Many scholars believe that India was the original home of the earliest printed textiles – printing blocks have been used in India since 3000 BC and there exists evidence in textile museums around the world, which indicate that India has always been the most important centre for hand block printing. John Stuart states in his book “A history of printed textiles” that India was already printing textiles in 4th century BC and exporting them to china, where they were quite popular7.
The textile craft of India was first recognized as “Brand India“, when the early European merchants arrived. They were amazed by the exotic hand painted and printed fabrics and took back samples to Europe. The trade became more prolific with the advent of the East India Company of London and Netherlands (which were founded in 1600 and 1602), that ended Portugal’s monopoly of the eastern sea routes. As a result Europe’s domestic market was flooded with cheaper, but handmade soft furnishings made in pure cotton, and silks from India.8 These became so popular that, in 17th century, fearing the death of local industries, King William III of England prohibited the import of Indian silk and printed cottons.
In France, such was the demand that they decided to start the production of printed fabrics themselves; this was the first step to imitation of Indian printed fabric. It was also the beginning of the use of chemical dyes and colours.
As the business was extremely profitable, other countries also started taking interest in it. Gradually, the Europeans started supplying Indian calicos to India itself, which lead to the shut-down of many factories in India.
The colourful Haats of 17th Century Jaipur
The weekly bazaar was held in Gangauri Bazaar of Jaipur every Saturday from 7 am – 10 am. This was a strictly wholesale market, where the printer brought what he produced in the week and sold it to the textile retailers, called “Bajaja”. These craftsmen came from all around Jaipur, Saanganer, Kala dera, Jahota, Bagru, Bassi and Jairaampura.
Fadad was one of the most interesting things sold in the Haat. Reza, the fabric used for making fadad, was hand spun and woven by the local weavers of the kohli community of Saanganer. Fadad was made in many different colours such as indigo, green, red, black, mustard etc., depending upon the community or the area where it was being made. It was often sold wet and the printers would sprinkle water on the cloth, which gave it brightness.
Customers were willing to pay for good craft, which is evident from the stories narrated by Brij ballabh Udaiwal, from Shilpi, whose father, Madholal Udaiwal was one of the printers. He proudly shares that his father was paid 1 rupee more because of the quality of his work. Madholalji was very famous for Kaami ka Dupatta and Sabji Zardi ki fadad.The Kaami ka Dupatta was a black cotton shawl which had a double border separated by a line of butas, which, was red and pink and was made using madder and Al roots.
Sabji Zardi ki fadad costed about three times the regular fadad due to the complicated process involved in making the same. As the name suggests, the colours of the fadad were like the colour of different vegetables.The flowers were
7 A history of printed textiles p.7–Stuart Robinson
8 John Keay –A history of India P.323