Traditional Khari printing used the dust of precious metals to ornament plain or printed textiles with motifs patterning them with the sparkle of gold and silver for wear at weddings and festivities. Simulating the look of the high-priced Zardozi metal thread embroidery, the age old printing process remains the same though the use of precious metal dust has been largely substituted by crushed mica - chamki and other more affordable metal dust. Traditionally practiced across Rajasthan in its erstwhile royal capitals, the city of Jaipur continues to have a vibrant Khari hand printing community practicing their oral hereditary tradition. While in the neighboring State of Gujarat, only the family of Nathubhai Rangrez, who migrated to Ahmadabad from Jaipur, in the 1960’s, continues the tradition of handprinting Khari.
Unlike other block printing processes Khari printing is a surface embellishment and does not permeating the textile surface. Its usage thus extending to plain, dyed, printed, embroidered or otherwise finished textiles. Though originally printed on different varieties of cotton or silk, the versatility of the printer now extends not only to the wide range of textile fibers’ now available, but to paper as well.
The process starts with the specially prepared Roghan gum paste made of a cooked mixture of castor oil that has been processed through repeated boiling till it forms a thick, viscous, gooey mass. Followed by the addition of other ingredients that include turpentine, further heated, thickened and strained till the paste achieves the acceptable printing consistency.
The stamping tools used in Khari printing are also different from other forms of block printing. An ingenuous system it uses two different blocks, close fitted into each other, rather like a glove. The outer sancha metal case made of brass, the design to be printed perforated onto the surface of its base. The sancha can be round, square, or any shape that is suitable for the purpose. The inner componTent of the sancha is the hatha wooden mallet, fitting perfectly into the metal sleeve. The hatha performs the task of a plunger. Operating on a principle similar to an extrusion used for savouries or pasta, the hatha forces the thick viscous roghan paste through the perforation to form the motif on the textile. This is only the first phase in the printing process.
While the roghan paste has not yet set, metal powders or mica abrakh powders are dusted on, adhering to the roghan. When dried any excess powder is removed and saved for further use, while the glittering textile is ready for use.
A wide range of motifs can be created, the only constraint in Khari work being that the patterns be fashioned of smallish dots and dashes as long and heavy lines or filled motifs stiffen the surface reducing drapability. The finished product replicates the luxury of metal thread embroidery.
To meet changing demands the craftspersons have extended their repertoire beyond metallic finishes. Using the adhesive roghan paste as the base they offer a flock finish using cotton, viscose and nylon fiber dust; Varak gold and silver leaf finish; and aluminum and synthetic foil finishes.
While demand for sparkling motifs on textile products continues unabated both from both traditional and new clientele, the numbers engaged in this age old technique of Khari printing is on the decline. Severe competition from the cheaper, faster process of silk-screen printing is ringing in its death knell.