‘A spiritual tribute to soil’: Celebrating the

At the last edition of the Lakmé Fashion Week x FDCI, fashion designer Anavila Misra showcased a collection — titled ‘Dabu’ — that celebrated the ancient mud-resist hand block printing technique from Rajasthan. On being asked why she chose the same for her latest creations, the designer said that she was intrigued and fascinated by the idea that “mud can help us create something so delicate and beautiful”.

“This craft is a deep act of reverence to nature, a spiritual tribute to the soil — the fountain of life itself. It plays a magical role in my repertoire of sari, the length of the serving as a perfect canvas for ancient storytelling,” Misra told indianexpress.com.

As such, to bring the collection to life, the fashion designer collaborated with Mahesh Dosaya, a local artisan from Rajasthan’s Bagru, and founder of Paramparik Craft. “My first visit to his workspace was magical. I saw dust and mud on the floor, beautiful, printed muslin fabrics on the tables, and the happy banter of women artisans. Inspired to work with the craft and touched by the enthusiasm of the artisans, we started working on our Spring-Summer collection,” she shared.

Further, talking about her experience of showcasing the craft on the runway, Anavila Misra said that to bring forth something so rooted and close to the values we hold was worth every effort that was put into building the collection. “We wanted to show the sari in its raw form and hence chose to work on pre-colonial drapes. The artistry of our presentation was in twisting, knotting, and layering of the drapes, which gave each garment its unique shape and silhouette.”

But it’s not just Anavila Misra, Dabu has caught the fancy of many other designers, including Alka Sharma who debuted her Dabu designs — as part of her collection, Miniature Moon — at the same event in 2019. Opening up about her experience of working with the age-old craft, she said, “After completing my education in the field of textile, I started working towards the upliftment of the Dabu printing cluster of the Chhippa community in the village of Akola, Chittorgarh, under Centre of the Study of Values, an NGO focused on the development of deprived tribal communities of southern Rajasthan. In 2009, I undertook a project with the Ministry of Textiles and established my brand to preserve the craft.”

dabu Dabu, which comes from the Hindi word dabana, involves several stages of printing and dyeing. (Express Photo by Saumya Rastogi)

The owner of the label Aaravan added that the collection was an ode to the heritage and artisans of India. “It’s an amalgamation of the East and the West that successfully embraces the mystical universe of Anne Vilsboll’s (a Danish painter) art while interpreting it through the mud-resist technique,” she added, further sharing that trough her brand.

A similar goal inspired Avipsha Thakur to start Bunavat in 2019, who today, directly works with weavers and artisans to make traditional, sustainable and forgotten weaves and crafts of India, more accessible, aspirational and relevant for urban women. “We learnt about Dabu on one of our travels to Bagru, where we met artisans from the Chippa community who have been practicing the craft since generations. Our focus was to reimagine contemporary designs through age-old craft traditions,” she told this outlet.

But that’s not all, her brand also follows sustainable practices centred on reducing the carbon footprint and emphasising the importance of conscious consumption. “We use natural fibres and eco-friendly dyes to ensure our products are environmentally friendly. From responsible production to packaging, we believe that clothing should not be disposable, but rather cherished and passed down generations,” Thakur added.

What exactly is Dabu?

dabu A deeply sustainable practice, it honours local resources such as mud, gum, lime and wheat chaff. (Express Photo by Saumya Rastogi)

Explaining, Misra said, “Dabu is an ancient mud-resist hand block printing technique from Rajasthan, the origins of which can be traced to about 675 AD. It is a time-honoured village handicraft practiced in several rural areas in the state. Dabu, which comes from the Hindi word dabana, involves several stages of printing and dyeing. A deeply sustainable practice, it honours local resources such as mud, gum, lime, and wheat chaff. The motifs printed are derived from the natural surroundings of local floral and fauna.”

As for the process, it involves numerous steps and is done by hands, said Thakur who shared that the first step is to wash the fabric thoroughly to remove any impurities which may lead to irregular absorption of the dyes. “The fabric is then dried and clipped to a table on which the printing takes place. Then mud is sieved and made into a fine paste. Hand carved wooden blocks are dipped in the mud paste and gently applied to the fabric as per the design. Sawdust is sprinkled on the wet printed pattern to avoid smudging. The printed fabric is then dried in sunlight. After drying, it is dipped in the dye and dried again. The fabric is then washed and the resisted part does not take any dye, which results in different patterns,” she said.

Adding, she said that depending on the design and number of colours to be used, the process of mud printing is repeated. “It is a labour-intensive and time-consuming process, and the steps increase according to the intricacy of the design,” she continued.

Meet the artisans behind the craft

dabu The motifs printed are derived from the natural surroundings of local floral and fauna. (Express Photo by Saumya Rastogi)

Dosaya, who collaborated with Misra to create her latest collection, learnt Dabu from his father in 1992, and perfected if after observing his mother practice the craft. Commenting on his ‘enriching’ association with the atelier, he said, “Anavila showed us how to make and see Dabu from a different point of view. For instance, she introduced us to likes of the current generation, and accordingly what changes we can make to the designs — while at the same time not forgetting our roots.”

Meanwhile, Shiv Raj Meena, a fabric dyer, has worked with Aavaran for the last seven years. “When I started working, I used to only wash the fabrics before and after dyeing and printing. However, the technique of Dabu caught my attention and I started learning on the job. With time and practice, I understood how to control the time and number of dips to to achieve a particular shade,” shared Meena, adding that today he is also adept at preparing natural dyes by extensively boiling fruit peels and branches of various trees, and deriving the desired shade by diluting the pigment with the right amount of water.

Vijendra Chippa, a native of Bagru, collaborated with Bunavat to create their textiles. “I learnt the hand-block printing technique from my father. The practice has been passed down generations. In 2011, I founded my own social entreprise, Bagru Textiles, to sample and produce the print. We also hold workshops to create awareness among the younger generation and give them hands on experience of printing,” he said.

Chippa believes the best part about Dabu is that anybody can practice the craft. “You can easily wash the fabric if you make any mistake, and experiment with limitless designs in different patterns and shades.”

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