An Introduction to Bagru
Read Below for an excerpt from a Scholarly essay written by Kushagr
India, as a culture, is ancient, its history spanning millennia, its stories, innumerably diverse, centuries and centuries of horizonless tradition. Its artwork passed down from craftsperson to craftsperson, an unwritten, informal documentation of one of the world’s oldest civilisations.
The art forms of this indomitably old nation have withstood the slow turns of time, withstood war and anarchy and oppression, but they have also been influenced by it- Layers of Indian history, added layer by layer, to create a patchwork of myriad cultures in the contemporary pieces seen today.
In the way textile weavers weave fabric from cloth, I will try and weave one particular tradition into a complete fabric, an essay that will evaluate this artform from not only an artistic sense but also a socio-historic and commercial one, especially in context to modern India.
Hand Block-printing is, more or less, unique to India- a method of embellishing cloth with intricate patterns that are carved into wooden blocks, before being made an indelible part of the fabric itself.
Furthermore, while block- printing is found all over the subcontinent, albeit in different styles, particular historical powerhouses are found in the northwest- The modern-day states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
What is Bagru?
Block prints in India, at least those found on the northwest coast, have a multitude of factors in common, and their powerhouses whether it is the Jaipuri Belt or the Gujarati one, share most of the base techniques. They use the same fabrics (Block Printing centres do not make the fabric; however, source it from other locations such as the hand looms around Mumbai, Surat, Aurangabad or further South). They also use the same dyestuffs- Mordants, the same resist materials, yet every style is unique, not for the physical qualities they share but for the process they individually go through and more importantly through each of their unique design.
As such, we must analyse the art form through their design.
However, what if the designs themselves have integrated into one, indistinguishable being? Or what if they no longer even exist, overtaken by new ones?
The evolution of the patterns and designs Bagru uses cannot be studied in isolation. During our trip to Jaipur, we learnt the more informal aspects of the craft, the lack of clear delineation of a Sanganeri print from a Bagru one. This amalgamation is created due to the way industry works today, today Bagru refers more to the place and less to the style, especially as artisans mimic styles from other parts of the country- styles that are more in fashion.
For Ex. - Kalamkari (Kalam-Pen Kari- Art) is a fabric painting technique from South India, wherein natural dyes are applied to fabric using a make-shift brush pen. The style is exceptionally laborious because every fabric piece is, technically, a work of art. This drives the cost extremely high. Bagru craftsmen, as a way of appealing to consumer’s preferences, had blocks made in the kalamkari style, thereby, reducing the unnecessary and imprecise paintwork and flooding the market with cheap, faux kalamkari.
The Jaipuri craftsmen, in an effort to stay in business, have adapted to modern consumer tastes, it is not uncommon now to see fabric from Bagru embellished with Cameras or peace signs-references of pop culture, and whilst it is commendable that a centuries-old tradition is adapting, it begets the question “Is Bagru, Bagru without its signature patterns?”
To understand what Bagru is, we will, in the next part, go about explaining a variety of the craft’s aspects, starting with the patterns and their origins, the dyes- how and what they are made from, the blocks and their making and ultimately how all of them come together to make Bagru... Bagru.