Tharangini – The Oldest Sustainable Hand block Printing Studio

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Prerana.R.Mohanty

Department of Textile design, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India.

ABSTRACT

Tharangini Studio is the oldest and last existing hand block print studio in Bangalore. Much thought is given to environmental protection issues and thus natural colours are primarily used during the block printing process. The group also adds priority to concerns relating to recycling, waste control and fair trading policies at work. In addition, they carry out free outreach projects, in particular with specially skilled craftsmen in numerous Autism centres throughout the region. Tharangini’s goal, therefore, is not only to boost artisanal communities across the region, but also to provide vocational training to underprivileged classes. The organisation’s extended family of craftsmen includes: hand block printers, wood carvers, cloth dyers, embroidery craftsmen, paint mixers and cloth finishing specialists.

Keywords: Tharangini studio, Sustainable, Eco – Friendly, Indian block printing.

INTRODUCTION

Tharangini is a Bangalore-based block printing studio. It has one of the greatest sets of wooden blocks and some of the finest block print craftsmen. It was established by Lakshmi Srivathsa (Director and the founder-member of the Advisory Council for Women’s Advancement) in 1977, a workshop securely placed in the lap of nature in Sadashivnagar with the help of her mentor Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. It is now run and handled by Padmini Govind, her daughter. In the digital era, Tharangini continues to revive the age old craft of fine handblock printing. Padmini Ji has now transformed it into a centre in Bangalore for ethical and ecological fashion devotees. She oversees a team of 20 during the week, using conventional block printing techniques and natural and GOTS-certified dyes, plus a rare reactive printing process called discharge printing to produce traditional sarees and contemporary prints using natural resins. She holds seminars and activities over the weekend, such as a talk on peaceful silk, or dying indigo shibori. Tharangini also produces for two modern Indian brands named Roopa and Summerhouse. Recycling and Upcycling are the 2 main principles of sustainability according to them. They use environmentally friendly and safe means. So procurement plays a very significant part in the whole process. They need to make sure that they do not damage the ecosystem in the processing of the product making or the pigment producing process. They also follow the fair trade method which means that artisans can benefit from their success as well as receive fair wages and fair sharing. Global Organic Trade Center is a resource for international organic trade designed for US exporters. Tharangini has been GOTC certified for their uses of pigments and sustainable products. At the heart of Tharangini is sustainability. The art of hand block printing has been preserved in the context of Bangalore, which does not have an environment that promotes crafts such as Jaipur or Kolkata. A number of printing units have been shut down in Bangalore in the last decade. Either they have been converted to screen printing units, or they are all shutdown or the owners have chosen to switch to a new platform. This leaves the craftsmen to move out of this field and look for other fields to earn a livelihood. Based on the current condition of this sector, by keeping the studio and the livelihoods of the artisans alive and intact, Tharangini has indeed set an example.

Tharangini –The Eco Handblock Studio

                   Figure 1 Padmini Govind

Tharangini is the epitome of sustainability. It focuses more on organic, eco-friendly and sustainable processes. It’s surrounding has the peaceful vibes and greenery all around. The place is an escape from the chaotic world. It is well said that ‘Nature is the best teacher’ and tharangini is the best example. The fabrics developed in the studio are also exported to various brands and companies that make garments at their end. Air India and Royal Nepal airlines are the 2 famous clients of Tharangini who bought beautiful hand block printed sarees for their air hostesses. One of the main reasons to opt for export was to be able to afford fair-trade wage standards for their artisans. It consists of a small team of five block printers, two color mixers, one block maker, two in admin and Padmini Ji herself. The team also consists of some highly experienced block printers who have dedicated themselves for the craft from so many years. Moreover, it’s like a family as each helps the other one as and when required. The roots of Tharangini are binded by mutual understanding and cooperation. In the 1970s, Lakshmi Srivathsa, who studied art in Delhi, fell in love with blockprint and remained influenced by visionary textile craftsmen such as Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the driving force behind the movement of handloom revival. She found when she returned to Bangalore that although the city was aware of the blockprint, it was not as common as it was in Delhi, Jaipur or Banaras. She asked a team of artisans from Banaras to go live with them in Bangalore and help set up a workshop. In 1977, the studio was completely functioning and focused on silk block printing since Karnataka was home to silk. Tharangini has been popular for two decades or so for its gorgeous silk saris. Padmini shares that while they are still making silk saris, it has become a subset of the business because silk is so expensive and because wearing sari has become a special occasion thing.

       Figure 2 Padmini Ji creating block prints

 In 2011, when her mother, a revolutionary, died, Padmini wanted to leave corporate America where she had been for more than 15 years and return to Bangalore to carry the studio further. With an artisan family of master block printers, wood block carvers and eco-friendly and organic paint specialists with decades of craftsmanship, she set out to bring about a modern renaissance while keeping Tharangini’s core values in mind.

