Tharangini is one of Bangalore's best block-printers, specialising in organic and natural dyes & fabrics. It was started in 1977 by Lakshmi Srivasthsa.
Lakshmi became interested in the Handloom Movement and traditional Indian crafts whilst studying Art in Delhi in the 1960’s but didn’t pursue a creative career until her children had all begun school.
A family friend helped her to realise her dream of creating modern jobs for traditional craftsmen. And today Tharangini has one of the largest collections of new and antique blocks in India.
Intent on preserving old crafts and techniques, even in the 1970’s Lakshmi was aware of the environmental impact of her services, opting to use only natural dyes.
“Our aim was to be a one-stop source for artists and the community, and to help under-privileged women” (Lakshmi, 1997).
Being based in Karnataka, the silk state, meant that for 30 years Tharangini dealt only with silks, developing modern designs using traditional technology.
Each length of cloth is washed, pressed and secured on the long printing tables. Complicated designs may sometimes be marked out using string to keep the lines straight but the expert printers need little guidance.
Years of experience has given them rhythmic precision as they pat the block in the ink and apply just the right amount of pressure on the cloth to ensure the necessary consistency of the long, unbroken designs.
Lakshmi’s daughter Padmini moved to the US to raise her own family, and with no internet, website or email, when her American friends inquired about block-printing, she would send them to stay on the impressive grounds which houses Tharangini.
Hidden away in the middle of urban Bangalore, the grounds consist of a 10 acre tropical estate, gifted to Lakshmi’s father by the Maharaja of Mysore in 1952, (at which point Mr Srivasthsa was already looking into reducing the waste produced in the silk industry!). Lakshmi's extended family have lived here ever since.
The studios have been built around, rather than on top of, the oasis. One of the newer buildings takes this literally:
In 2007 Padmini came back to Bangalore to work with her mother and has since taken over of the family business. At about the same time, realising that demand for silk was dwindling, they began to work with cottons and linens.
Many of Padmini’s international clients are interior designers who require very precise colour matching - because a swatch will be used to match paint and furniture etc. And it becomes vital that the dyes do not fade as curtains in particular, might spend their lives in direct sunlight.
Due to seasonal harvesting, the natural dyes can be limited so moving from silk to cotton required new techniques.
They needed colour fasteners, which require chemicals but wanted to remain true to their green roots. So many years were spent researching and testing new alternatives.
The result is a happy, thriving, family business which caters to home furnishers, clothing designers, corporations and artists. Padmini is keeping the familial atmosphere alive, when I visited I was invited to lunch with her and her father in their home on the estate (it was probably the best meal of my two-week trip!).
After the feast I was given the opportunity to have a go myself and it was NOT as easy as they made it look. My elephants came out all blotchy and a managed to both bruise my hand and hit the man kind enough to help me as I attempted to bash the block into place.