As the representatives of our precious heritage, Indian handlooms are known world over for their richness, variety and quality. Since our country has always been associated with rich weaves, and unique textiles, our love for colours and prints is legendary. What gives our fabrics their unique identity is the prints and weaves that are so unique to the region. Inspired from nature, architecture of temples and forts, rural life and geometric patterns, these prints in rich vibrant colours, speak a thousand words to the beholder.
With talented craftsmen from every part of the country pouring out their imagination on cloth, we have hundreds and thousands of prints to choose from. Be it florals, animal prints or abstracts, our artists and craftsmen endeavour to produce something new every time they put their thinking caps on. So, here is a list of some of the most popular Indian prints that have found much love across the world.
With its roots in the land of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Bandhani is one of the most recognizable Indian prints. Having been around since the time of the Indus Valley Civilization, the term bandhani comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Bandha’ which means ‘to tie’. The textile is decorated by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design. It features patterns like dots, stripes, waves or squares formed by first tying small portions of the fabric at intervals with continuous thread to form interesting patterns, and then dyeing it. The most popular bandhni making centres are in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Sindh, Punjab, and in Tamil Nadu where it’s known as Sungudi.
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Made in Patan region of Gujarat, Patola is a double ikat weave that can be created in cotton, silk or on blends. It is one of the most expensive textiles owing to their complex method of manufacturing. Each thread is separately dyed and has to be placed just right in order to create a continuous series of pattern. The craft of weaving a Patola is said to have flourished under the patronage of the Solanki Rajputs, the ruling class of Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan in the 12th century. Once a status symbol for Gujarati women, the art of creating this ‘royal fabric’ is dying out due to lack of manpower. Popular with people from all faiths and sects, every community lent a unique characteristic to the Patola. While the Jains prefer abstract designs, the Ismaili Shi’ite Muslims prefer the Vohra Gaji Bhaat and Gujarati Hindu women prefer the elephant, flower, girl, parrot and paan designs.
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Having been around for some 2000 years, Batik is truly an ancient form of tie and dye technique. Though the earliest samples of batik were found in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia, the art form flourished and reached its highest artistic expression in Indonesia. It even gets its name from the Javanese word amba (‘to write’) and titik (‘dot’). Slightly different from the tie and dye technique, Batik uses wax resist, instead of ‘tying’ up the fabric, to create beautiful patterns on cloth. Batik is known for its use of floral motifs and an earthy palette, with an occasional pop of vibrant colour.
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A term of Persian origin, Kalamkari translates into ‘the art of drawing with a pen’. In ancient India, when groups of musicians, artists and storytellers moved from one part to another, they would draw out episodes or stories from Hindu mythology. An interesting point about these paintings were that it used natural colours made from natural extracts. The art today has expanded to include freehand abstracts and intricate floral and animal prints that are tediously created by artists for over months. One of the most awe inspiring prints on fabrics, Kalamkari is worth all the money it demands.
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One of the oldest forms of textile decorations, Ikat is actually a dyeing technique rather than a print or pattern. This popular art form involves a dyeing technique that is used to dye the yarns before weaving them into a fabric. It uses a resist dyeing process, quite similar to tie-dye, to create patterns on textiles. This technique uses either the warp or weft to weave a pattern or design. When both warp and weft are tie-dyed then it is called double Ikat. Individual yarns or bundles of yarns are bound with a tight wrapping in the chosen design and then dyed to create the desired pattern. A characteristic of Ikat is its blurriness as it requires immense skill on the part of the craftsman to line the threads in place. The less blurry it is, the more time, effort and skill has gone into it and the more expensive it is. Ikat is popularly woven in Gujarat and Telangana.
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Found mostly on shawls and carpets, Ajrakh is a unique form of block print that is popular in Sindh, Pakistan; Kutch, Gujarat; and Barmer, Rajasthan in India. These prints include designs and patterns made using block printing by stamps. Common colours used while making these patterns include blue, red, black, yellow and green. However, the colour palette is not restricted to just these colours only. Ajrakh printing uses natural dyes that include both vegetable dyes and mineral dyes, with Indigo being the key dye.
7. Varak gold and silver leaf printing
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A traditional form of printing, ‘Chandi Ki Chhapai’ or ‘Silver Printing’ is a delicate way of embellishing clothes or fabrics. Also called ‘Varak Gold or Silver Leaf Printing’, this kind of printing uses varaks made by flattening gold or silver into a thin paper like consistency. These thin sheets of silver are also used to garnish Indian sweets. In ancient times, it was hand printed onto flags, royal tents and other insignias of power to reflect the status and prestige of the possessor. It is popular embellishment in holy shrines and temples today. The technique of varak block printing is extremely rare today and there are only two printers who do this in Jaipur. Today, silver and gold leaf printing can be seen on rich Chanderi sarees and dupattas, done by some of the finest craftsmen in the country.
8. Dabu print
The small predominantly farming community in Deesa, in the North of Gujarat, is famous for its distinct mud resist printing technique called Dabu. Calcium hydroxide, also known as chuna in Hindi, naturally pounded wheat chaff (beedan in Hindi), and gum (gond in Hindi) are the main ingredients that go into making the mud resist. The paste is applied onto a fabric that’s laid out on a flat or a running table and block prints are applied. The print gets its name from ‘dabana’ meaning ‘to press’. The cloth is then thoroughly washed to wash off the mud and reveal the prints. This community is famous for producing vibrant fabrics that are lovingly woven into ghagras, cholis, turbans and so much more.
9. Bagru print
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The brainchild of the Chippa community in Rajasthan, Bagru block printing has been alive for centuries creating some of the best Indian prints. A tediously long process that involves creating wash resistant prints, the craft boasts of master craftsmen who have been dedicated to it for over 30 years now. Exacting, but ultimately beautiful, the Bagru block printing technique is all natural, right from the dye to the wooden blocks and is celebrated all over the world for their simplicity and effortless elegance.
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10. Gold and silver khari print
The royals of Rajasthan sure did love their precious metal! Every attire during weddings and festivities was dusted and printed with gold and silver khari print. Today, however, cheaper metals are dusted over the fabrics due to the skyrocketing prices of gold and silver. Unlike other block printing techniques, it is a surface embellishment and does not permeate the textile. Also, the block system is different as two blocks are used, the outer one of brass and the inner one of wood which fits smoothly into the brass sleeve. This printing technique is so popular that it is now routinely done on paper too!
11. Bagh print
Practised in Bagh, Madhya Pradesh, Bagh printing is a traditional block printing technique that uses only natural colours. In this printing technique, the cotton and silk cloth is subject to treatment with the blend of corroded iron fillings, alum and alizarin. The designs are patterned by skilled artisans, who have the knowledge passed down from their ancestors. On completion of the printing process, the printed fabric is subject to repeated washing in the flowing waters of the river, and then dried in the sun for a specific period to obtain the fine luster.
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