A cool morning in Bagru, and a man with blue hands opens a gate to the village compound. Behind the chipped grey steel lies a world of colour – not just the dry gold dust and impossibly azure skies of Rajasthan, but fields that shimmer with pink and indigo. A house to the left is draped in fluttering skeins of butter yellow. A cow with purple ears ambles past, and you wonder if Bagru is where rainbows go when they need a coat of fresh paint. Humming to himself on the way home from a temple, Vijendra Chhipa beams as he spots visitors. Seven years ago, another visitor, on a morning just like this, changed the fate of his village forever.
The Chhipas, a caste settled in Bagru but also found in other parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Nepal, have worked as cloth dyers and printers for generations. According to Hindu mythology, when the Kshatriya (warrior) caste was facing genocide at the hands of a vengeful lord called Parashuram, one pair of brothers hid themselves in the temple of a goddess. Sympathetic to their plight, she offered them redemption handing one a needle and thread, and the other the leaf of a red betel plant. Castes in India were believed to be mainly occupational – to an extent they still are today – and this was how warriors were transformed into a caste of dyers and tailors.
Vijendra Chhipa’s earliest memory is of sitting under a wooden table at his father’s feet, block printing on discarded scraps of cloth – a far cry from his own well-lit, airy and spacious studio, which is lined with vast, endless tables and walls covered with shelves that hold blocks of every style. The fourth generation of a family of dyers and printers, Vijendra always loved fabric and colour – but like millions of Indians, he hoped a college degree would allow him to break from tradition and choose his own profession. When he was a young boy, Vijendra recalls, printing and dyeing weren’t much of an industry: “We bartered fabric for provisions – we’d give some cloth to a farmer in exchange for wheat. My father printed about 35 to 40 metres of cloth every week, and we’d sell it at the local fair.”
Studying to fulfil his dream of becoming an air force pilot, Vijendra continued to read about textiles, blocks and pigment in his free time,.... To read the full article click on the Selvedge Articles icon below from issue 66.