The age-old practice of crafting beautiful colourful silhouettes worn by womenfolk since times immemorial is called as bandhani. The expression of design element practised largely in the bylanes of Gujarat is called as bandhuvan which is derived from the word “bandhan” meaning to tie. The people who are engaged in crafting and producing designs out of the tie-dye technique are called as “bandhej”
The vibrant hues and flair of a tie and dye root back to the pre-historic times even before the hippie movement gradually paced in the early 1960’s and 1970’s. The tie-dye evidence heralds back to the 300 BC’s during the reigns of Alexander: The Great who mentions the beautiful crafts like tie-dye in his texts. For centuries, in India, Japan and Africa, tie-dye craft has been practised using both the natural and man-made materials.
The craft of tie-dyeing began around 5000 years ago in the culturally-rich states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It is believed that the Muslim Khatri community of Kutch first began the use of tie-dying.
The technique of tie-dye is fairly universal which mainly involves binding the individual parts of the cloth to resist from dying. This practice was advertently followed by the local people in Mohenjodaro in about 2000 B.C which suggests that the complex process of mordant-dyeing was known to the inhabitants during that time. It is possible that resist dyeing was also practised during this period. However, archival facts confirm that in the 6th-7th century A.D, Bandhani cloth was displayed on the walls of Ajanta caves. Women are shown wearing bodices in dotted tie and dye patterns, and skirts made using Ikat design element.
There are some written references to the continuous practices of Bandhan even today scripted by Harischandra in Bana where he celebrates the dyed patterns on the auspicious garment of bride’s special odhnis that are still traditionally tied and dyed today.
The main communities involved in producing tie and dye fabrics are mainly settled in Mandvi, Mundra and Bhuj areas of Gujarat. Bhuj is, in fact, the main center for the traders of colors and dyes used in this craft. The fabric required for this kind of craft is sourced from Bhagalpur, Surat, Bangalore, and Mumbai,
The fabric to be dyed is first carefully examined by the cloth dealer and the layout pattern is market by folding the cloth in four or more layers. Fields are delineated using cords dipped in Geru (concoction of burnt sienna mixed in water) post which the wooden blocks are dipped in the Geru mixture and stamped within the marked fields.
The task of tying the motifs and dying them mainly rests with the womenfolk who predominantly carry this activity besides assuming their household responsibilities. The cotton yarn that is used is generally plain and basic which is easily available from any industrial led waste ground. It is then led by the thumb and forefinger of the right hand and the cloth is made to run through a fine millet stem bobbin, so that it passes evenly and smoothly. There are two options involved in tying the knots. First is by layering the folds of the material carefully using a pointed finger to create a little bunch and tie a thread around it. The second option requires filler material to be impregnated within the knots. Interestingly, a single stole can alone have 4000 to 5000 knots while a single woman can manage to tie 700 knots in a single day.
It is easier to practise this craft on silk or cotton cloths than to carry it on woollen materials which makes it hard for women to reaffirm tying knots using their teeth. Now, comes the arduous step of dying the cloth immaculately to resist the beautiful patterns cascading on the silks and cotton with vivid colors and designs.
The men of the household carry out the process of dying in specialized workshops where the clothes are first dipped in cold water and then enveloped in a cloth to ensure the tied knots are not kept undone. It is then died in the lightest color (preferably yellow) by immersing the fabric in an intensely hot solution of dyes and then rinsed, squeezed, and dried for a better color resistance. There is no use of natural dyes in this process.
Lipai is also practised to ensure that the fast colors are directly applied manually to make this process effective and simple. Napthol dyes are effective in cold solutions and can be sued to die the next darker color. Earlier the motifs representing nature were quite popular like trees, lakes, river, birds and hills that caught the fancy of young and older women alike.
With time, the modern women love to experiment with their clothing and hence tie-dye has furthered its design elements into abstract, florals, basic dotted patterns and some mythological figurines are also quite common. However, bright colors are always used for the tie-dye technique like red, yellow, green, pink and its various shades.
It is considered auspicious for new brides in India to adorn red tie dye odhnis while a new mother is often gifted a yellow tie-dye garment.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s in the outburst of hippie-movement prevailing hue and cry in America, because of the rebellious minds indulged in drugs, anti-wartime, sex and psychedelic music, people were drawn towards the movement and hence displayed self-expression through a way of clothing. Designers were largely embracing the art of tie and dyes and the famous stars back then further promoted the craft by wearing such ensembles. Tie-dye quickly became one of the major staples of the era during that time.
From ornamenting a newly-wed bride to using the staples as a constant reminder of a rich heritage culture that we are a part of, Tie-Dye will always be a fundamental flag-bearer of every Indian woman that shall be passed on to generations for a treasured memory and succession of precious handicrafts in the country.