He sits surrounded by what appears to be casually strewn packets of dried bark and fruit rind, bits of haldi pods, dried flower and petals, a few horse shoes and white powder, which we are told is made up of crushed tamarind seeds. Yet out of permutations and combinations of all these, Mahesh Kumar Chippa, the paramparik block printer, conjures up a whole palette of the colours of Nature for his hand block printed textiles: ‘harda' for the first base dyeing of the washed cloth, red from a mixture of alum and gum, black from mixing water soaked iron filings and black gum, a mixture of dried pomegranate and turmeric to create yellow etc.

Mahesh dips wooden block motifs ranging from traditional ‘amris,' ‘butties' and stylised flowers to contemporary geometries, circles and zigzags, into a dye box containing jute soaked in the dye. The hand block is then imprinted on the cloth with a firm pressing motion. And a textile embellishment story slowly begins to emerge. This is the famous Bagru hand block printing on textiles with rich, natural colours, a centuries-old craft featuring elaborate and richly coloured floral prints.

The printing process

“After preparing the dye we soak lengths of jute in it, place it in a specially made box, and begin the process of Bagru printing on the fabric spread on a table. The process entails one block, one dip and one imprint. We continue this till the whole fabric is done as per our design concept,” Mahesh elaborates.

He goes on to demonstrate Bagru's famous Dabu mud resist prints. He has just finished imprinting the cloth with blocks dipped in a mixture of black ‘mitti' or mud and wheat powder mixed with gum powder and chuna. “I then dye the whole fabric in indigo,” says Mahesh. Now the background will come out in indigo dye while the mud printing motifs will resist the dye and will remain in the colour of the cloth, namely white.

Mahesh Kumar Chippa learnt the craft of Bagru printing from his father. He has more than a lakh blocks, ranging from the traditional roses, vine and trellis and amri to contemporary motifs designed by him, from delicate flowers to bold geometric shapes and stripes. With that he has created a vast range of textiles.

Mahesh Kumar Chippa's block printed cottons, Chanderi, Maheswari, Kota doria, chiffons and tussar saris and salwar sets are on view till May 27, at Cotton Utsav, The Palace, T23A, 7{+t}{+h} Avenue, Besant Nagar. Also on display are hand painted Bengal cotton saris in a variety of pleasing colours and designs. Mahesh also demonstrates his craft at the venue.

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