Moksha specialises in Batik and is committed to saving this extremely difficult skill from vanishing into oblivion.
Many of my clients have asked me what Batik is and why I keep saying it is so difficult to create a product or why it takes so long to deliver a saree or a kurta material.
This article is an attempt to address these questions and looks at the History of Batik as well.
Batik is a wax resist process dye process that dates back at least two thousand years. While the place of its actual origin is unknown, evidence of its practice has been found in most eastern and middle-eastern countries, including India, China, Japan , Persia, Egypt, and most abundantly in Indonesia, where it is still practised extensively today. The batiks produced in these areas are, as one would expect, reflective of each country’s culture, religion and surroundings.
The creation of batik is a three-stage process of waxing, dyeing and dewaxing (removing the wax). There are also several sub-processes like preparing the cloth, tracing the designs, stretching the cloth on the frame, waxing the area of the cloth that does not need dyeing, preparing the dye, dipping the cloth in dye, boiling the cloth to remove wax and washing the cloth in soap.
The characteristic effects of the batik are the fine cracks that appear in the wax, which allow small amounts of the dye to seep in. It is a feature not possible in any other form of printing. It is very important to achieve the right type of cracks or hairline detail for which the cloth must be crumpled correctly. This requires a lot of practice and patience.
Knowing how to use the wax is of prime importance. The ideal mixture for batik wax is 30 per cent beeswax and 70 per cent paraffin wax. For first timers even the melted wax of a candle is adequate. It is the skillful cracking that is important. While applying, the wax should not be overheated or it will catch fire.
Correct knowledge of colours is also important. The fabric can be dyed once, in one single colour or, after repeated waxing, dyed several times, until the desired effect is reached.
The cloth used should be strong enough to bear the heat and wax. Only natural fabric can be used for batik- it is not possible to do batik on Synthetic fabrics. Since ancient times Indians have been known to wear vibrant colours and dyes which were made from barks of trees, leaves, flowers and minerals. Blue was obtained from indigo, while orange and red were from henna. Yellow was from turmeric and lilac and mauve from logwood. Black was created by burning iron in molasses and cochineal from insects.
Handmade batik is unable to meet with the consumer demands –as it cannot be mass-produced.
Wax and dye combine to produce magic on cloth. Batik literally means “wax writings” in Javanese and is believed to have originated in the island of Java, Indonesia. The history of Batik in India can be traced as far back as 2000 years. Various antiquities point to the existence of the art form in ancient India so India too would like to stake claims to what has now become a very Indian art form. The wax process was brought to India by the late Rathindra Nath Tagore, son of the poet Rabindra Nath Tagore and it cannot be denied that Batik got a new lease of life after its revival in the Art schools of Viswa Bharati University, Shantiniketan. In the South, near Madras, the well-known artist’s village of Chola-Mandal is where batik gets an artistic touch. Batik that is produced in Madras is known for its original and vibrant designs.
Indonesia however is considered the cradle of batik with its many designs, which are restricted for different wearers and occasions. Indonesian batik has characters of mystic and ritualistic connection. Objects like flowers, trees, birds have a significant meaning. The Sawat in Javanese batik has its origins in Hindu mythology, as it is the decorative form of Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s bird. ‘Sidomukti’ is another Hindu influence in batik. ‘Mukti’ means happiness and prosperity in the Hindu mythology. While Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are known for their block printing (tjab) method to create batik on a large scale, in Sri Lanka batik is still made by hand. Sri Lankan batik is less intricate and more suited to modern times.
In the western countries, batik was introduced by the Dutch travellers from Indonesia. Batik is also practised by some of the African countries like Nigeria. The “wax resist’ technique used in this art form makes it both unique and viable. The artistic freedom that the medium offers makes it an approachable art form.
Contemporary batik, while owing much to the past, is markedly different from the more traditional and formal styles. For example, the artist may use etching, discharge dyeing, stencils, different tools for waxing and dyeing, wax recipes with different resist values and work with silk, cotton, wool, leather, paper or even wood and ceramics