Bagh: The Printing Process Developed On The Banks of Baghini River

It was the higher content of copper and other minerals in the waters of Baghini river that attracted the textile printing artisans some 400 years ago from Rajasthan and Sindh to Bagh, a small village near Indore city in Central India. They developed a textile printing process here which got known as ‘Bagh’, after the name of the village. Though the color palette is limited to natural red and black, these fabrics have bold appearance owing to their geometric and floral motifs. Right when it was on the threshold of extinction, it received much needed attention from the fashion explorers.

The Process

Since the printing of motifs and patterns is to be done with blocks, block making is a vital part of the process. These were earlier made of clay. Now these are being done in metal and wood.

Fabric is first soaked in water for about twelve hours. Earlier the fabric of choice used to be cotton. Today, they also use tassar, crepe, silk and georgette.

The soaked fabric is then suckled with legs to remove the starch. This process is called ‘kharakarna’.

 It is then bleached and washed in ‘sanchorapaani’ (a mix of rock salt and water).

Just like other block printing techniques, the myrobalan (harda powder) treatment is part of the process. This provides it an off-white/ off-yellow tinge and also aids in strengthening the tones of black and red colors printed later. After this it is left to dry in the sun.

Picture Credit: Dastkar Haat Samiti on Google Arts & Culture

The two primary colours used in Bagh printing are red and black. Red is made from alum, while black is prepared by fermenting iron with jaggery. After that ‘imli ka chiya’ (tamarind seed powder which is now a substitute for glue) is mixed into the alum or iron sulphate solution. A paste right for the consistency of printing is made. Other shades can be created by varying the ratio of different ingredients used.

Picture Credit: Dastkar Haat Samiti on Google Arts & Culture

Color containing trays are covered with a bamboo frame. On top of this a felt piece is kept to avoid excessive sticking of color.

Once the craftsmen have completed the five stages of hard work, which requires more manual labor than skill, the cloth is ready for printing with wooden hand blocks and prepared colours. The print dries off in about half hour but the dress material is left in the open for about fifteen-twenty days. This is for the color to be absorbed properly into the fabric.

Picture Credit: Dastkar Haat Samiti on Google Arts & Culture

Once dried, the printed fabric, is taken to the river for the process of ‘vichaliya’, in which is the cloth is washed in clear water to get rid of excess dye. The artisans here believe that the clear water in the River Bagh and other water bodies in Bagh district have the optimal mineral composition to enhance the colours in printing.

It is then left to dry in the sun.

Once the fabric is dried after washing in the river, it is taken to a huge copper vessel to be boiled. This cauldron rests on a setup under which fire is lit. It contains about hundred grams of alizarin (a type of vegetable powder to make the colors fast) and two hundred litres of water. Dhavdikephool (a type of flower) are added to lend shine to the print and prevent froth from damaging the fabric. It is at this stage that the block prints take their actual color. One can see the pinks and purples turning into red and black.

Later, if needed, the off-white base is dyed to bright colors like yellow, green, blue and orange by adding different vegetable dyes. Bleaching is done once again after boiling to remove stains and colors that have bled. One final wash in clean water is done and the printed fabric is laid out in the sun to dry and then it is ready to be worn.

The Fabric

As mentioned before their colour palette is limited but the vibrancy in the fabric is owed to the patterns, motifs and the depth of the hues.

The Present Scenario

This art was on the verge to die in its native place of Bagh. And almost while it was taking its last breath, some fashion and craft explorers caught glimpse of it and started evangelizing it. Today there are fashion designers who use designs and process of Bagh as inspiration. And in the hometown of Bagh, after receiving support from a few organizations, several artisans are trying to keep the authentic ‘Bagh’ alive.

They use the process to print bed-sheets, cushion covers, dupattas, dress materials, sarees and pants. Some innovative designers use Bagh printed fabric to craft shirts and kurtas for men.

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