Rajasthan is the craft and culture hub of India. All throughout Rajasthan one can see various forms of arts and crafts. Most of these are centuries old, vibrant and colourful. The beauty is that most of the colours to various arts were imparted using natural ingredients and dyes, mostly vegetable dyes and colours made from metals. Like the green coming from copper, white from limestone, and similar other combinations. The most famous uses of these natural colours can be seen in various frescos in Shekhawati region on Havelies, and in the textile hand block printing.
Printing is done at several places in Rajasthan, but the most famous is the Sanganeri form of block printing. The region of Sanganer is one of the oldest centre for the age old craft of hand block printing. Sanganer used to be a small village situated around 30 km from the walled city of Jaipur, but Jaipur city has expanded so much that Sanganer is now considered part of the city.
I recently had a chance to visit Sanganer after about 20 years. The place which I used to visit almost every weekend during my college days at MNIT Jaipur was unrecognisable now. I had a hard time locating places where the block printing was going on and also cudnt locate any open drying fields where the clothes used to dry out years before.
There used to be a narrow water strip running through the village of Sanganer. The waterbody (River Saraswati) had some special qualities that brought out the radiance from the natural dyed fabric. Sanganer is also famous for its handmade paper industry and Jain temples, but the block prints are more widely known. The prints of Sanganer have their own distinctive style and patterns. They are known for bright colors, delicate lines which are usually printed against a white background. The craft flourished under the royal patronage towards the end of the 18th century.
Other than Sanganer, there are other villages like Bagru, Akola, Barmer, and Jodhpur that are famous for block printing. Delicate patterns and lines with vibrant colored designs are the defining factor for this kind of printing technique.
There is a great variety in the types of designs and patterns used in Sanganeri print, which includes all kinds of flower motifs, the main ones being of sunflower, roses and narcissus. Apart from flowers, designs depicting various gods, fruits and folk scenes are also popular. The curves and patterns majorly depict the cultural flora and fauna of Sanganer.
The simple and creative style of this block printing technique makes it popular amongst all kinds of women across age groups. With technology gaining importance, dyers have started experimenting with unusual colour combinations. With natural dyes getting difficult to get and also very expensive, most of these printers now use chemical dyes. Only Bagru which is famous for dark background (red and black) dyed clothes is now using natural dyes.
Apart from experiments in color combination, there is a great deal of experimentation in designs as well. With the modern transformation in fashion and style, block printing can be found on skirts, scarves and dresses as well. With this print finding its way on dresses, skirts and scarves, Indian fashion has become popular not just with silks and chiffon, but with light and fun-filled designs like that of the Sanganer print as well. Several designers and international stores have used this pattern to showcase Indian prints.
You can find sarees, dupattas, salwar-kameez, bed cover, curtains, scarves, and printed yardages (running cloth material), etc with Sanganeri print on them. Sober, low toned colors and delicate lines, creating finer designs like the poppy, rose and lotus, usually against a white background, are well known characteristic of fabrics that are printed at Sanganer.
Various floral designs, geometrical and God figures are included in its prints. Sometimes, folk designs are also found. Finesse in flowers-petal designs, curves and delicacy are the prime specialties of Sanganer prints.
Today, however, the tradition of hand block printing is suffering because of the the augment of industrialization and increasing population. Since, block printing is done by hands and is a slow process it has failed to meet the increasing demands. Lets hope that with modernisation we do not loose our heritage – the arts, crafts and architecture of Rajasthan.