The state of Madhya Pradesh boasts rich traditions and it is also considered the melting pot of individuals and beliefs which reflect in its crafts, handlooms and architectural styles. Speaking about the textile art, one such practice of printing is prevalent in the town of Bagh in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. It is the same village which houses the popular Bagh cave paintings. This age-old tradition of block printing, using natural ingredients is today taking the Indian handloom industry by storm with its modern variations and refined styles.
History - Years old tradition of block printing!
According to Umar Farook Khatri (son of Ismail Suleman Ji Khatri), the art of block printing has been in existence for approximately eight hundred to thousand years. It was initially practised by the tribal community and craftsmen of the Khatri community in Sindh (then part of India). Moreover, the clothes made of block prints were mainly worn by the royals. After which the design was made available to commoners and eventually to the tribal community. In the 1900s, the trend grew among the tribes, they started using such prints to create their clothes for functions. It had become a tradition for a new bride to wear lugda (flared long skirt) and choli (blouse) of block prints during the wedding and on her first visit to in-laws’ house from her parents’ home.
In the 1960s, the art started to diminish due to the introduction of synthetic fabrics in India. The market then saw a quick shift of buyers towards the new fabrics, designs and patterns, leaving behind the traditional organic cotton and prints. After this swing in trend, block printers started to search for a new occupation since it wasn’t a profit-making business anymore. Challenging the new industries, Ismail Suleman Khatri (block printer) decided not to let go of his ancestral work and give a whole new dimension to printing.
The story of Ismail Suleman Ji Khatri reviving the art of block printing!
Then residing in Manawar, Suleman Ji started travelling to Bagh village (40 km from Manawar) to get organic fabrics to execute printing on it. But he soon realised that it was becoming a costly affair to sustain since the transferring of goods incurred taxes on his every visit to Bagh. He then decided to migrate with his family to Bagh in order to get an exemption from the ‘chungi kar’ (octroi duty) which was a big monetary issue at the time. Furthermore, the Baghini River in the village was a good water resource to conduct washing, dyeing and printing process effectively. With new developments in art, block printing received a new status of ‘Bagh Printing’, inspired by the name of the village and caves. It wasn’t just a textile now, bedsheets, sarees and dresses were introduced which received a warm welcome in the textile market.
The relentless efforts of the Khatri community kept hold of the fading printing tradition and made this fine art popular all over the world.
Use of 1284 unique blocks made Bagh print win a national award!
Apart from constructing dress materials, Suleman Ji brought many advancements to bedsheets and kept working on it for a long time. Later, he began to work on making an exclusive bedsheet with only geometrical blocks being used. For that, he travelled to Badoda and Dahod including a few other cities in a quest of geometric blocks. He finally collected enough blocks to make his dream-work ensue.
In 1984, Ismail Suleman Ji Khatri received a National Award for creating an inimitable bedsheet in which he had used 1284 different geometric blocks with a fixed size of 2 inches by 2 inches. Taking the legacy forward, his five sons have also embraced the same field and gained national awards for their exclusive pieces of work!