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A life dedicated to Rajasthan's traditional Dabu print


A life dedicated to Rajasthan's traditional Dabu print

New Delhi, September 12 (IANSlife) A casual stroll into the open Bapu Bazar of the pink city of Jaipur, and one will see a range of traditional Rajasthani textiles. Amid the Bandhej, Sanganeri and applique works, clothing and home decor items in the mud-resist Dabu print are sure to stand out. A master-printer dedicated to the craft, Ramkishore Chippa Derawala, brings the story of Dabu from his little village for the world to see.

The print Dabu or Daboo, believed to have originated in China, is practiced by a major artisan cluster in Bagru, a village of hand-block printers just 30 kilometers south of Jaipur. A tradition ongoing since 480 years now, was once rife with caste boundaries, until it found an international market.

"At first, when the marketing was only till the district level, the block-type and print colours used to be as per caste," Derawala, a Padma Shri recipient, told IANS on the sidelines of a FDCI handloom symposium in Delhi.

"Alag alag rang the, alag alag jaat ke." (There were different colours for different castes)

Dressed in a handloom Dabu himself, Derawala adds: "Women used to wear lehenga-choli and dupatta based on their castes. So when they went out wearing different lehengas, everyone in the village used to get to know which caste a woman belonged to."

"There were four colours: Yellow, red, sky blue, and ‘hara dhaniya' (green). Green and blue were for communities who are today known as Other Backward Classes (OBC). Red was for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC and ST). The yellow one used to be for the higher general communities," he said.

This continued till the early part of 1970s, when the traditional hand-block printing technique and the community caught the government's eye. Soon the district-level marketing grew to national and export-oriented markets.

An influx of designers into the handloom sector gave it the indigo, maroon and white hues it is recognized for today. Speaking of dyes, Derawala, who had pledged to himself to only wear handloom 40-odd years back, maintains that natural, vegetable dyes are still the pivot of Dabu.

"Our natural dyes are made from pomegranate's rind and onion's leftovers, turmeric, phitkari (alum), and iron horseshoes. Chemical colours are also being used these days as per the wishes of the designers, so we have to fit some 20 per cent of them with 80 per cent of natural dyes," he explained.

The process, however, has not undergone major transformations and is still the same handed down through generations.

Designing and carving hand blocks, preparing the handloom cloth for multiple layers of dyeing, and finally, putting it out into the sun, makes the Dabu printing work one of the most labour-intensive.

Naturally, it causes prices to go up. For handloom and handicraft items, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) can range between 5-12 per cent, something Derawala advocates to reduce, since handmade products are anyway expensive to create.

"Handloom has had a rich history and keeping it alive is the duty of weavers, printers, designers, buyers and the government. Weavers are already in a bad condition, many of them are living hand-to-mouth," he said.

With the coming in of corporations like Fabindia and Aavaran, the Dabu print industry has gained more visibility and has definitely diversified its buyer base. As powerloom also enters the market, replication and stealing of print designs have become easier and the skills of Dabu artisans are under the sword, lifted high.

"Going back to our roots is very important, it's not sufficient to just rely on design and fashion. There are two levels, one is manufacturing, one marketing.

"If there is nothing being manufactured, what will you design, market and sell? Manufacturing is getting more and more expensive," said Derawala.

Concluding, Derawala calls for wearing handloom at least one day in a week and supporting sustainable, living crafts that India prides itself on.

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