The Bandhani Tradition

Bandhani- A Saint, Khatris and other stories

Bandhani is the art of creating beautiful dotted patterns on the fabric with tie and dye techniques. The word ‘Bandhani’ is originated from the Sanskrit word ‘Bandh’ and Gujarati word ‘Bandhavu’ meaning ‘to tie’. The mesmerizing craft is a simple technique of resist-dyeing in which the dye is prevented from reaching a particular portion of the cloth by tying a cotton thread around it. 

The Ancient craft of textile

This is one of the oldest and basic textile crafts which have been practiced in many parts of the world, i.e., China, Japan, India, and African countries. This ancient craft can be traced back to the 500-800 CE as the fragment of one of the earliest surviving textile art of resist dyeing, excavated from burial sites in Peru. In India, the earliest representation of the existence of Bandhani is in the beautiful wall paintings of Ajanta caves.  The process of tie and dye has remained almost the same today as it was being practiced in Ancient times. Though, the use of chemical dye and bleaching got introduced to the ‘Bandhani’ in the late nineteenth century.

Bandhani is one of the most celebrated textile craft in India which is being produced in Rajasthan and Western Gujarat for many hundred years by the Khatri community.  There is no evidence of the origin of this craft but many delightful tales varying from region-to-region express the different versions of the origin of Bandhani.  

Bandhani a Blessing from the Sufi Saint

Once the Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai was traveling on the rainy night of Kutch and looking for a shelter to rest.  He saw a beam of light far from a small hut in the deserted area. The saint approached the owner of the hut who was an impoverished dyer. The dyer offered a stay at his hut to the saint for a night and provided him food with love. The saint was overwhelmed with the warmth he received from a dyer and wanted to do help him in return.

He observed that the fabric he was sleeping on was prepared to be dyed, so he tied a small portion of the fabric from all the corners and left the hut the next morning. As the rain stopped in the morning, the dyer started his regular job of dyeing and without observing the knot on that fabric he dyed all the fabrics. Later he realized that the tied portion in the fabric did not penetrate the dye and got furious that the fabric was wasted now. Instead, his patrons loved the pattern of the white dots on the dyed cloth and ordered him to create more of such patterns. His business flourished with this and the blessings of the saint changed his life. 

 The Accidental Invention of Bandhani

Another story about the origins of  Bandhani is about a poor dyer living in a village with his son. The son and his friends were playing with some of the fabric to be dyed, and they made a few tiny knots on those fabrics and forgot to untie them. The next day dyer put all the fabrics for dying in hurry and did not realize the multiple small knots in them. After drying the fabric, he observed the tiny knots and untied them realizing the pattern of white dots because the dye did not penetrate from the knots. He yelled at his son and started crying. The neighbors heard the commotion and rushed towards his house to see what was happening. Neighbors examine the dyed fabrics and they loved the patterns created with the voids between the flat color of the fabric. One of them decided to pay him a good amount to buy the accidental invention known as Bandhani. Later, many villagers ordered the same fabric from the dyer which earned him good money and fame.  

 

Khatris of Kutch

Khatris are traditional dyers from Sindh, also known as ‘Rangrez’ meaning the ones who dye clothes with colors.  Khengarji I, the Maharao of Kutch invited these skilled craftsmen to live and settled in Kutch. Originally, all the Khatris were Hindu but later as the Hindu rituals became complex and expensive many of the Khatris subsequently converted into Islam. Hindu and Muslim both Khatris kept practicing their traditional craft of tie and dye in Kutch. Even today, Bandhani Saree is gracefully worn by the women of both the Khatris on special occasions such as weddings, engagements, or any festival. The process of Bandhani making involves both men and women.

Women prepare the design on fabric by tying the cotton thread on the tiny dot-like portions of cloth. The tying process is very tedious and time-consuming. One saree with an intricate pattern can take months to complete with a great level of patience. In the village, women gather during evening time in chowk and tie the fabric while laughing and chit-chatting with each other.  After the tying process is done, men dye the fabric with different colors. 

Traditionally, Bandhani was created with fast dyes which were prepared from natural colors. Bhatia and Jain, One of the wealthy communities of Kutch love Bandhani sarees in traditional designs. The Parsis from Mumbai are also one of the good patrons of this skillful craft of preparing Bandhani design on fabric. 

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