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Exploring the Traditional Art of Indian Hand Block Printing

Updated: May 6

Evolution & Types of Indian Hand Block Printing styles

Indigo by The Loom Studio

(Image: Hand Block Print Collection, The Loom Studio)

In the heart of India's artisanal traditions lies a timeless craft that weaves together history, culture, and creativity—hand block printing. Steeped in centuries-old techniques passed down through generations, Indian hand block printing is a testament to the enduring craftsmanship of its artisans.

From the vibrant bazaars of Jaipur to the serene villages of Gujarat, the rhythmic clack of wooden blocks meeting fabric echoes the rich tapestry of India's textile heritage. In this blog, we embark on a journey to unravel the intricate artistry behind Indian hand block printing, exploring its origins, techniques, cultural significance, and contemporary resurgence.

Join us in this 2-part blog story as we delve into the mesmerizing art of hand block printing, where each print tells a story of tradition, skill, and creativity.

Block Printing in India

The Origins


Block printing in India, with evidence suggesting its practice, dates back as far back as the 4th century CE. The first recorded history of block printing can be found in fragments of printed cloth discovered in archaeological sites of Indus Valley Civilization dated back to 3500 – 1300 B.C. during excavations at Mohenjo-Daro. The Image shows the statue of Priest King draped in Ajrak-like cloth (Source:

Back in those time, people knew the art of wood carving, extracting dyes from floras, utilizing mordants and using block designs. Also, Indian block printed cotton fragments were excavated at various sites in Egypt, at Fustant near Cairo.

No wonder why Rajasthan & Gujarat due to its proximity (few 100 Kms) to this site became the oldest hub of Indian Block Printing.

The art came to limelight in Bagru District in Rajasthan with the immaculate craftsmanship of Chippa Community. The Chhipa (or Chhipi or Chhimpa) were originally Kshatriya Rajputs from Rajasthan who later adopted printing as their profession. This community also migrated to parts of Gujarat & Punjab and was known as Chhimba in the local community.

The art of Block Printing also has many folklores about its origin that has been told from generation to generation as stories & songs.

“According to the folklores from Mahabharata, when Lord Parshuram was killing all the Kshatriyas, two brothers from the Rajput clan took refuge in a temple. One of them hid behind the deities & hence the community later got its name from the literal 'hide' for the Hindi verb 'Chhipa'”.
Map of Indus Valley region vis-a-vis Indian heartland, (Source: Google)

Evolution in the Mughal Era 

Block printing gained prominence during the Mughal era, particularly from the 16th to the 19th century. The Mughal rulers were patrons of the arts, and block printing flourished as an important craft during this time. They rejected the abstract block print designs and promoted the use of vibrant colors, very intricately carved aniconic designs, and floral patterns.

This became a signature characteristic of Mughal era block printing. During this era, the art was further enhanced with blends of Persian influences in terms of motifs, patterns & techniques.

The Dark Age: Colonial Times 

Indian block-printed textiles gained popularity not only within the country but also internationally. These textiles were in high demand in markets across Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Indian block prints became synonymous with quality craftsmanship and exquisite designs.

Bombay textile mill
Workers in Bombay textile mills, Source: Wikimedia

Many European countries had imposed bans & taxes as a Protectionist Policy to discourage the popularity of Indian Block prints in their markets by levying tariffs, taxes & import duties on India made goods.

Moreover, the British started sourcing cheap fibres from India to Britain, manufacture mill made textiles and pushing the cheap mill-made fabric back to Indian markets. This forced many Indian weavers & block printers to give up their generational craft and join British mills for meagre salaries. The English traders also siphoned wealth generated from Indian Textile industry to Britain in the form of trade imbalances & taxes which hampered the development of Indian Textile Industry further.

Empress mill
Tata's (Images for illustration only: Sourced) in Nagpur in 1877. (Source:
“Did you know, during periods of colonization and political upheaval, artisans often embedded subtle messages or symbols of resistance into their designs, conveying messages of solidarity and defiance through their craft

The situation started to improve with the advent of Swadeshi movement by Mahatma Gandhi and the efforts of Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay (Chairman of Handicrafts Board) later in the 1960s, to revive this craft.

Decline and Revival in Modern India 

In the more recent times, with the advent of cheaper manufacturing technologies and modern dyeing & printing techniques, traditional block printing had to continue to fight for survival due to swaying of market preferences to these easy alternatives.

However, in the mid-20th century, there was a renewed interest in traditional crafts and handloom textiles. This led to a revival of block printing, with artisans and designers working to preserve and promote this ancient craft.

Today, block printing continues to be a vibrant and integral part of India's textile heritage. Artisans employ both traditional and contemporary designs, catering to a global market that appreciates the handmade and unique qualities of block-printed textiles.

