Bandhani Print: The Art of Tie-Dye in India

India is home to many textile arts and has a long history of printing. The Indian handicraft industry has long been one to be proud of, being praised both abroad and at home. The textures, styles, and techniques used in various regions vary, and each has a different approach and a distinctive result.

Among these, Bandhani, also referred to as Bandhej, is a type of tie-dye textile that is embellished by plucking the fabric into numerous bindings to create a design. The term "Bandhani," which is primarily used in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and some regions of Uttar Pradesh, is derived from the Sanskrit word "Banda," which means "to tie." In order to create various patterns, the fabric is dyed at various locations while being tightly tied with thread.

 

A Symphony of Colours

The colouring process begins with lighter hues — yellow being the initial colour of choice, followed by a progression through reds, maroon, ochre, tangerine, indigo blues, turquoise blue, and deep greens for subsequent dyeing and re-dyeing. In contemporary times, the Bandhani palette has expanded to encompass a spectrum of additional shades, including purple, mustard yellow, beige, pink, and even black.

The craft is intricately connected with symbolism and luck. Various colors carry unique significance. Red is frequently linked with the auspiciousness of a newlywed's life, while saffron symbolizes the attire of a yogi, and yellow embodies the spirit of spring and joy. In contrast, black and maroon are draped in the somber tones of mourning.

Bandhani's intricate patterns are a captivating facet of this artistry. Four Bandhani dots are referred to as Chaubundi, seven as Satbundi, and a solitary Bandhani dot as Ek Dali or Bundi. The repetition of these Bandhani dots and patterns gives rise to a number of designs, featuring figurines of people, as well as elements inspired by nature such as trees, flowers, and leaves. Among the well-known Bandhani patterns are the Dungar Shahi (mountain pattern), Laddu Jalebi (Indian sweetmeats), and Leheriya (waves).

 

 (Picture Credits: Swapnil Karambelkar)
  

History  

Bandhani, potentially the oldest tie-dyeing method, boasts a history spanning around 5000 years. Textual references suggest that the initial appearance of a Bandhani saree graced a royal wedding during the time of Bana Bhatt's Harshacharita. This tradition held that a bride's future could be enhanced by wearing a Bandhani saree.

Tracing back even further, the Indus Valley Civilization presents the earliest signs of Bandhani, indicating that dyeing practices might have commenced as early as 4000 B.C. Notably, remnants of Bandhej have been discovered in the Ajanta caves. The paintings depicting the life of Buddha from the sixth century found in Cave I at Ajanta provide the earliest representation of the prevalent type of Bandhani dots.

Intriguingly, references in texts from Alexander the Great discussing exquisite Indian printed cotton draw attention to this distinctive art form. The historical threads of Bandhani weave through ancient civilizations, royal celebrations, and artistic representations, creating a rich tapestry of cultural significance.

 

The History of Bandhej or Bandhani

Lohana women ca. 1855-1862 (Credits: SMU Central University Libraries)

 

Artists  

Tie-dye techniques have been practiced across continents for centuries, notably in Africa, Japan, and India. In India, the Khatri community in Gujarat is recognized for pioneering the Bandhani work. Several renowned Rajasthani towns, including Jaipur, Sikar, Bhilwara, Udaipur, Bikaner, Ajmer, and Jamnagar in Gujarat, have gained acclaim for producing high-quality Bandhej odhanis, sarees, and turbans. This traditional art form has not only stood the test of time but has also undergone evolution and flourishing throughout the years.

In many rural areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Bandhani is more than just a craft; it's a way of life intricately linked to regional culture, customs, and the social behaviors of skilled artisans. Symbolizing various aspects of life, Bandhani plays a significant role in ceremonies and celebrations. For example, the Gharchola saree with zari or golden borders is presented to the bride by the groom, while Khatri brides don the Chandrokhani, symbolizing the bride's beauty akin to that of the moon. Festivals like Bhavan Baug and Rasamandali celebrate natural gardens and dance styles, depicted on a vibrant red background with images of peacocks, elephants, and dancing women.

Bandhani has woven itself into the fabric of daily life, with women adorning Bandhani prints on sarees, salwar kameez, designer lehengas, and dupattas. Men, on the other hand, prefer unique turban designs for significant social and family gatherings. Typically, Bandhani production is a family affair, with village and household women actively contributing to the intricate craft.

 

Learn Bandhani Textile Art

Textile artist Jabbar Khatri teaches online workshops at MeMeraki

 

Process and Technique

This art form calls for aptitude and accuracy. To tie the fabric into extremely tight knots, use your fingernails. However, the knots are not simply tied at random; rather, they are tied to fit specific patterns or designs, such as Chandrakala, Shikari, Bavan Baug, and more. The consistency of the dots, their size, shapes, and spacing, as well as the contours of each dot, are all indications of the artist's talent. 

