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Imprints of Sanganer

Trisha Bhattacharya, July 5, 2015, DHNS 20:17 IST

Original art

decorated fabrics Sanganeri prints come in a wide variety.
Sanganer, a town about 14 km from Jaipur, is famous for artistic hand block printing on fabric. These prints are seen not only as yardages, but as skirts, tops, kurtas, salwar suits, dupattas, bed sheets, saris and even quilts.

The Chhipa community of Sanganer is engaged in this 500-year-old traditional art, whose products are for sale throughout India. They are also exported. The earthy and ethnic appeal of these detailed designs — whether they are big, broad or small — comes across in a variety of beautiful shades (blue, green, brown, black, red, indigo, yellow). Sometimes, by embellishing the base fabric in pastel colours, white, off-white and dark tones of print are made to look entrancing.

Multifarious motifs (floral, like roses and narcissi; designs of fauna and folk scenes) adorn fabrics like cotton, silk, georgette, chiffon, chanderi and crepes.

Original Sanganeri impression work is normally done by hand. The fabric is prepared first, then laid out and pinned onto printing tables covered with sand and water. Printing wooden blocks with raised grooves of exquisite designs are laced with colours and then pressed upon the previously marked fabric, wherever the motifs have to be placed, to balance the running design. Some of these design casts are very old and some are recently made.

Skill & labour

The process of hand block printing is intricate and may vary depending on the print-styles required, the colours needed as outlines and borders, or as fillings and other pattern & design-related nuances. Multicolours and designs are created using blocks or repeats. Once the printing is done, wherein mostly vegetable dyes are used, the fabric undergoes further processes of drying and washing.

Water of Sanganer is also said to illuminate these prints in addition to the use of natural dyes. The hand printing and processing of these yardages is time-consuming and arduous.

Screen print method is an alternative in Sanganer to make impressions on fabrics, but it’s not the traditional hand block method since screens are used instead of blocks, along with chemical dyes. Even though this process is faster and requires less labour, it lacks the charm of the traditional method. Modernisation has benefits, but it also has pitfalls. The emergence of screen printing has propelled sales, but the hand block artisans of Sanganer have no desire to pass on their skills to their children.

Also, Sanganeri printing units have been facing many problems because of this in spite of the print’s overall popularity.

Vikram Joshi, the owner of Rangotri in Sanganer, shares, “Since the early 17th century the craft of Sanganeri printing was based more on eco-friendly dyes that were biodegradable. And from early 1960s, chemical dyes were used. Eventually the craft came to the edge of closing down. The High Court ordered this printing art to be stopped and for it to be relocated. Some of us came forward to make it more sustainable and eco-friendly by creating a block printing textile park called Jaipur Bloc. Its details can be seen on www.jaipurbloc.com.”

Digital saviour

About the craft’s growing popularity, he adds, “It’s appreciated throughout the world now, and in my experience, its demand is increasing by the day. I have been associated with this printing craft since 1985. Earlier, I was working with goverment’s Handicraft Board as a textile surveyor and had an opportunity to work and interact with most of the block printing communities of Rajasthan. I have also worked with reputed brands (like Anokhi) before I started my company called Rangotri in 1995. As far as the future is concerned, Sanganeri craft faces lots of legal issues related to environmental concerns. Our effort through Jaipur Bloc is to make it sustainable and make it even more eco-friendly.”

The lover of the art also mentions that the situation in Sanganer is critical at present and many working units in Sanganer will soon close down. A few other hand block printing units will be moved to Chitroli due to rising pollution levels in Sanganer. Reasons for the high pollution levels could be many: one of them could be the addition of printing units. Sanganer has paper mills and fabric-dyeing units.

The livelihoods of Sanganeri print artisans depend on this tradition. Their absence and disinterest would mean an erasure of Sanganer’s endearing, authentic and ancient print flavour. More support from the government and patrons could not only help control pollution, but it would also mean survival for the artisans and their art.

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