Gujarat is a state in India that is located on the Arabian Sea, along the western coast of the country. The economy of Gujrat relies on agricultural products, which include cotton, oil seeds, tobacco, sugar cane, and dairy. The state is also the leader in the manufacturing sectors of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Besides the economic bloom, Gujarat is blessed with a rich culture for the development of highly qualified handmade goods. The handicraft industry has been an important part of India’s rural economy for years. According to data from many unofficial resources, the number of artisans in India can be as high as 200 million people (IBEF, 2021).
Tie and Dye | Handicraft of Gujarat
The handicraft industry of fabric tie and dye in Gujarat is categorized into two types based on the different techniques. Firstly, it is Bandhani that has existed since the Indus civilization and is developed by the Khatri community in Gujarat. The term Bandhani comes from the original word “Bandhan” meaning to tie. In the process of Bandhani, various parts of the fabric are pulled by fingernails. Next, they are tied around a pebble to finally dip into the dye. When the dye is fully dry, those small knots are untwisted to show beautiful designs of colorful geometric patterns formed from dotted lines (Bora, 2022).
Ikat is another popular woven technique in the handicraft industry in Gujarat. It was mentioned in Gujarati literature of the 11th-century ad. The term is sprung from the Malay-Indonesian word “mangikat” meaning to bind or knot. A pattern of Ikat is created by a yarn resist technique where the yarns are tie-dyed and weaved. The textile of Ikat is assorted into three varieties based on the region of manufacture. Out of the three, Patola is produced by the weaver community in Gujarat, Salvi. Patola is the traditional double Ikat using expensive silk yarns. Those saris made from Patola are usually for special occasions or ceremonies, such as weddings and festivals (Bora, 2022).
The Khatri Community
Though Gujarat is widely known for its handicraft industry, it is the community of Khatri that inherits the tradition of fabric dying and block-printing in the Kachchh district. This artisan community in the desert district of Kachchh also practices Batik print and Rogan painting. The earliest cotton textile dyed with madder was found at a site dated between 2500 – 1500 BC of Mohenjodaro. However, the process of cotton textiles could have been carried out by the Indus, the first identified urban culture of the Indian subcontinent, for four thousand years. This civilization later moves through the current province of Sind, which belonged to Pakistan after Partition in 1947. The state of Gujarat lies on the east side of the river (Edwards, 2007). The Khatris community began a series of mass migrations from Sindh to Kachchh due to the objection to Islam conversion from Arabians.
The handicraft industry of Gujarat also takes pride in block printing. The Indian block print cotton fragments were traced back to around 3500 to 1300 BC. However, block printing had not flourished in the land of India until the Mughal patronage. Nowadays, this art form has been practicing not only in Gujarat, but also in other states of India, like Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra (Gandhi, 2019). Gujarat is most famous for its Ajrakh printing, which originated from the Mohenjo-Daro civilization. Utilizing vegetable dyes and other natural dyes, this technique of woodblock printing contributes to the popularity of geometric shapes and patterns. The colors of motifs for Ajrakh printing are bold like black, yellow, crimson red, green, and indigo blue often with defining outlines in black and white (Bora, 2020). Batik is another practice of block printing in the handicraft industry of Gujarat. Batik print involves the process of soaking the cloth in a color in a particular way. Then, it is finished with printing using wax (Bora, 2020).
Rogan is a form of art that is said to have already existed for four hundred years. It is a method of cloth painting using castor oil as the main ingredient for the paint. It is also how this traditional art form gets its name since Rogan is translated from Persian as “oil-based”. Rogan painting, handed down to posterity in a Khatri family in Gujarat, is an important part of the handicraft industry. The whole process of a Rogan painting can take up to two days to complete. The oil squeezed out from castor seeds goes through a boiling procedure in a caldron for 12 to 14 hours. Pouring cold water into the heated castor oil creates a slimy golden-brown mixture called Rogan. Next, vibrant pigments saturated with water are added to the Rogan for colors. They are pestled to mingle together for the final paint product (TRT World, 2021). The design is only limited to the artisans’ imagination. The artisans often paint half of the fabric and fold it onto the other side for duplication of the design.
Revival Programs | Handicraft of Gujarat
Due to the rapid growth of machine-related industries, the situation of the handicraft industry of Gujarat does not look so bright. The young generation tends to lose interest in traditional art forms and move to cities for jobs. There is only one artisan of Bela hand-block printing remaining in the village of Bela in Gujarat (D’Costa, 2022). In addition, Abdul Gafur Khatri had to give up on the family tradition of Rogan and left his village in the early 1980s. The Indian government has established many projects aiming to revive the handicraft industry. An event marking the recognition of Indian artisanal products is a Rogan art piece “Tree of Life” that is gifted to the US President Obama by Indian Prime Minster Modi in 2014 (TRT World, 2021). However, more effort is required to wake up the dying handicraft industry not only in Gujarat but also around India.
Bora, K. (2020) Block Printing in India – history & type of Block Printing in India, Yeh Hai India. Available at: https://yehaindia.com/are-you-an-indian-traditional-block-prints-lover-heres-all-you-need-to-know/ (Accessed: April 22, 2023).
Bora, K. (2022) Indian tie and dye techniques -bandhani, Ikat & Lehariya, Yeh Hai India. Available at: https://yehaindia.com/tie-dye-techniques-in-india-bandhani-ikat-lehariya/ (Accessed: April 22, 2023).
D’Costa, A. (2022) The last artisan practising Bela Block Printing in Gujarat today, India Development Review. Available at: https://idronline.org/ground-up-stories/the-last-artisan-practising-bela-block-printing-in-gujarat-today/ (Accessed: April 22, 2023).
Edwards, E. (2007) “Cloth and community: The local trade in resist-dyed and block-printed textiles in Kachchh District, Gujarat,” Textile History, 38(2), pp. 179–197. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1179/004049607×229151.
Gandhi, S. (2019) History of block printing in India – exploring Indian Textiles, Vogue India. Available at: https://www.vogue.in/content/history-of-block-prints-indian-textiles-designers-using-ajrakh-dabu-prints (Accessed: April 22, 2023).
India’s handicraft crafts: A sector gaining momentum: IBEF (2021) India Brand Equity Foundation. Available at: https://www.ibef.org/blogs/india-s-handicraft-crafts-a-sector-gaining-momentum (Accessed: April 21, 2023).
Rogan painting: A traditional art revived in India (2021) TRT World News/Magazine. TRT World. Available at: https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/rogan-painting-a-traditional-art-revived-in-india-49921 (Accessed: April 22, 2023).