Dabu is one of the popular forms of block printing. It is a mud-resist hand-block printing practiced primarily in Rajasthan. The process uses lots of natural dyes and vegetable pastes, making it environment friendly and non-toxic. The process of dabu hand block printing is tedious and long but what you get is a piece of Indian heritage which can’t be replicated by machine and a beautiful garment to wear as well! Dabu printing is often compared to other Rajasthani hand block prints like Sanganeri and Bagru, howver, its different in terms of its look and method.
History of Dabu Prints
Dabu comes from the Hindi word ‘Dabana’ which means ‘to press’. Legend has it, that a cloth dyer accidentally put in his mud-speckled clothing with the rest of the clothes to be dyed in Indigo. When the clothes were left out to dry the next day, he realised that the parts covered in mud, retained the original colour. This, they say is how Dabu printing was discovered. The village of Akola, in the Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan, is said to be the originator of Dabu printing and is one of the few clusters which continue the legacy of dabu printing. The prints are now popularly known as Akola Dabu prints. As time passed, the craftsmen began to use tar instead of mud in case of designs which require sharper contrasts.
Process of Dabu Hand Block Printing
The process of Dabu Printing starts with the preparation of mud resist, calcium hydroxide or Chuna, naturally pounded wheat chaff and gum are the main ingredients to make the mud resist. The mud resist is freshly prepared before every printing. Wheat chaff, and gum along with the mud are mixed to make a sticky paste. A design is first sketched onto the cloth and this design is covered with the mud resist with the help of wooden blocks. A skilled printer is essentially needed to get the prints in the correct place and position. The motifs are picked from nature and surrounding elements, and then crafted onto wooden blocks. Popular ones are Kahma, Lal titri, Dholika, Kantedar. The Dabu printing and dyeing processes are repeated till the desired design is obtained. The end result of a Dabu printing is a print with a sublime quality and unique appearance. To quickly dry the paste, post application, saw dust is applied to places where the mud resist is printed. The saw dust acts as a binder which prevents color penetration while dyeing. The application of mud resist onto the fabric is followed by dyeing the fabric in a cauldron of dye. The process may be repeated for double Dabu and triple Dabu and hence forth. After every dyeing the fabric is thoroughly washed so as to remove the mud application. Finally, the non-dyed part where the resist has been applied is revealed after the washing. The designs covered by the dabu or mud resist remain colorless. This dyed cloth can now be re-dyed in a lighter color to give the patterns some color as well. In the process, some of the colour penetrates onto the fabric caused by mud cracking. The result is veining which gives it batik like look to the fabric.
Innovations in Dabu Prints
Dabu printed fabrics display a subtle and extraordinary beauty and depth which has admirers around the world. It has also captured the imagination of modern day designers. Dabu is still in vogue because a lot of new designs have come up and designers keep on experimenting with the blocks. Dabu today is used frequently in many Indian and Indo western clothes and home décor items. While earlier, they were almost exclusively used to decorate high end sarees made of fine cotton fabrics like Maheshwari cotton, nowadays they are used for all types of garments and in all kinds of fabrics. However, absorbent and resilient cotton fabrics remain the most commonly used for Dabu printing.
This technique has slowly and steadily gained a loyal and admiring customer base across the world, and this has encouraged the craftsmen to customize their designs and patterns to appeal to their more modern, westernized consumers. Thus, in addition to the ethnic motifs, modern designs of geometric waves, pop culture graphics and artistic shapes are often used. The color base has also expanded to unconventional combinations of red, black and green.
Dabu prints are deeply embedded in the cultural identities of various Rajasthani communities. The forms in which these fabrics are worn are changing with time, yet the soul of the craft is carried forward, untampered by the changing times.