Bagh - A 400-Year Old Tradition

Baghi karigars travelled far and wide, from Sind (today’s Pakistan) to Pali, to the Marwadi Thar, and Manawar in Madhya Pradesh, their journey came to a stop and they settled down in Bagh in 1962. Upon building a life in the small village of Bagh, they discovered something of great significance - The Baghini River. Due its high copper content, the dyeing colours were always rich, deep, and beautiful. The flowing water would also contribute essentially to the dyeing process. Innovations prevailed and the printing flourished.

Bagh’s unique craft of thappa chappai or block printing with natural colours, has evolved from a rudimentary tribal art to an invaluable part of the heritage and cultural identity of Madhya Pradesh. Some of the blocks used by artisans is over two hundred years old. The traditional designs are inspired by nature, the ancient Bagh Cave paintings, and the jali (lattice) work of the Taj Mahal. Each block has a name: chameli (jasmine), maithir (mushroom), leheriya (waves), keri (mango), and jurvaria (small dots).

The craftsmen only use teak wood, locally known as Sagwan, sourced from Valsad, a town near Gujarat-Maharashtra border for making Bagh printing Blocks. Teak provides the perfect base for carving intricate motifs as it is a dense and strong wood. It doesn’t absorb water or distort in shape even after years of usage.

Bagh printing, previously known as alizarin printing, is rather laborious and involves several processes of repeated washing, dyeing, and printing. 

The first process is called khara. The fabric is washed and beaten on river stones to rid it of impurities and starch. It is then sun-dried for hours. The fabric is then soaked in a vat filled with a mixture of castor oil, goat droppings (mengni), raw salt (sanchura), and water. After a thorough soak, it is taken to a special part of the river called the hodi, where it is swirled in the water for a few hours before being dried. This makes the fabric more soft, and absorbent.

The second stage is called peela or yellowing. The fabric is soaked in a copper vat with a solution of harada powder, rinsed, and yellowed under controlled sunshine. 

Meanwhile, the dye paste is prepared. Natural and vegetable colours are extracted from fruits, flowers, roots, indigo leaves, and minerals. There are four basic natural colours—red, black, khaki, and indigo.

Bhatti is the final stage where the fabric is boiled and tossed around in a heated copper vat which has a mixture of floral and leaf extracts. The concoction acts as a resist dye that enables shine, colour-fixing, and fastening

The fabric is then rinsed in clean water, sun-dried, and washed in running water; a process called tarai. After further drying, the colours are finally set, and the finished printed fabric is ready to be sold.

After all these years, Bagh has finally become one of the most recognisable prints in India, and the illustrious 400-year old tradition remains intact.