Bagh printing

Bagh is a traditional form of fabric printing originating in Bagh, Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, India.

The process is characterised by hand printed wood block prints with naturally sourced pigments and dyes.

Bagh print motifs are typically geometric, paisley or floral compositions, dyed with vegetable colours of red and black over a white background. Contemporary Bagh printers are introducing more colours from natural dyes.

The origins of Bagh print are uncertain, but it is believed that the practice is over 1,000 years old, with the techniques having been handed down through family practice from generation to generation. 

The process of creating Bagh prints includes pre-printing (the washing and pre-dying of the fabric), printing (application of the design) and post printing (fixing the dyes and applying a fabric finish)

Pre-printing starts with Khara Karna, the initial washing of the fabric for printing. Cotton is the commonly used fabric; however, other fabrics like silk  are also used. The Khara Karna washing consists of washing in running water for two hours and beating the fabric on river stones to remove any starch in the fabric to assist with the dyeing process.

Next, the fabric is soaked in a water solution of rock salt, mengni (goat dung), and castor oil, pressed, rinsed and dried three times, which is known as Mengni Karna. Then, the cloth is pre-dyed with Harara to provide an off-white base color, which also adds a richness to the black and red dyes that will be applied later.

Bagh prints are made by hand applying natural and vegetable based dyes using carved wood relief blocks. Red and black dyes are most common, but indigo, mustard, and khaki dyes are also used. New blocks for printing are hand carved from teak or sheesham wood, but some blocks have been in use for 200 – 300 years. Motifs for the prints are geometric or floral, sometimes inspired by the 1,500 year old paintings at Bagh Caves.

Dyes for printing are derived from plant sources (plants, fruits, and flowers), and minerals. To make the dyes, pigments likeferrous sulphate and alum are boiled in water and mixed with tamarind seed powder to make a paste, which acts as black and red dyes respectively. Other colors like indigo, mustard, and khaki can be made using indigo leaves, dhavdi leaves or pomegranate rinds.