Daboo Printing: A perennial block printing technique

Hidden jewel of Rajasthan

Culture

March 27, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Daboo Printing: A perennial block printing technique

Daboo printing is a mud-resist hand block fabric printing technique, one of the oldest block printing techniques in India

Daboo block print, a popular design marketed by famous brands like Fabindia, is actually a means of sustenance and legacy of a community of artisans living in undiscovered village of Rajasthan, Pipar.

Native to a small village tucked away from urban civilisation in the north-western state of Rajasthan, Daboo printing is a mud-resist hand block fabric printing technique sustaining the local Chipa Muslim community. It is one of the oldest block printing techniques in India, famous for its unique designs and using raw material.  The mud-resist block printing technique, even though taxing to create, is worth every effort owing to its beautiful designs.

Yasin and many other artisans like him have been working from generations to keep this age-old craft alive. “We have been doing this work since four generations. My family belonged to Haryana but my great-grand father travelled to Rajasthan and started this work of Daboo printing. My father and his father before that used to design ghaghras (traditional outfit worn by Rajasthani women).” says Chipa Yasin, the owner of Yasin Block Prints, a small textile business selling Daboo print fabrics and natural dye in Pipar, that lies about 550 km west of national capital Delhi.

Understanding the technique

Daboo block print runs through multiple stages, each more laborious and challenging than the other. The Daboo mud, a paste used to create the designs is made of the mud found in the local lakes, which is then mixed with clay, lime and gum. The blocks used for this technique are also different from other printing blocks as these have deeper grooves for the mud and wider lines.

The dyes used to colour the cloth are also made using natural ingredients like indigo, kesula flower, pomegranate peels and other natural resources. There are very few places in the world where one can find natural dye and that is one of the reasons why this art from Pipar is thriving.

The climatic conditions of in and around the village also play a significant role in creating the fabrics, “The windy weather and constant sunlight helps dry the fabrics faster and obtain the shine found in indigo.” explained Yasin.

Climatic conditions of in and around the village play a significant role in creating the fabrics

Struggle to sustain

Despite the fact that sustaining a business dealing in native crafts can be a challenging task, this family in Pipar has managed establish an impressive business. “Our work focuses on creating natural dyes and Daboo print fabrics and finished materials like sarees, stoles, duppattas, table cloths etc. In Daboo printing, we create wide range of sarees like chanderi, tassar, kota silk, kota cotton or pure cotton. Apart from that we have kalamkari sarees as well,” Yasin tells Media India Group.

“We also supply our products and fabrics to famous brands like Fabindia, Anokhi and Reliance. We also supply natural dye and a wide range of block printed household products like bedsheets, tablecloths or duvets internationally,” he adds.

The artisans say that when they sell to large retail chains they have to offer deep discounts to them, but they get better prices in their own stores. This helps to pay for the cost of business that employs 30 workers besides women who work in the training centres and of course the artisans’ own families. “The tourists and locals who visit our store pay the amount once they see the hard-work we put into creating these beautiful designs. Even though the profit margin is low, so far we have managed to keep our business afloat and hope to expand it further in future,” says Yasin.

Impact of Covid19

While all industries suffered major losses due to the pandemic in 2020, small businesses, especially in rural India, were hit the hardest.

This includes Daboo print artists says Yasin. “When the lockdown was imposed in March last year, we had to shut down everything. There are 30 artisans working in our factory and it was their only source of livelihood. Even though they were at home we did not hold back their salaries. In a small village like ours, resources are anyway scarce and the lockdown made it even more difficult for our workers to access basic amenities. Therefore we started arranging basic ration for them like milk, biscuits, and vegetables,” says Yasin.

Even after the lockdown was eased at the end of May, the troubles of Pipar did not end as all the orders they had received were cancelled — international as well as domestic.

As women play an important role in creation of the art, the revival of Daboo prints has helped play an important role in women’s empowerment. There is a special training centre for women to learn Daboo block printing. While some of them join factories for lighter work, others train fashion and designing students arriving from all over India and some even belong to reputed fashion colleges like NIFT.

Keeping the craft alive

Keeping pace with the changing demands and expectations of the market is the biggest challenge faced by the artisans as they struggle to keep their heritage alive. “When my father was handling the factory, market for traditional dresses declined and our business started to collapse, he asked me to find a solution. It was then I contacted brands like Fabindia, Anokhi and Reliance. Thirty five years later, we are still supplying Daboo print sarees, stoles and other material to Fabindia,” says Yasin.

While children from many rural families show no interest in taking forward the lineage and migrate to urban areas for better opportunities, Yasin says that he has been lucky as his son, even though highly qualified, is working with him, he said, “My son has completed his MBA and worked as an advisor in the United States with a good salary. But I called him back and told him to use his education and skills to expand the family’s business. He has been working with us for the past five years and handles all the promotional and marketing strategies,” he says.

Yasin says that coverage of the art form by traditional and digital media has helped in creating a bigger market for Daboo prints. “Journalists and bloggers who come to visit and cover our work help us connect our small village with a large number of people in the outside world. It also boosts our spirits to continue our work and keep the tradition alive,” he says.

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