Bagru- The home of Rajasthani Naturally Dyed Block Prints

The town of Bagru is about half an hour by car from Jaipur, the fairly well-known capital of the north Indian state of Rajasthan. It has been the home of the eponymous (‘Bagru’) naturally dyed, hand block printed fabric for over 350 years.

Block prints from Bagru often have a characteristic off-white to beige base, achieved by soaking the fabric in a ‘Harda’ solution created from the myrobalan plant.

Block prints from Rajasthan-Bagru

Bagru Naturally Dyed Table Cloth. Click on the image to see the intricate design and depth of colour.

The wide variety of designs, which range from floral to geometric, are then printed by hand using traditional, hand-carved wooden blocks mainly made of Sisam (Indian Rosewood). The dyes used come from natural and non-chemical/ non-synthetic sources such as blue from indigo, red from madder, greens from indigo mixed with pomegranate, yellow from turmeric, and blacks and browns from rust and sugar.

Bagru Silk Scarf

Naturally Dyed Block Printed Scarf in washed pure mulberry silk. The natural dyes used in this scarf are made from myrobalan, sugar and rust.

In order to create white patterns on a coloured base, the artisans use a form of resist dyeing called ‘Daboo’ (sometimes spelt ‘Dabu’). This method involves first printing the fabric with a paste of mud and then dyeing it in a vat of the colour to be used as the base.

Daboo Block Print Duvet Cover

Daboo is a form of resist dyeing practiced by the block printers of Rajasthan. The application of the mud paste prevents the area under the mud from catching the dye.

This is a complicated, time and labour intensive process which requires the skill and expertise of the traditional artisans of Bagru.

Both these traditional methods of block printing with natural dyes, need several rounds of washing and drying. Rajasthan, the desert state, with its fierce sunshine and blazing heat is particularly well suited for this activity. However, in the monsoon and winter months, all printing and dyeing has to be suspended because the lack of steady sunshine can affect the quality and colours of the dyes.

Bagru Block Print Scarves

These light as air scarves are a great example of how the block prints of Bagru are as relevant today as they were 350 years ago.

At Purvaai we are privileged to work with the artisan suppliers of Bagru and Sanganer who are engaged in the age-old tradition of block printing with natural dyes. Their lovely designs are translated into scarves in cotton and silk, cushions and curtains, which we are proud to bring to the world.

Pure silk naturally dyed block printed scarf

Naturally Dyed Block Printed Scarf in pure silk. The jasmine pattern in white on this scarf is achieved through resist dyeing.

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This little piggy went to the market….

Fabric stacks

Can anyone ever do gluttony over fabrics? Guilty as charged! When you are surrounded by bundles of gorgeousness in silks, brocades, jamevars, linens and cottons, a fabric glutton like me attains instant nirvana. So every time I visit Mumbai, I absolutely HAVE to visit Mangaldas market, else the whole trip to India does not seem fulfilled.

Tucked away in a by-lane of the busy Crawford market in South Mumbai, Mangaldas market is THE place to visit if you are looking for a mind boggling variety in plain, patterned, embroidered, printed or you-name-it-they-have-it fabric. When you have elbowed through the sea of people outside the market (did I mention the open air stalls of goods that line the narrow lane on both sides) and enter the non-descript entrance; you will probably feel like the mouse from ‘Who Moved My Cheese’.

Maze of lanes

Well, the journey has just begun as once inside, the market is a maze, with little lanes snaking and winding and fabrics stacked from the floor to the ceiling. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that there is a fantastic grid system in place, with each little lane numbered to create a mesh so I never got lost, thankfully.  But having become a regular now, I strongly recommend Rinkoo fabrics in 7th lane for cottons (absolutely any colour or print) and Akanksha fabrics for silks, brocades and more luxurious varieties in 6th lane.

I love having a good chat with Rinkoo Chacha (uncle) over a cup of very sweet tea, with him pouring out his triumphs and troubles of the cloth trade. The neighbouring shop owners add their two bits and joke how Chacha should be playing with his grand kids rather than hauling fabric bundles all day. Chacha pretends to grumble about his ‘lazy’ neighbours, but I know he secretly enjoys the camaraderie between the competitors.

Outside the market

Loaded with fabrics I need (and many more that I don’t), when I look back at this unpretentious Golliath as I lose sight of it once again in the sea of people, I smile wistfully and hope it survives to see a few more generations.