The Sustainable Attributes

 

     Figure 3 Block print on Tote bag

The highlighting factor about Tharangini is their commitment to the craft with a sustainable approach. Benefits they have are – they don’t need tons of water, electricity , no fabric wastes such as leftover bits of cloth from cutting or sewing that usually happens in other garment industries. They specially use Ready for Printing/Dyeing fabric (RDF) that is offered to them by the companies placing order with them. Mainly, they print and return these fabrics to the companies and do dry heat treatment of the fabric to fuse the colors with the fabric. Tharangini also uses natural yarns in block printing, which is fibre, not only for printing but also for the padding used in colour trays which is cotton, mulmul and gauze cloth. These fragments of fabric are cleaned and reused until they virtually disintegrate. The colours they use are mainly organic. The amounts that each order includes are often carefully combined. In autism centres, all residual dyes are submitted to be used. Tharangini uses Liquid Petroleum Gas for fuel and newspaper insulation for any steam treatment they need on their printed fabric. The newspaper is returned for recycling to the same vendor from which it was acquired. Effluents generated by washing block prints, fabric gum-arabic when discharge dye printing is done, and natural dye from discharge dye printing. Sarees are safe since the fabrics used are natural or approved as safe to use. However, the effluents are also being handled as an extra precaution. The plant was constructed in 2000 and the water it discharges is potable. The pro-active approach to environmental sustainability in Tharangini is commendable and desirable in many other clothing and dyeing factories across the country that generate a lot of waste or are heavily dependent on water and electricity. The studio has clients from all over the globe like Anthropologie, FabIndia, Trenery, Lili Pepper, BASF, Artha collections and Indigo Wills.

Dyeing Process

The method of dyeing that Tharangini follows is long and intense. It takes much slower for the preparation of natural dyes than for synthetic dyes. The extraction of pigment from raw materials for natural colouring requires drying them in sunlight and, once dried, boiling them in water while simultaneously crushing them with a pestle and eventually allowing the concoction to cool overnight.

Tharangini workshop has entire walls with shelves that stack more than 2000 designs that have been carved out of teakwood. Artisans pay their unwavering attention in making the designs. In North, Sheesham wood is used and in South, Seasonal teakwood is used to make the blocks. There are 3 types of fabrics used for padding and trolleys having waterbed underneath. The underneath is bouncy because when the block is pressed onto it the color sits on it. The 3 types of fabrics(porous,medium pore,very fine) are used in accordance for how much color is wanted or the intricacy of the block. If a darker shade of colour is desired, the whole procedure is replicated and the pigment is collected in a separate container. In addition, for the dye to hold, the fabric is first soaked in the Myrobalan extract, then dry, and this process is repeated over and over again to give the fabric a white shade that gives it a white colour and provides character to the hue and ties it well to the fabric.

 

             Figure 4 Making of dyes

This method of preparation of natural colouring will take anywhere from one week to two to three months depending on the hue and colour. For eg, it takes almost two months to produce a black dye made by fermenting a mixture of iron liquor and palm jaggery. The period of fermentation can be increased or decreased depending solely on the desired hue of black.  It has a shelf life of six to seven months. The ingredients used in the preparation of natural dyes –

Raw material                    Color of Dye extracted

Annatto Seed                       Orange

Ratanjoth                             Mauve

Turmeric                              Yellow

Indian Madder                      Red

Gum Arabic Resin                Off white (mordant)

Myrobalan                            Butter yellow (mordant)

Pomegranate                         Lime green

Alkanet root                          Purple

For the preparation of dyes, they also procure extracts available in powdered form from companies’ in different parts of India- Hyderabad, Kolhapur, Jaipur and Dindigul. Sometimes, there is inconsistency in the shade of the color for block printing when they are prepared using natural dyes. It happens most of the time that the color differs from the exact color , so they use powdered extract for making dyes in case of some projects. Bhanuamma is the only color mixer in Tharangini from about 34 years exceptionally rich in her art of color mixing. The first dyes she made at Tharangini were red using Indian Madder, brown by using Indian Madder and black Myrobalan and black using iron liquor and palm jiggery. She mixes the color in a bucket using her hand and then dips a small piece of fabric in it to check the color and could have a look that how it will look when it will be finally printed. Bhanuamma feels proud to be a part of this sustainable studio.

