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Bandhani – the Royal Colours of the Desert

Bandhani, or tie-and-dye, is a craft that is popularly practised all over India. There are Bandhani centres in Gujarat, Punjab and Tamil Nadu (where the craft is known as Sungudi), but for all practical purposes, Rajasthan is most popular as the region for the best Bandhani in India.

Binds of Bandhani

Bandhani is a way of decorating fabric by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings and dyeing the cloth after that to form motifs using the tied dots. With its roots in the land of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Bandhani is one of the most recognisable Indian textile decoration forms. Having been around since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the term bandhani comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Bandha’ which means ‘to tie’. This is why bandhani is said to be synonymous with the ‘tying’ of good fortunes to your life.

The process of making a bandhani is quite fascinating in itself. The fabric (mostly cotton, silk or chiffon) on which the pattern is to be made is washed to remove all starch. It is then marked by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a design. Patterns such as dots, stripes, waves or squares (formed by first tying small portions of the fabric at intervals with continuous thread and then dyeing it) are common. The fabric is pinched at each marked dot and pushed into peaks helped by a fingernail or small metal point, and a thread is tied around about six to eight times. A knot is looped around, and the same line of thread is used to tie the next dot, and so on. Bandhani is used to embellish sarees, dupattas stoles, shawls, odhnis, safas, turbans, rumals or any other fabric. The tying is usually done by women (whose fingers are more nimble and dexterous to pick and pinch the fabric), and the dying by men – at least that is how in old days the division of labour was done.

Asides from the basic tying techniques, other processes include Mothra, Ekdali and Shikari depending on the manner in which the cloth is tied. The final products are known with various names including Khombi, Ghar Chola, Patori and Chandrokhani.

Whether it is sarees or turbans, bandhani is supposed to denote social stature in Rajasthan. The different patterns distinguish a man of one community from that of another. The gadariyas, the cattle herders, for example, almost always wear rust or maroon turbans. The kshatriyas or warrior community favours saffron. Different colours have different meaning and the same holds true even in bandhani. For women, red represents a bride or recently married girl, a yellow coloured background says that a lady has become a mother recently. Also, the colours, as well as the patterns on the fabric, indicate the community the women belongs. Farming communities mostly favour leaves or tikunthis (circular or geometrical patterns in groups of three) on shades of green. Royals prefer peacocks, lotuses and so on – in deep and vibrant colours such as red, purple and ochre.


Bandhani art is a highly skilled process, requires expert hands and involves all in all 5 steps. A particular area of the fabric is dyed and the same is then outlined using fugitive colours. A thin transparent sheet of plastic is placed, which has pin holes over the dyed area of the fabric and with fugitive colour, a desired pattern is imprinted on the fabric. After this, the expert hands of an artisan pull on the part of the fabric where there is an imprint of the hole and wrap tightly with a nylon thread the protruding cloth to form knots – referred to as ‘bhindi’. After the knots have been tied, the fabric is meticulously washed to get rid of the imprint. It is then dipped in naphthol (a crystalline solid derived from naphthalene) for few minutes and dyed in either yellow or some other light colour for two or three minutes. The fabric is then rinsed, squeezed and dried before tying it again and soaking in a dark colour for 3 to 4 hours. During the soaking in the dark colour, the small area below the thread resists the dye, thereby, leaving an undyed dot. The entire process is usually executed in several stages, which starts from a light color and gradually moving to a darker one. After the last dyeing, the fabric is washed and sometimes starched. On drying, the cloth’s folds are pulled apart, thus, releasing the knots and revealing an elegant pattern. The fabric is often folded to make the processes quicker, while also creating a mirrored design. The number of stages of tying and dyeing depends on the number of colours and complexity of the design. Often the bandhani cloths are sold with the threads still on the cloths to prove it is a genuine hand tie-dyed article, and the customer then has the pleasure of revealing the pattern for themselves.


Text and images by Aarti Kapur Singh

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