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Bandhni - Tie & Dye

Trying Dawood yusuf, a master craftsman of bandhni (tie and dye) and a national award winner in 1983 creates intricate and traditional patterns reflecting the ethos of the land he belongs to – Kutch district in Gujarat, one of the main centres of the tie and dye textiles.

Sitting at the Crafts Museum at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi he carefully explains the various steps involved in creating these intricate designs. He proudly displays his finished sarees and odhnis (veils) explaining the special significance of each pattern. The chandokhni and shikhara are specially created for the brides. The barah baag when opened looks like a garden of flowers – a set of 12 (barah) beds of flowers. “Once there was a design called bavan (52) baag, but no one makes it now because it takes too much time and labour.” The ambadal, a network of branches and leaves interwoven with a variety of birds, represents the branches of a mango tree. Chokidal is a pattern of squares with elephants and other animals. He then showed me a kambaliya – a design with a dotted pattern in the centre and a different design along the border. The basant bahar represents the flowers of spring, the mor zad – a peacock pattern, etc. “All these design are traditional. Any new design that a craftsman creates is called fancy,” says Yusuf.

The other centres of tie and dye fabrics in Gujarat are Jamnagar in Saurashtra (the water in this area brings out the brightest red while dying), and Ahmedabad. The finest bandhni work in Rajasthan comes from Bikaner, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Barmer, Pali, Udaipur and Nathdwara. Rajasthan is well known for its leheriya pattern – literally meaning waves. These are harmoniously arranged diagonal stripes which were originally dyed the auspicious colours of yellow and red.

It is difficult ot trace the origins of this craft to any particular area. According to some references it first developed in Jaipur in the form of leheriya. But it is widely believed that it was brought to Kutch from Sindh by the Muslim Khatris who are still the largest community involved in the craft. Bandhni was introduced in Jamnagar when the city was founded 400 years ago. This city has now become one of the principal centres of bandhni, creating new pattern and experimenting with modern colours.

The process of making bandhni clothes is basically the same in Gujarat and Rajasthan, though the pattern and designs vary. The craftsmen from Rajasthan are easily recognizable because they grow the nail on their little finger to facilitate their lifting the cloth to tie it. On they wear a small metal ring with a point. The Gujarati craftsmen prefer to work without these aids. “The flow is much better when you’re working with your bare hands and there is no risk of damaging the cloth,” says Khatri Dawood Yusuf. The dyeing and printing of textiles has become at highly a form of tie-resist dyeing and patola are two outstanding examples of the Indian dyer’s art.

The earliest references to bandhni ae in Bena Bhatt’s Harshacharita where he describes a royal wedding, “the old matrons were skilled in many sorts of textile patterning, some of which were in the process of being tied (bandhya mana).” He later explains how these textiles were dyed. This material according to him was used to make the skirts for women.

A bandhni garment was considered auspicious for the bride. One also finds the maids in the ajanta wall paintings wearing blouses of tie and dye patterns.

Today women and girls can be seen sitting in their homes with pieces of malmal (fine muslin), hadloom or silk cloth. This cloth is first bleached and then folded into two or four layers depending on the thickness of the cloth. A rangara or designer marks the layout of the pattern on the material using wooden blocks dipped in geru, a burnt sienna colour mixed with water.

The craftsmen begin to tie the cloth which is not to be dyed. The folds of the material within the small motif are lifted and tied together. The materials with the first set of ties is dyed yellow. There is also a process, mostly followed in Rajasthan of dyeing parts of the material by hand – lipai technique the material is again tied and dyed into red or gree. If the border has to be darker all the lighter parts are tied and covered with plastics foil and the edges dyed the required colours. Repeated tying and dyeing can produce elaborate designs.

The raw materials required for bandhni are – muslin, handloom or silk cloth, ordinary thread for tying, starch and colours for dyeing. Traditionally vegetable dyes were used but today chemical dyes are becoming very popular. The tools required are also very basic – wooden blocks for marking designs and the simple implements for dyeing.

Commonly used colours in bandhni are – red which is a symbol of marriage, saffron which is worn by the yogi who has renounced the world. Yellow stands for spring and black and maroon are used for mourning. Bandhni material is sold still folded and the knots tied. One has to pull the folds apart for the knots to open. The payment made is according to the number of dots in the pattern. An intricate design in a saree would have approximately 75000 dots.

It is difficult to assess the number of people involved in bandhni making as the material passes from hand to hand for the different processes. But it can easily be said that 90 per cent of the persons are women.

What is essential in bandhni is the minute and skilful manipulation of the fingers for tying, extensive knowledge of colour schemes and skill in dyeing materials. It takes several years for a crafsman to perfect his skill. Khatri Dawood Yusuf moved from Kutch to Jamanagar at the age of seven to learn this craft and to earn a living. Now his four year old daughter sits with him learning the name of the patterns and the process of tying the cloth.

Bandhni sarees and dupattas are available at most shops all over India but to get the authentic material it is advisable to buy from the Rajasthan, or Gujarat Emporia which have outlets in all major citries.

A cotton duppata costs about Rs. 50/- onwards and a saree about Rs. 80/- to Rs. 250/-. A silk dupatta costs about Rs. 250/- and a saree about Rs. 400/- to Rs. 2000/-.

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