India has always been famous for its textiles and Rajasthan, especially for its hand-block printed and dyed textiles. Ancient and medieval literature mention the colorful textiles produced in this region. The earliest specimens on display are small fragments excavated at AL FUSTAT near Cairo, Egypt. French archaeologists, while excavating at Al Fustat, old capital of Egypt, found dead bodies wrapped in coarse cotton fabric printed with bright colours. At the time of discovery, these were not documented as originating from India, but later, the renowned French scholar late Mr. R. Fister identified them after closely studying the styles of the costumes and textiles depicted in the ancient Jain miniature paintings from Western India, and on that basis they were documented as being from Gujarat, India. This led scholars to start believing that India was producing colorful printed fabric in the 14th-15th century which was exported to the European and African countries.
After founding the new city of Jaipur, Sawai Jai Singh brought all the royal departments to his new capital and renamed them. Bhakhata Rama Shah, a Jain poet, writes in his work Buddhi Vilas, composed in 1770, (twenty seven years after the death of Sawai Jai Singh) that the Maharaja changed the Persian names of all his thirty-six karkhanas into Hindi. Out of these, four - Toshakhana, Chhapakhana, Rangkhana and Siwankhana, were associated with costumes and textiles.
Toshakhana, probably had to deal with daily-wear clothes.
In the Chhapakhana, the printing on cloth was carried out by means of a wooden block.
Rangkhana & Siwankhana
Rangkhana and Siwankhana, as suggested by their names, looked after dyeing and stitching work. The Rangkhana records frequently mention dyeing and printing of Mahmudi.
Bagru, is an important centres of hand-block printing and though it originally produced textiles for the local market, today it caters to the international and the export markets. The Bagru prints are usually on a creamish background. The motifs printed at Bagru are large with bold lines, inspired by the wild flowers, buds, leaves and geometric patterns.
Bagru is said to be situated on the banks of the river Sanjaria, which is believed to have originated from a water source some 7 kms west of the village. It was then known as Bagora island, from where Bagru perhaps derived its name. The source of the river is said to have dried up and for the past 50 years there has been no sign of the river, though many people still remember the river existed here. It is widely believed that the water of this river permeated the soil of Bagru to give it the special BAGRU LOOK appearing in its rich brown, red and black.
History Of The Chiapas
The social structure of ancient India was based on the Caste System or Varna Vayavastha. The art of hand-block printing was practised by the Chhipa community only and, till today, it is peculiar to this community. Not only in Bagru, but also in Akola, near Jodhpur and Bagh in Madhya Pradesh, the Chiapas are practicing the traditional art of hand-block printing. All the Chiapas of Bagru claim to be the descendants of saint Namdev of Maharashtra (1270-1350). They had to migrate due to the incessant warfare and raids between the Mughals and the Marathas. The Chiapas had settled here about 400 years back and some families had migrated from Gujarat. It is said that the thakur had brought the Chiapas from different places and helped them settle here. He provided the patronage to the Chiapas which was the watershed event in the history of Bagru. It is said that formerly a lake existed here, whose water was the lifeline of all printing activities; tie and dye work was also done here. During "chhappan saal" there was a drought when people migrated in large numbers and settled in Bagru. Tie and dye work was being done here also and the newcomers brought the skill of block printing here. The cloth originally used to be bought from local villages of Narena or from the haat in Jaipur. These days mill-made cloth is purchased from Jaipur.
Bagru is a small semi-urban town, in District Jaipur, Rajasthan. Today, Bagru has its own Municipality, a Post Office, Bank, Dispensary, Hospitals, Clinics, Schools, Dharamshala and the locational advantage of being in proximity to Jaipur. The Gazetteer Vol. VI. mentions on Page 193 that it is a " town in the state of Jaipur, Rajputana, situated in 26 0 48' N. and 750 33' E., on the Agra-Ajmer road, about 18 miles south-west of Jaipur city. It is the residence of a thakur, who serves the Jaipur Darbar with fourteen horsemen but pays no tribute. The place is famous for its dyed and stamped chintz, but the industry has suffered owing to cheap foreign imitations."
Bagru, is typical of traditional Rajasthani hamlets with small ways of modernization and westernization entering into it. The Chiapas are the local dominant caste of this village, though they fall in the category of Other Backward Castes (OBCs). Other colours of the caste rainbow of Bagru include Rajputs, Muslim, Jats, Brahman, Buniyas, Kumavat, Regar and other supporting castes. The Chhipa community, harbinger of Indian tradition in hand block printing, is under stress of an invasion of mechanised and modern techniques of production which is threatening to replace their traditional way of life. Agriculture, as a means of livelihood, is undertaken by traditional agriculturists, like the Rajputs and Jats. Petty business is handled by the Baniya Community. Muslims are the main suppliers of labour to Chiapas. Bagru is a perfect example of communal harmony.
Chiapas Of Bagru
The Chiapas of Bagru are pure vegetarian Vaishnavites and are very religious. They are followers of Guru NAMDEV in whom they place their entire trust. Marriages are lavish affairs and the Community Dinner is a unique feature of Bagru. All the people of the community set aside their personal differences and partake in the marriage festivities.
Mention of the Chiapas as a separate community following a particular hereditary trade has been made in the :
• Catalogue Of The Collections In The Jeypore Museum Compiled By T. Holbein Hendley, C.I.E.
• Part II- Educational And Industrial Sections
• Delhi : Imperial Medical Hall Press, 1896.
• Large Black Show Case No. Cclxi. Containing Clay Models Of Jeypore Trades Connected With The Vegetable Kingdom.
• Page 202 Code 2469 Chintz-maker, Chheenpa, one who stamps cloth.
Today the economic status of the Chiapas of Bagru is secure. They are mostly self-employed and each household is a hub of activity. Though the Chiapas do not own large agricultural land, they possess most of the conveniences like telephone, television, fridge, motor vehicles etc. Electricity which became available 35-40 years ago, is today a common facility.
The village has a fairly high literacy level, the average person in Bagru has passed class ten. People from the younger generation now go in for higher studies, and some of them have qualified upto the postgraduate level. Most of the girls also attend the local girls school and are well read and updated on the happenings around the nation through the television.