One of the oldest and most famous industries that has flourished for more than a thousand years in Farrukhabad is the artistic cotton printing industry. India has long been considered to be a pioneer in the art of calico printing with many craftsmen across the country engaged in creating designs that are typical of their culture, history and heritage.
The characteristic ‘tree of life’ motif of Farrukhabad stamped on cloth and silk is one of the highest foreign exchange earners and this district is noted for its export quality silk and cotton prints.
Farrukhabad has two distinctive types of printing namely block printing and screen printing that is created with both natural dyes (derived from plants, animals and minerals) and synesthetic dyes. The most popular colours used are yellow, blue and red with combinations of brown, green and orange. Yellow is obtained from turmeric and tesu flower, black from kasam, blue from indigo, red from manjistha, brown from khair, akhrot and babul, orange yellow from lal chandan, beige from fuel wood, mustard from marigold, golden from henna and green from a mixture of pomegranate tree bark and curd.
Preparatory processes include treatment of the fabrics (viscose, rayon, silk, wool, cotton and others) to remove any impurities, waxes, fats and chemicals through singeing, desizing, scouring and sometimes even bleaching. The required colour solutions are prepared by thickening it with Gum Arabic Paste and pouring it in a shallow wooden trough with bamboo grating floats. The designs are first carved on wooden blocks made from sal wood or mango or ebony.
Block printing is widely used by the artisans because of its decorative and artistic expression as well as the richness and lustre of the colours produced. The fabric is stretched across the printing table and fastened with small pins. Printing starts from left to right. There is a whole assembly of sieves one on top of the other namely a sieve proper which is a rectangular wooden trough lined with fine woollen cloth, a larger trough covered with rexine cloth or rubber sheet and the third which is called a ‘swimming tub’ that is filled with gum paste on which floats the second trough containing the first trough mounted on a trolley that can be wheeled up and down alongside the printing table.
Generally, the block is dipped into the colour solutions in the various sieves in a methodical manner and evened out thoroughly so that there is a uniform paste on the block. The design is imprinted on the fabric by hand and this process is repeated. One needs to take care while lifting the block and dipping it in the colour solution so that the design is evenly printed on the fabric. Based on the intricacy of the design, large and small blocks are made to match the colours chosen accordingly.
Screen printing involves screens that are normally prepared in the photographic method, application of colour through squeegees and processing of the fabric with acid wash. The final process involves drying, steaming, calendering, cutting and finishing of the printed material.
Curtains and tablecloths are often printed in the kattha style. Zarde–ki–chhapai is used for printing handkerchiefs, sarees, dhotis and dupattas.
Myriad designs and patterns like buttis, paisley, flowers, animals, birds and different variations of the ‘tree of life’ in vibrant colours are harmoniously arranged to create a beautiful composition on the fabric that is testimony to the exemplary skill and craftsmanship of the artisans of Farrukhabad.
This age-old craft was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2012-13.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)