the damp mud by the nearby riverbanks.
Natural sources such as indigo, pomegranate, turmeric, madder amongst others are also used to alchemise dyes of various shades and tones. Tradition and culture bleeds into the cloth through symbolism such as Indigo is symbolic of Lord Krishna, Saffron may refer to a Saint or Yogi and Yellow must remind one of the pleasantness of spring.
When synergy flows between man and nature as the latter helps undo some of mankind’s doings, the analogy shall be perfectly befitting the description of the masterfully elaborate art of Dabu Block printing. Sheets of fabric is encrusted with woodblock patterns dipped in a well-mixed paste of mud, lime and gum which is then stuck on to the surface of the fabric, with a generous spread of sawdust on top of it, which when further dyed with richly coloured paints, the mud-encrusted parts where colour couldn’t percolate retains its original shade of a usual off-white, which is how nature communicated via untampered patterns and imposed its creativity upon the cloths.
The technique had once baffled a man on a fine morning, who discovered the proof of such a possibility upon his own dhoti while collecting dyed cloth from the riverbank, where some more pieces emulated a remarkable similarity which truly startled him, is how the story of the discovery of Dabu Printing goes in traditional culture and folklore.
The name comes from the colloquial word “dabaana” which means “to press”. Nature provides man with the necessary ingredients to create this attire and uses the skill of the artist as her tool to facilitate the physicality of this caliber of clothing.
Such are the crafts of this country which speaks of its culture so widely, and yet is currently deprived of being actively supported and being given new direction for letting the artwork flourish further and deepen its impact and range in terms of its spreading and to help it receive much deservingly further global appreciation.
Bagru Woodblock printing of textiles is one of the truest expressions of raw creativity, where every element and each step which goes into crafting a single piece of Bagru block print cloth is meticulously thought out and ingeniously innovated. Getting your hands not-so-dirty to allow your mind and soul be completely absorbed in this activity to help yourself understand the nuances of this workmanship shall truly be of timeless memorability, an experience which one may take away and cherish for the rest of their lives and at the same time, find themselves in a position to take away knowledge, experience, soulful joy and a deeper understanding of the fuels of culture at its own best.