Among the vibrant colors that are frequently used to dye the fabric are yellow, red, green, blue, and black. The knots are untied after the fabric has had time to dry after being dyed. On a hot summer day, it might take the cloth 4-5 hours to dry, as opposed to 2 days during the monsoon. 

The fabric is first tied with impermeable thread in a variety of patterns and designs, and then it is dyed with lovely solid colors. These tied fabrics are dyed by professionals, but the tied portion does not take the color and stays white or the same color as the fabric. It is then left to dry in the open air. Weather affects how long it takes for a fabric to dye. The drying process for the cloth can take up to two days during the monsoon season, but it only takes 4-5 hours during the summer. The fabric also has a significant impact on dyeing, in addition to the weather. Traditionally, only cotton and muslin were used to make Bandhani sarees, but as times changed and the demand for innovation increased, manufacturers began printing Bandhani designs on georgette, silk, cotton-silk, viscose, and other types of cotton as well. Since every fabric has a distinct nature, the outcome of this art differs depending on the type of fabric used.

The exploration of various elements, both natural and man-made, has been a subject of ongoing experimentation among dyers. Concurrently, endeavors are being made to create intricate patterns on cloth submerged in dye containers using diverse binding and tying techniques. This continuous experimentation showcases the adaptability and innovation inherent in the rich tradition of tie-dye.

 

How to tie-dye

Clamp Dyeing kit

  

Contemporary Bandhani 

Bandhani has carved a niche for itself, achieving success in both Indian and international markets over the last few decades. Traditional Bandhani patterns, beloved in India and beyond, persist in popularity, while artists continuously innovate to introduce new designs. Although the saree remains the quintessential garment crafted from Bandhani fabric, its versatility extends to suits, dupattas, chaniya cholis, turbans, bags, and more. Bandhani motifs have also found a strong presence in men's fashion, with the trend extending to dresses for individuals of all ages.

 

Actress Ragini Khanna on Day 5 of Lakme Fashion Week, 2017 (Credits: Bollywood Hungama)

 
An interesting shift involves incorporating Bandhani patterns as prints on turbans and even adorning the pockets of kurtas, adding a touch of tradition to contemporary styles. Gifting Bandhani sarees, considered auspicious, is a cherished practice, especially when mothers present them to their daughters for weddings. In many instances, the bride's mother herself dons the traditional Bandhej saree during the wedding ceremony.

The Bandhej saree boasts various styles, each with distinct characteristics. Jhankaar Bandhani, for instance, features incredibly fine patterns with an abundance of color and vibrancy, distinguished by the absence of light or white dots. On the other hand, BorJaal Bandhej is known for its intricate jal work of Bandhani, often chosen for wedding occasions, particularly popular in Marwari communities. The interplay of color, pattern, and dots on BorJaal Bandhani sarees creates intricate and striking maze designs.

A unique technique within Bandhani, known as the "color discharge" technique, involves layering lighter colors over darker ones, presenting a visual contrast. This technique is notably featured in Bandhej sarees with deep red dots on a pale yellow background. Another variant is the Banarasi Bandhani saree, combining the elegance of Bandhani with a Banarasi brocade border, often made from premium georgette fabric. These exquisite sarees, adorned with fine Bandhani work, are commonly part of traditional bridal trousseaus.

The enduring appeal of Bandhani lies in its vibrant aesthetics and luxurious texture, with a history spanning centuries and a promising future of continuous innovation and growth in fabric variations.


References: 

  1. Nagpal, Falak. “Bandhani.” The Design Cart, August 10, 2020. https://thedesigncart.com/blogs/news/bandhani.
  2. The Craft Atlas. “What Is Bandhani? – The Craft Atlas,” May 5, 2023. https://craftatlas.co/crafts/bandhani.
  3. Shopify, BVC Tech. “All You Need to Know about Bandhani.” Peachmode (blog), June 16, 2022. https://peachmode.com/blogs/peachmode/all-you-need-to-know-about-bandhani.
  4. Shah, Archana. “BANDHANI: The Art of Tie-Dye Patterns.” Blog Bandhej, August 26, 2021. https://www.bandhej.com/blog/post/kharal-weaving11111111111
  5. Sariya, Tasneem. “Bandhani Arts – a Dazzling Array of Colors and Patterns.” Caleidoscope | Indian Culture, Heritage, July 14, 2022. https://www.caleidoscope.in/art-culture/bandhani-arts-a-dazzling-array-of-colors-and-patterns
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