Block Making and Block Printing

 Tharangini workshop has entire walls with shelves that stack more than 2000 designs that have been carved out of teakwood. Artisans pay their unwavering attention in making the designs. In North, Sheesham wood is used and in South, Seasonal teakwood is used to make the blocks. The most prominent and skilled artisan for carving out the designs out of wood is C.H.Sreeram. Wood carving was not a traditional occupation for him as he comes from a farmer family. He learnt this craft only out of pure interest and fascination when he moved to Bangalore 35 years ago. Sourcing is a crucial part and the wood are sourced from Vendor timber layout (Mysore Road) where only two types of teak woods are found that is Burma Teak and Ghana Teak. In Tharangini, Burma Teak is used because of its good quality but apart from that it is expensive and costs Rs. 8000 for a 1ft by 1ft piece. Ghana Teak having sold at a price less than Burma i.e. Rs. 5000 is not used because it has a tendency to bend and does not approves the parameters of quality.

Figure 5 Wood carving to make blocks for printing

After obtaining a template on paper, a block printer and a wood carver would work together to find out how to dissect it into a piece of wood. The greatest challenge is to plan the architecture repeats – where one block crosses the other without the joints being noticeable, the width of the lines, the combination of negative and positive space. The carver then uses seasoned teakwood rubbed with a limestone paste, traces a pattern by pencil, and chisels it out of the wood. The block is then seasoned in oil for 4-5 days to prevent the breakage of every component and to ensure that it is well protected. When it’s done, it’s safe for use. For the final step that is block printing, First it is done on the fabric and resin is pasted on the parts where the pigment is not required to pass through.It is then dried and rolled in newspaper and cooked in steam so that the pigment penetrates through the fabric due to steam,then the resin is washed due to which the fabric becomes softer and dried in sun.There main motive is to use traditional methods with contemporary designs.

Outreach Programmes

Tharangini also helps autistic people. Autism is a mental condition in which the victim has great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people. Tharangini provides these people with opportunities to make designs in a fun and interactive way as they love forming colourful and repetitive patterns. Tharangini proudly supports the following Outreach partners:

(1) Asha Foundation for Autistic

(2) Drishya

(3) Association of Physically Disabled

(4) Spastic Society

(5) Sukrupa Charitable School

 

                   Figure 6 Padmini Govind

They started the outreach programs first for women by giving them free training who were mainly housewives with no formal education but wanted to educate themselves and standout in the society. Tharangini is also working to take this initiative to next level by training visually challenged people. They conduct workshops in association with many colleges, out of them one was LISAA. Students from Paris were also a part of the workshop. In institutional language, fair trading entails decent labour practises and a fairer contract. The improved social and environmental standards for exporters like Tharangini, no child labour, freedom for workers to express themselves and so on. There are multiple fair-trade bodies; the one associated with Tharangini is NEST in New York. For artisanal clusters worldwide, NEST has ethical approval. The other mandatory thing that happens in Dusshera every year is profit sharing. The team calculates the profit made during the whole year and then its distributed depending on the seniority within the organisation.

Conclusion

Sustainability is the key to a greener and cleaner earth. Being exporters, Tharangini has always ensured to continue the legacy of organic, eco-friendly and sustainability. They have many clients in and out India. The studio being the oldest manages well to cope up with the current market. Outreach programmes and Fair-trade are some of the appreciable attributes of Tharangini. Apart from sustaining this age old craft, they are also involved in the welfare of physically disabled people by adding colors to their lives. Tharangini has the largest collection of handblocks in India. Dyes used are natural and organic that too certified. The Eco studio is not only about one person it is the equal  contribution of each and every member of the team. Due to the introduction of screen prints, the demand of hand block prints has gradually decreased. Earlier the demand of hand block was more as we can create different designs using the same block and the scope of creativity is high as we can explore more whereas in screen printing we are restricted to explore more as the design is fixed and the scope of creativity is less. Tharangini is initiating a great approach to educate more and more people about this dying craft and also to sustain artisanal livelihoods.

Reference

 (1) Vikalp Sangam (2019) Tharangini- The oldest surviving hand block studio in Bangalore.

Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/admin/Downloads/THARANGINI-Vikalp-Sangam.pdf

(2) People in Conservation (2019).vol 9 Issue 2-3.pp 37-41

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(3) The Hindu (2020). Sravasti Datta. French students learn the art of indian handicrafts.

Retrieved from: https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/a-profusion/article30971353.ece

(4) Sbcltr. Rohini Kejriwal. Tharangini: The studio Keeping block printing alive.

Retrieved from: https://www.sbcltr.in/tharangini-the-studio-keeping-blockprinting-alive/

(5) Ecocult (2019) Alden Wicker. 5 Artisan and Ethical workshops in India

Retrieved from: https://ecocult.com/artisan-and-ethical-workshops-india/