The word batik is Indonesian and is derived from the Javanese root-word tik 1 meaning “a ﬁne point”, 2 “dot” or “droplet” . 3 Batik is woven cloth, horizontally disposed to receive a ﬂ at resist imposed on either or both sides. Th e technique involves the temporary juxta- position of a ﬂ at area of a dye-resistant substance onto part of the surface of one or both sides of the cloth before dyeing. One of the following dye-resistants may be employed: mud, wax, starch, bean- ﬂ our paste, boards and stencils. In the case of the resist pastes (i.e. mud, wax, starch, bean-ﬂ our paste, etc.) application may be either by (a) hand or (b) a block or some other semi-mechanical device, the manner of application (e.g. with block, ﬁ ngertip, kalam, etc.) being immaterial for purposes of deﬁ nition of the technique as batik.
All cloths in which the above-deﬁ ned technique enters partly or wholly into the production of their patterns may be deﬁ ned as batiks. Th ese will include cloths traditionally called pintadoes (from Portuguese pintado, meaning “painting”) paintings, chintzes (from Sanskrit citra, meaning “variegated”, giving Hindi chint, whence English (plural form) chintz), sarassa (from Hindi sarasa, meaning “superior”, giving Indonesian and Malay serasah),4 palempore (from Hindi palang, “plank”, i.e. bed, and Persian posh, “cover”), kalamkari 5 (from Arabic kalam, “pen” and Persian kari, “work”), etc., in which hand-painting and block-printing may also enter into the manufacture at some stage or other. Nevertheless, not all cloths called pintadoes, paintings and chintzes, sarassas, kalamkaris, palempores, etc. are necessarily batiks in the sense deﬁ ned above, as in some cases no resist process enters into their manufacture. Th ese classes belong to an Islamic tradition which stems, ultimately from Persia, an aristocratic tradition which usually involves highly specialised graphic skills and superior materials, not least of all the cloths which form the ground for the painting. Th e design deco- rating such a cloth covers to entire surface area, and forms a picture whose boundaries are those of the cloth itself. Th e designs usually feature naturalistic or stylised plant-forms but also incorporating naturalistic, heraldic or stylised animal-forms, and feature such Islamic motifs as the “tree of life” pattern, “Persian cone” and buti (“ﬂ oral nosegay”). Among these painted cloths, however, are some which belong to an even older native Indian tradition, they feature subjects taken from Hindu religious iconography, such as the marriage of Siva and Parvati, and Durga killing the buﬀ alo demon. Th ey are cloths usually complete in themselves: e.g. palempores (“bed-spreads”) and Th ai (Siamese) panungs, and other cloths meant for clothing, and therefore of traditional conventional size (not, as in the case of the native Indian-village-painted-cloths and other decorated coarse textiles, of indeﬁ nite length (i.e. running cloths) such as are made in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and in which a simple motif is repeated ad lib to form an overall decoration on the cloth). Th ey are of the raja tradition, which has spilt over into a substrate of traditional village Indian cloth production. Th ese aristocratic cloths are costly, intricate, widely ranging in distribution and local inﬂ uence. Until about ﬁ fty years ago, painted cloths were mainly produced on the Coromandel Coast, in Madras State, in Andhra Pradesh, and in parts of western India. Th e chief centres were Golconda (in the 17th century6 ), Masulipatam, Sadras, Nagapattinam, Salem, Pondicherry, Kumbakonam, Pallakolu and Kalahasti (in the 19th century) in south India, and Sironj Burhanpur, Ahmedabad and Sanganer in western India.
Today, painted cloths are produced only in small quantities. Hindu temple cloths, whose designs are block-printed and then mordanted by hand, are still being made at Ahmedabad by some Vaghri Harijan families.8 Th e only colours used are red and black. At Masulipatam, batik is produced by block-printing the resist, often combined with block-printing of the dye. At Pondicherry, the alum-madder process, eﬀ ected by hand, is (or was) combined with the wax-resist process, whereas at Kalahasti only the alum/ madder process is employed in making hand-painted kalamkaris. At Tiruvottriyur, near Madras, alum-mordanted, block-printed kalamkaris are made in a small factory owned by one man, Ventakaraman. Painted cloths are also manufactured in parts of Madras State and Andhra Pradesh where isolated pockets of the craft may continue to survive.
Whereas the painted cloths are said to be of the “mosaic and inlay tradition”, the native Indian village-prints are said to belong to the “earth” tradition.9 Th ey are repeat patterns hand-printed by means of wood-blocks dipped in resist pastes made up of such substances as clay, lime, gum, resin and jaggery (palm sugar) in various combinations, and therefore known as mud-resists. Th ey come mainly from Gujarat and Rajasthan. “Resist cloth dyeing in the earth tradition survives today in innumerable villages in Gujarat, Kathiawar, Rajputana and central India. Th e most famous centres are Rajpur Desa near Palanpur, Baroda and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, Bagasara, Surendranagar, Cutch in Kathiawar and Sanganer, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer in Rajputana.”10 Nathdwara near Udaipur is also an important production center.
Th e batik technique, being almost the easiest way to pattern a cloth, and perhaps the most elemental, is practised widely throughout East and Southeast Asia. In many parts of China, but especially in central China, the ancient art of indigo printing, using bean-ﬂ our paste as resist, ﬂ ourishes as an indigenous craft, having a marked peasant character and great vitality not without a certain charm and even elegance in some cases.11 Th e favourite motifs are symbolic plants and animals, human ﬁ gures, Chinese ideographs and mythical beasts such as the phoenix and the unicorn. Hsu Chen-peng outlines brieﬂ y the method of producing indigo prints in China. “Stiﬀ paper is used, coated with tung 12 or persimmon oil, and the design cut out of it as in a stencil. Th is is placed over the undyed cloth, and a paste of lime and bean-ﬂ our applied through the cut portions with a knife. It should be noted that the stencilled part is the white portion in the ﬁ nished product. Th e paste is allowed to dry on the white cloth, which is subsequently dipped in indigo dye. Th e dye does not ‘take’ on cloth under the paste. Th e cloth is dried in the open air, and then scraped to remove the excess lime.”