Rajasthan - YOAS Yoga Retreats

The ancient craft of block printing

January 16, 2024 2:28 pm Published by

For many years we have been running magical retreats at Castle Bijaipur in Rajasthan. Enchanting adventures that offer the perfect opportunity to immerse in the rich and vibrant culture of India.

There are safaris to experience nearby wildlife, treks to surrounding villages and temples and riding trips on wonderful Marwari horses. You can also try your hand at traditional cooking or heritage crafts such as block printing.

This wonderful blog is all about the history and evolution of the ancient craft of block printing. It was written by Bohemia, a small independent company who source handmade wares from artisans in India, Morocco and Turkey. They have kindly allowed us to share it with you here.

THE HISTORY OF BLOCK PRINT
Hand block print has a complex and fascinating history, famously one of India’s most loved heritage crafts, the origin of block print can be traced back 4000 years. The earliest record of this art form was actually discovered in China, printed on paper in the world’s oldest surviving book, the Diamond Sutra.

THE EVOLUTION OF BLOCK PRINT
Block print as a technique for decorating cloth emerged from the Indus Valley Civilisation dating back to 3500 BC. However, it was during the Mughal Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries that the craft truly flourished. Indian mastery of natural plant dyes and mordants resulted in the production of exquisite handwoven cottons, wools and silks, richly decorated with elaborate embroideries and hand block print designs.

MUGHAL STYLE AND INFLUENCE
Mughal royalty considered fine quality textiles a status symbol and hand blocked fabrics became a valuable economic asset in trade between countries. Pre-Mughal designs were influenced by geometric forms but it is the Mughal style which has come to define Indian artistry, with their intricate curlicues and nature inspired motifs; flowers, birds, animals and fruits.

IMPACT OF BRITISH RULE ON HAND BLOCK PRINT
From 1858 to 1947 British rule in India determined the course of the textile trade, and with the rise of the British East India Company Indian fabrics found an enthusiastic audience across Europe. But the artisanal production of cloth was sabotaged when the Industrial Revolution in Britain resulted in the mechanisation of textile weaving and the introduction synthetic dyes. The British started to export cheap, mass produced textiles to India and violently controlled the textile sector, literally cutting off the fingers of Indian handloom weavers.

MAHATMA GANDHI’S INFLUENCE AND THE KHADI MOVEMENT
Mahatma Gandhi can be credited for raising consciousness on this issue, firstly by calling for a boycott of foreign textiles, and in 1918 establishing the Khadi Movement in support of handspun and handwoven cloth.

‘There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness’ – Mahatma Gandhi

It is incredible to think that it was a man who advocated for handspinning and handweaving who helped bring an end to British rule in India. The symbolism of cloth has great power and, in India, a vast heritage and rich cultural history.

THE BOHEMIAN RESURGENCE
An explosion of the bohemian aesthetic in the 1960s and 1970s saw a revival of interest in hand block print. These gloriously patterned fabrics and loose fitting garments were perfect for the free spirited children of the flower power movement. Inspired by the beat generation and the 1967 Beatles trip to Rishikesh, the fascination for eastern spirituality blossomed and thousands of young people joined the hippie trail to India seeking freedom and enlightenment.

THE SLOW CRAFT MOVEMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY
Today we are witnessing a new resurgence in the slow craft movement. With growing awareness around the damaging environmental impact of fast fashion and synthetic textiles, the craft of block print is inherently a practice in sustainability. Traditional block print artisans are keepers of knowledge going back over hundreds of years and their ingenuity and artistic resilience are what keep the art alive. Block printing is still practised entirely by hand and eye, without the use of machines, and the cloth produced is imbued with heart and soul. The process itself results in tiny variations and imperfections characteristic of objects made by the human hand and which make each length of cloth unique.

‘If we have the Khadi spirit in us, we would surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life’ – Mahatma Gandhi

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