This dying art has all the reasons to exist

Indigo Dyeing

A 4,500-years-old tradition and the only blue one would see in clothing, cotton or denim. Indigo dye has the longevity of human skin and hence was used to mummify the deceased in their tombs in Egypt.

The blue is extracted from the plants native to the tropics and then cultivated for various purposes. Also, in India it has been carried on as a traditional art form and is also a crucial part of our history.

Mention indigo and Indians would recall the time when the natives fought with the British against indigo cropping in the country. But since then it has taken root in our culture too.

With the death of Yellappa, the last of the traditional indigo dyers in Andhra Pradesh, Metrolife spoke to designers and contemporary artists who have fused the craft into their work for various purposes about the silence on the tradition’s dying state. Indigo has been regarded as a ‘legendary colour’, a natural dye, which lost its lustre when organic chemists synthesised an artificial dye. The synthesised colour was nothing like the natural one.

Indigo was highly regarded and prized for its value. Today, most of us may not be aware how much of our wardrobe contains garments dyed in indigo.

Shelly Jyoti, a visual artist, designer, poet and an independent curator, has been working and researching on Ajrakh textiles since 2008.

Jyoti says, “Ajrakh, means blue in Arabic. It is the synergy between handloom textiles and vegetable dyes that creates magic. The introduction of chemical dyes led to the decline of natural dyes towards the end of the 19th century.

Ajrakh printing, using natural dyes is one of the oldest techniques of resist printing in India and is one of the most complex and sophisticated methods of printing.”According to Jyoti, one of Ajrakh’s most distinguishing qualities is that it is one of those art and craft traditions that have kept alive its traditional character through the challenging period of modernisation. And the craft’s established producers, as well as customers still remain loyal to the craft.

Rajesh Pratap Singh, well known fashion designer, has ventured into Khadi denims and hand stiched denims as he believes in ecologically responsible fashion wear.

Singh says, “Denim washing plants use hazardous chemicals like potassium permanganate and bleach which is seriously harmful for the people who are trying to give you the second hand washed look. It is also an extremely water intensive process. This is where greed and lack of knowledge have combined to wreck our eco system, but pure natural indigo and raw denim is non-toxic.”

Indigo dyeing culture therefore has not one but several reasons to exist as a tradition. Singh adds, “The indisputable historical association of indigo with India dictates the need to have the Indigo denim out of India, at par with the best, an ode to the origins of the dye itself to the Indian sub-continent. Selvedge denim made on old shuttle looms, and a handloom denim made with natural indigo dye, is truly an Indian invention.”

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