Few kilometers away from Ujjain city on the banks of river Kshipra, is the temple town of Bhairavgarh - famous for fabric art and cloth printing.
Bhairavgarh is the heartland of Batik or wax writing - a multipronged form of fabric handiwork generating livelihoods and adding hues of economic value to artisans inhabiting the hamlets around.
Mohammad Waseem 23, earns a living out of wax writing and batik dyeing on fabrics with the use of wax paints, brushes, stencil and colours. He has been practicing the art since the age of 19 and calls it the traditional occupation of Bhairavgarh. Waseem belongs to Bharat Swasahayata Samuh and has benefitted from government funded training programmes (central, state and district administration schemes) organized for artisans. He along with other members from his group has been trained to make Indonesian batik patterns too.
Waseems' father Mr. Mohd. Yunus Munshi (60) is one of the oldest batik artists in the district and has been practicing the art since 1961. Munshi says traditional batik which used a costlier authentic vegetable dyeing form - was time consuming and less lucrative. According to him, this labour intensive art form originated in Shantiniketan and has travelled boundaries since then. Munshi has already trained more than 500 artists in Batik art from across the country till date.
According to Waseem, designs utilizing Indonesian and traditional techniques both (that use Alizarin - a red dye used for textile dyeing) have become more popular. Sarees, stoles, dupattas, suit materials, kurtis, bed sheets and other fabric furnishings utilize patterns of batik inspired from different walks of life and labour efficient techniques. Such a combination of colors and a patterned symmetry offer consumers a more holistic and a diverse product basket to choose from. Artisans practice wax printing with the hand, using a brush or with wooden blocks depending on the desired designs and type of fabrics. The 'crackle and ripple effect' of batik that originates owing to wax writing and dyeing transmuting fabrics into beautiful yellows, reds and blacks - is the unique selling point of this art.
Batik from Bhairavgarh has had its positive externalities benefiting adjoining districts and villages where water is abundantly available. It must be noted that batik fabric art is a result of interdependence among artisans - as each step involved in the art requires an altogether different form of expertise. This sequential order through a series of networks emanates into a spectacular couture - characterized with a mix of modern and traditional styling, thereby appealing to a wide variety of consumers. Such strong networks and clusters among the artisan community have additionally advanced social capital quotients of communities besides raising employment and incomes of artisans.
It must be noted that mostly men engage in this activity from specific communities owing to traditional occupational practices. However, this gender skewness in employment could be utilized as an opportunity to engage women within the batik industry. This is because traditionally speaking women are more likely to associate themselves with aesthetics and colors. An increasing engagement with women clusters and groups would also give them an opportunity to unleash their inherited artistic potential into thoughtful fabric designs.
Figuratively speaking too, batik utilizes instantaneous and spontaneous translations of imagination onto fabrics owing to which designing patterns and styles could be inspired from infinite choices of motif carvings, flowers or traditional figurines. It is, therefore, essential to create opportunities for women in this area as such an occupational expansion would not only have an economic advantage for women but would also go on to fulfill their creative interests and pursuits thereby providing for a fruitful respite from the social, familial and occupational chores - they are usually occupied with.