Patterns of Identity: hand block printed and resist-dyed textiles of rural Rajasthan




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


This thesis sets out to investigate the changing social significance of the hand-block printed and resist-dyed cottons of Rajasthan. Once a vital part of the region’s everyday rural textile and dress traditions, communicating information about its wearers and demonstrating the craftsmanship of its makers, today block printed textiles are produced primarily for export and tourist markets. In the space of just a few decades the growing effects of globalisation have wrought irrevocable change upon this traditional craft. Under the pressures of new market forces, modern hand block printed textiles bear little resemblance to their traditional counterparts.

Drawing on an ethnographic perspective in general, and an ethnomethodological perspective in particular, the main objective of this thesis is to develop a deeper understanding of traditional hand block printed and resist-dyed textiles – with particular focus on the modernisation of traditional forms of hand block printing in Rajasthan, and the various strategies and experiences which the craftspeople have undertaken to deal with the changes to the market for their products. Using the recent history of block printed cloth production in Rajasthan, as told by local artisans, it explores the manner in which such phenomena as modernisation and globalisation are embodied by shifts in production technology, design aesthetics, and market forces. In order to explore the rural roots and chart the dramatic recent modernisation of the craft this thesis identifies and documents the range of textiles traditionally made by the region’s hereditary communities of cloth printers and dyers, and investigates their role in the projection of identity, exploring the changing communicative function of these textiles, notably with the rise of synthetic fabrics, among the rural communities of Rajasthan. In doing so, this thesis investigates how the consumption of hand block printed textiles has changed over the past forty years and considers the impact of the growth of export and tourism on traditions of cloth printing in the region.

It is a socially situated study, based on extensive firsthand fieldwork with the Chhipa community of hereditary cloth printers, making use of ethnography, photography, and personal experience of textile dyeing, printing and design. By developing methodologies based on the detailed documentation of the technologies, materials and processes involved in hand block printing this thesis seeks to update and expand upon the existing literature on the craft by providing and analysing contemporary accounts of family traditions and modern developments in use by current generations of artisans. In doing so this thesis also contributes to current discourse on the preservation of craft knowledge as a form of intangible cultural heritage. The study is primarily located within the field of Indian textile and dress studies. It contributes to contemporary ethnographies of textile crafts through the detailed analysis of print and dye technologies, and, by also considering the meanings and values of block printed cloth as clothing, adds to the literature on the social role of textiles and dress with a regionally-specific focus on the role of pattern and colour. By focussing on the communicative functions of pattern and cloth, it also enhances cross-disciplinary attentions to regional identities and intangible cultural heritage. Finally it engages with the very local processes of globalisation and the contemporary values of handcrafted cloth.



textiles, hand block printing, Rajasthan, India, natural dyes, indigo, intangible cultural heritage, rural textile and dress traditions, commercialisation, export and tourist markets, socially situated ethnographic ethnomethodology, communicative functions of cloth, craft, culture, change



Research Institute