Types Of Hand Block Prints In India

Sanganeri Printing

Sanganeri printing is a traditional block printing style from the Sanganer region of Rajasthan. Around 16th – 17th century when Maratha & Mughal wars were on rise, the Chippa community started looking for safe havens found patronage from royal family of Jaipur. Both Sanganeri & Bagru prints had a common origin, but Sangneri prints evolved further with royal influence on its sophistication, craft & identity.

It is known for its fine floral designs and the use of bright colors. It often involves using small, detailed blocks to create intricate patterns like Bel, Buti, More, Keri and Jaal.


Bagru Printing

Bagru prints, from the village of Bagru near Jaipur, involve the use of natural dyes and uses both Direct Dye Printing and the Resist Printing (mud resist) technique. The prints often have black outlines, and the designs include traditional motifs like flowers, leaves, and geometric patterns. This technique shares a common origin with Sanganeri print.

Dabu Printing

Dabu printing, also found in Rajasthan, involves applying a mud resist paste to create patterns on the fabric. After dyeing, the mud resist is washed off, revealing the final design. Dabu prints often feature geometric shapes, floral motifs, and intricate patterns.

Kalamkari Printing

Kalamkari is an ancient Indian art form that involves hand-painting or block-printing on fabric. The Kalamkari technique often uses natural dyes and intricate mythological figures from Ramayana & Mahabharata or floral, paisleys & peacock designs. One of the key aspects of this craft is the art of storytelling through craft. There are two identifiable styles of Kalamkari: Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam.

Many block printing motifs carry deep symbolism and cultural significance. E.g. the paisley motif represents fertility and abundance, while the lotus symbolizes purity and enlightenment.


Ajrakh Printing

Ajrakh is a traditional block printing technique from the Kutch region of Gujarat. It involves multiple stages of printing and dyeing, often using natural dyes. The fabric is repeatedly block-printed with different blocks and colors, with each stage requiring precise alignment.

Read our popular blog on Ajrakh Printing to know exciting insights about this craft.

Batik Printing

Batik is a combination of wax resist and block printing. Hot wax is applied to the fabric in specific areas, creating a resist. The fabric is then block-printed, and the waxed areas resist the dye. After dyeing, the wax is removed to reveal the final pattern.

Bagh Printing

Bagh printing is a traditional block printing technique from Bagh, Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh. It typically involves the use of red and black colors over white background and intricate geometric patterns.

Chintz Printing

Chintz was originally a woodblock printed, painted, or stained calico produced in Golkonda, Hyderabad from 1600 to 1800. The cloth is printed with designs featuring flowers and other patterns in different colours, typically on a light, plain background and popular for bed covers, quilts and draperies. After Vasco da Gama successfully reached Calicut in India in 1498, the fabric became known in Europe & became a popular Indian product for export.


Pipad Block Printing

This hand block printing style is authentic to the Chhipa community of Rajasthan. They use special wooden blocks with nails to press the design on to the canvas. The raised canvas area is tied with a thread dipped in resist paste & then dyeing is done to create the design.

(Images for illustration only: Sourced)

Rise of Centers for Block Printing

While printing designs onto fabric most likely originated in China about 4,500 years ago, it was on the Indian subcontinent where hand-blocked fabric reached its highest visual expression. Between outside influences and the diversity of the subcontinent’s own indigenous communities and tribes, India has yielded one of the most magnificent & vivid vocabularies for motifs & pattern ever.

Several regions in India became known for their expertise in block printing. Some of the prominent centers included Sanganer and Bagru in Rajasthan, Pethapur in Gujarat, and Masulipatnam in Andhra Pradesh. Each region developed its unique style and designs, often influenced by local culture and traditions.


Though much has been lost in antiquity, many fabled traditions continue till today. In this era of diminishing significance of original crafts due to their scale & pace of production, Indian block printing remains a testament to the country's rich artistic and cultural heritage, blending tradition with innovation to create timeless and beautiful textiles.


Hand Block Prints Collection by The Loom Studio

Explore our ravishing Hand Block Printing Collection, which is an ode to this ancient craft of storytelling & expressionism. Created with a dash of tradition blended with an influence of new age socio-economic ethoes, each piece in this collection is meticulously crafted by artisans who have perfected this art over generations. The symbolic block patterns give a life-like appeal to the saree and tells a silent story.

Whether you're drawn to the classic charm or seeking to adorn yourself in the essence of cultural craftsmanship, our Hand Block Printed Collection offers a great amalgamation of bold yet rooted vibes of cultural fusion & freedom of expressionism. Shop Now at The Loom Studio.

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