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BANDHANI The earliest form of surface decoration using dyes on textiles was based on the technique of tying the cloth with threads before dyeing. Though the tie-dye technique, called bandhani, may have originated accidentally, it evolved into an art, perfected by dyers who created intricate patterns. The antiquity of this tradition (c. 1000 b.c.) was established by the location of a textile fragment showing evidence of the technique found by Aurel Stein during his expedition to Central Asia in the early twentieth century.

The art of bandhani is currently concentrated in desert areas from Kutch in Gujarat, through Saurashtra, Rajasthan, and Haryana, to the environs of Delhi. The finest tie-dye is produced by the Khatri community in Kutch, Gujarat. Madhya Pradesh also produces tie-dyed fabrics, used by peasants and tribal communities, in its areas bordering Rajasthan. Another minor center is Madurai in Tamil Nadu.


The traditional technique followed for making bandhani is by first bleaching the cloth, then folding it across its length and then across its width, thus making four folds. The dyer next demarcates an 18-inch-long (45 cm) area on one side of the width so as to cover both ends of the cloth, which for a sari forms both the pallu, the cross border, and a narrower border at one end. The wider area is subdivided into panels, with a wider central panel and two narrower panels on each side. Using charcoal, the dyer creates the basic design that will be followed for tying the knots. In the same way, the border of the sari is outlined at the two edges of the cloth, folded lengthwise. The cloth is then passed on for the tying of knots on the outline in the border, as well as on the pattern for the body of the sari. The tying is generally done by women. In the Khatri community, the very fine tying is done by men. The left hand is used for pinching the cloth and the right hand holds a long thread, which is wound around the cloth and knotted. This is repeated with the same thread with rapid dexterous movement. The knots must be handled carefully when dyeing, as they can unravel easily by tugging at the open end.

Initially, the sections that are to remain white are tied. The fabrics are then collected by the dyer and are dyed in a light yellow color, after which the fabrics are again returned for tying; the next set of knots is tied to retain the yellow color. The process continues from lighter colors to the final dark color, which is either a brilliant red, purple, black, dark green, or deep blue. This procedure is the traditional technique for tie-dyeing and is followed in all the major centers of Saurashtra, Kutch, and parts of Rajasthan.

Rajasthan has, however, developed another technique, called lipai, in which the fabric is given a light background color. The fabric is folded and designs marked as described above. The border designs, which will be in a dark color, are marked. The dyer proceeds to color sections of the inner cloth with different colored dyes according to the design, with the help of a felt. The tied border is then dyed and covered fully and the body of the sari is bleached, removing the surplus dye. The fabric is then immersed in dye for the background color. After drying, the sari is opened and the fabric emerges with dark tied designs on a light background and a contrasting dark border and cross border.

Kutch creates the finest tie-dyed fabrics; Mandevi and Bhuj are the main centers. The famous gharcholas, an important ritual cloth of Saurashtra, are actually prepared by the Khatri community of Kutch but are dyed in Jamnagar in a brilliant red. It is the Khatri community that creates bandhanis for different communities living in the area. The bandhanis prepared for the rich Mahajan community are of a finer design; among the finest are gharchola, a grid pattern, and bavanbagh (fifty-two gardens). Almost all Hindus use bandhani for weddings. The bride's sari is pale yellow, signifying her status as a virgin, and only the border and the cross border are red. Gharcholas, auspicious patterns worked into a grid, are given to the bride by her husband after marriage or after the first child is born. Tie-dyed turbans are worn by the bridegroom and by the men participating in the celebrations.

Special types of bandhani are made for the Muslim Bora community, as well as for the Khatris' own families. The Bora women wear an abho (a loose shirt) and salwar (pantaloons), as well as ordhani (veils). These are mostly in silk with black backgrounds and motifs worked in red. Thick cotton cloth with bold tie-dyed patterns were made for the seminomadic Rabaris, as well as for the skirts of the Meghvals, the craftsmen's community. Woven woolen shawls were also tie-dyed and embellished with embroidery.

In Rajasthan's Jodhpur and Jaipur, in addition to the traditional fine chundris, tie-dyed veils, and saris, special turbans were made for the men. Each season required a change in the color of the turban and the veil. Vasant, the season of spring, required basanti (lemon yellow) colored turbans; Haryali Amawasia, the rainy season, was the time for sage green and pink turbans. Pink and saffron were auspicious colors for marriages. The red bridal veil was never dyed with permanent colors, as that was considered inauspicious.

Jodhpur specialized in distinctive techniques of tiedye, called lehria, a pattern of diagonal lines in multiple colors, and mothra, a checkered pattern. The cloth is stretched from opposite corners, then tied with strings and dyed in stages from light to dark shades. When opened, it reveals its diagonal pattern. For the mothra, the other side is stretched, thus creating a checkered diagonal pattern.

Sikar of Shekhawati Rajasthan produces the finest quality cotton bandhani fabrics for urban clients. They also create bold patterns for the agriculturists of Bikaner, Jhunjhunu, Rewari, and Rohtak in Haryana. The background of deep maroon has large sections in lemon yellow with bold tie-dyed patterns in red and green.

Madhya Pradesh also has a tradition of bandhani, which is quite distinct from that of Rajasthan. The patterns are simple dotted patterns interspersed with bird and animal motifs. These were made for the local peasantry as well as the tribal community. Each community had its own distinctive patterns.

Another center, which is isolated from the main tie-dye center, is at Madurai's temple complex in Tamil Nadu, where a community of Khatris had migrated from Saurashtra. They produced tie-dyed saris, known as sugardi saris, using locally woven gold-bordered saris dyed a deep red with patterns in off-white. The motifs used—conch shell, lamp, lotus, and stars—were influenced by the kolam, ritual floor designs. Plain unbleached cotton with a gold border was bleached and folded double on the length. The patterns were then blocked and the fabric was passed on for tying. The sari was then dyed a maroon color; the border was dyed in black by covering the main body. This tradition survived because the sugardi sari was considered essential bridal attire. By the early part of the twentieth century, the demand had diminished, but the tradition was later revived as part of a national program supporting the development of handicrafts.

Jasleen Dhamija


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