Imli Diaries

Tamarind Chutney

Block by Block: Sanganeri Printing

What is Sanganeri?

Sanganeri is an Indian block printing tradition famed for its delicate floral motifs and vibrant colors. Sanganer, Rajasthan, a mecca for textiles and handicrafts, has long been synonymous with this art form. Although the exact origins of Sanganeri remain elusive, evidence suggests that the craft has been practiced since at least the 16th century. It is widely held that Sanganeri artisans—who primarily belong to the Chhipa community—migrated to Sanganer from Kathiawar, Gujarat in the mid-17th century following Mughal and Maratha invasions in the region. Nestled along the banks of the Dhund river, Sanganer provided an ideal setting for dyers and printers to establish their craft—and we’re glad they did!

Floral Fusions:

So what makes Sanganeri so special? Well, for one, Sanganeri prints feature over four hundred distinct motifs, most of which are botanical. These motifs, collectively known as bhant, are painstakingly carved into blocks made from teak wood. Larger motifs, called buta, even require the use of several blocks. The resulting block prints are only visually stunning, but also provide a fascinating insight into the craft’s diverse cultural and natural influences. 

The Syahi-begar style of Sanganeri—syahi meaning “black ink” and begar meaning “red colour”— is characterized by bold black and red designs printed on white fabric. These prints were traditionally favored by the local community in Sanganer and were used to make turbans (safa), shawls (angochha), and dupattas donned by women for auspicious occasions. This style of Sanganeri typically showcases depictions of indigenous flora and fauna including marigolds, peacocks, and lotuses.

          Syahi-begar style of Sanganeri (Image source: Gaatha) 

In contrast, the more ornate Sanganeri style, typically favored by Rajasthani royalty and their courtiers, features intricate and exotic floral motifs known as butis. Influenced by the close ties between Jaipur's court and the Mughals, this style often incorporates Indo-Persian floral patterns like tulips, poppies, irises, and narcissuses. These lavish, Mughal-inspired prints stand out due to their depiction of flora that is not native to Rajasthan and are often tilted in accordance with Mughal aesthetics. Some of the more imaginative decorative prints even include depictions of fruits such as bananas and pomegranates as well as animals like elephants and camels.

.                              Source: Museum of Art and Photography

Dye-namic Sanganeri

Another feature that makes Sanganeri special (and sustainable!) is its traditional use of vegetable and mineral dyes. Among these natural dyes are indigo, alum, turmeric, pomegranate, and iron rust. What sets these dyes apart is not only their natural origins but also their evocative names, often inspired by elements of nature. Examples include Kasumal for red, Toru phooli for yellow, and Moongiya for dark green.


Despite the longstanding tradition of using natural dyes, the advent of chemical dyes in the 1980s has marked a significant shift in Sanganeri printing practices. Chemical dyes, being typically more affordable and easier to work with, gradually supplanted their natural, and more eco-friendly, counterparts. This transition has resulted in the diminishing use of iconic natural dyes—such as Sanganeri's distinctive rust red color—which are achieved through an arduous process of washing and drying the cloth.


However, this transition has come at a cost, as the use of chemical dyes has led to detrimental environmental impacts. One such consequence is the contamination of groundwater in Sanganer, posing a serious threat to both the environment and the local community.


Sustaining Sanganeri: Challenges and Innovations

Unfortunately, the use of chemical dyes in Sanganeri is only one symptom of the broader challenges facing this traditional craft in contemporary times. Once deeply ingrained within the heritage and identity of the Chhipa community in Rajasthan, the practice of hand block printing is now being eroded by the forces of widespread industrialization and commercialization. The rise of mechanized production has led to a shift towards screen printing, marginalizing traditional artisans and diluting the unique craftsmanship that defined Sanganeri prints. While mechanization has bolstered production capacity, it has come at the cost of artisanal ownership and cultural integrity. As newer generations perceive less value in preserving age-old traditions, compounded by a lack of support from government initiatives, the future of Sanganeri hand block printing hangs precariously in the balance.


However, despite being few in number, there are still dedicated artisans in Sanganer who work tirelessly to uphold the Sanganeri tradition. One such artisan is Satyanarayan. Satyanarayan ji embarked on his journey as a block printer in 1982, starting with just one table and three artisans in his workshop. Over the years, his dedication and passion have transformed his modest operation into a thriving enterprise, now boasting 50 artisans and 1000 meters of fabric produced daily. What's his secret sauce? Constant innovation. Satyanarayan ji introduces fresh block designs every month, but he's also a master at breathing new life into old, forgotten blocks!

Check out the creations of Satyanarayanji as well as our other Sanganeri artisans at our store





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