Bandhini is the art of making a special type of design on cloth which started thousands of years ago. Even people of the Indus Valley Civilization are believed to have practiced it. A painting in the 6th Century Ajanta Caves shows women wearing clothes with bandhani designs. This is the oldest record we have now of this particular art form.
What is interesting is that, though it’s an ancient art, it is still trendy. Bandhini dupattas, sarees, salwar suits, scarves and turbans are considered very fashionable.
This art is now mainly practiced in western India – Rajasthan and Gujarat – and also in parts of Uttar Pradesh in the East and Tamil Nadu in the South, where it is known as Sungudi or Chungudi.
The word bandhini is from the Sanskrit word bandh which means tie, and that’s a clue about how it’s done. People who make these designs usually grow their nails, and use them to pluck up portions of cloth, usually white cotton fabric. They tie and knot these plucked up portions tightly with thread, to form patterns. Then the cloth is dipped in dye. The areas that are tied do not absorb the dye, and when the thread is removed after the cloth dries, those areas show up as white dots. Sometimes, the cloth is tied again after the first dip, and dyed in another shade, so the dots can be multi-coloured. Because of the way it’s done, bandhani is sometimes known as ‘tie-and-dye’.
Red, blue, green, yellow and black are traditional colours used in bandhini work. The patterns depend on the way the knots are done – single, double, three knots and so on – and in the way the knots are arranged – to form spirals, squares, mountains, etc. Whatever the pattern, bandhani is very popular in India and abroad.