Introduction and etymology
It is curious how sun, sand and the vast expanse of idyllic earth create one of the most colourful Indian textiles – the Bandhini. In Kutch – Saurashtra belt and other parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, Bandhini is part of life, tying their lives, histories and stories together in tiny knots of timelessness. The term Bandhini is derived from the Sanskrit word banda, which implies “to tie”. Bandhini is made by covering small pinches of fabric with thread then dyeing to create delightful patterns. Nuances of Bandhini are reflected in the minute and skillful manipulation while tying and dyeing the fabric. Bandhini is truly an art because a meter length of cloth can have thousands of precise tiny knots. An intricate design in a sari would have no less than 75000 knots. It takes several years for an artisan to perfect the expertise of tying, knowledge of colours and skill of dyeing.
Bandhini’s history is as exciting as its intricate knotted patterns. One of the earliest evidence of the use of Bandhini cloth in India is in the depiction on the walls of Ajanta caves that belong to 6th to 7th century AD. In texts contemporary to the time of Alexander the Great, references about the beautiful printed cottons of India are found. In local historical texts, the first Bandhini sari was worn at the time of Bana Bhatt’s Harshacharita or ‘Life of King Harsh’ (606-648 AD) in a royal marriage. The folklore of the Khatri community of Kutch claim that the technique of Bandhini was introduced to them some centuries back by a fakir from Sindh, and has been continued since then.
The art of Bandhini is a highly skilled and time-consuming process. Simplistically there are four stages – marking, tying, dyeing and drying. The raw materials required are handwoven or silk textile, nylon thread for tying the knots, starch and colours for dyeing. Traditionally vegetable dyes were used but now chemical dyes are relatively popular because of cost effectiveness, ease of handling and processing. In most of the communities, men do the dyeing while women do the tying, which is most painstaking with each dot being as tiny as a pin-head.
Firstly, the textile is bleached and the area to be area dyed is outlined using fugitive colours. The fabric is then covered with a transparent thin sheet of plastic, which has pinholes, where the desired pattern is imprinted in temporary colours. Many artisans also use a wooden frame to outline the pattern. The second stage of Bandhini is the tying of the knots, and usually it can take anywhere between four days to ninety days, depending on the intricacy of design. The third stage of dyeing and washing is one of the most important steps and only specialised dyers are preferred to do this. The fabric undergoes several cycles of dyeing, bleaching, drying, untying selected knots or a selected portion of the knot and then dyeing again. Extreme care is taken prevent bleeding of colours and the process continued till the desired colour combination is achieved.
Motifs and Colors
Colours, motifs and design delicately differentiate Bandhini of different regions. The nimble hands and skilled dyeing execute elaborate and interesting motifs, for example, a single dot is called Ekdali, three knots is called Trikunti and four knots is called Chaubundi. Knot clusters are designed intricately into patterns such as Shikargah (mountain‐like), Jaaldar (web‐like), Beldaar (vine‐like), Kodi (tear or drop shaped) etc. Rajasthan is well known for its Leheriya pattern or pattern of waves, which symbolizes water waves.
For a craft that is suffused with history and culture, the colours of Bandhini are deeply symbolic. Brides and newly married women wear red, yellow is the colour of motherhood and black and maroon, used for mourning. Men of different communities follow the age-old tradition of tying turbans with different patterns of bandhini on their heads.
Modernization of Bandhini
Bandhini is truly an eternal art that has been draping dreams and aspirations in its motifs and colours for many years in the past and will continue for many years in the future. From being dominantly used for clothing, now Bandhini has entered the ubiquitous area of home furnishing, for the knots have many tales to tell.