Mural paintings on the rock cut cave monasteries at Ajanta (2nd – 5thc.CE) depicting figures clothed in speckled textiles provide evidence of a long tradition of patterning through tying and dyeing . Variously called bandhej in Gujarat, bandhini in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and sungadi in Tamil Nadu, the terms are derived from the Sanskrit word for ‘tying up.’ While the techniques used are relatively similar each center is differentiated by its own practices of patterning and color usage that have been customized for their traditional clientele.
Traditional bandhani in Rajasthan and bandhej in Gujarat can be seen on turbans, head-mantles, full gathered skirts – ghagara and saris. The colors and patterns worn are identifiers of community, marital status, position and occupation. One such example is of the auspicious bright yellow head-mantles with wide red borders and red central dots that are only donned by those women of the Bishnoi community who have borne male heirs.
The tie-and-dye technique practised at Rajasthan is both similar and different to the technique practised in Gujarat. At both centres it is the fabric that is tied and dyed to the design’s chosen pattern. A large number of colours are used because once the base colour is tied in, a lot of colours can be applied on to the fabric at different stages and then tied and removed progressively. The motifs that are used are flowers, leaves, creepers, animals, birds, and human figures in dance poses; geometrical patterns are also common.
The designs are given names like mountain design, kite design, and dol design. The dyeing is done in matching or contrasting colours. Dots are used to make up the designs. Do-rookha dyeing or different colours on either side is also practised by the craftsmen here. The lehariya technique has long lines or bands in various colours found all over the body of the sari or cloth. The lehariya cloths have their own names depending on the designs: pancharangi (five-coloured) and satrangi (seven-coloured) are common. Bandhanis are linked to various seasons, festivals and rituals for which there are specific designs and colours.
The dot like patterns are created by tying the textile into knots with thread or by knotting in a grain of rice. The tied areas resist the penetration of dyes in the protected spaces thus forming dots. The designs are created by laying the dots in shapes as varied as flowers and birds to geometrics, by varying knot sizes, creating overlays and adding on colors through multiple dying.
The continuing popularity of the tie and dyed textiles is seen by its presence on haute couture lines and its coverage in fashion magazines with designs adapting to contemporary markets.