Rangrez, A Muslim Marwari Dyeing Community

Rangrez

A Muslim Marwari Dyeing Community of Kolkata

Also see: Vanishing Professions of Kolkata (Calcutta)

Cloth, as well as yearns, of bright shades hanging from terraces to dry, is a common sight around the area of Nakhoda Masjid, in Chitpur area of Central Kolkata. This is the world of Rangrez!!!

A dyeing process in progress in a Rangrez Workshop, near Nakhoda Masjid, Chitpur, Kolkata

A dyeing process in progress in a Rangrez Workshop, near Nakhoda Masjid, Chitpur, Kolkata

Rangrez, a Muslim Marwari speaking community, dyes for a living. Today the rangrez community in Kolkata numbers around 3000 and few of families still practice the traditional method of dyeing.

Measuring the raw material at a Rangrez Workshop

Measuring the raw material at a Rangrez Workshop

Kolkataa (then Calcutta) was once the capital of the mighty British Empire and the hub of business activity and attracted different business communities from far and wide.

In came the Armenians, Greeks, Portuguese, Jews, Parses, Gujratis and Marwaris.

The Marwaris, a thriving business community, from Rajasthan, made their journey, across the entire length of the country and settled in Kolkata, in search of a fortune.

As more and more Marawaris settled in Kolkata and soon their families followed. They soon felt the need of their traditional practices. As marriages started taking place, there was a need of peelas (yellow dupattas) and pagdis (head gear). two essential requirements for a traditional Marawari Hindu wedding.

Tools of the Rangrez trade. Top Left: powder dye, Top Right: Mixing dye in water, Bottom Left & Right: Mixing different dyes to get new dye

Tools of the Rangrez trade. Top Left: powder dye, Top Right: Mixing dye in water, Bottom Left & Right: Mixing different dyes to get new dye

In came the Rangrez, the Muslim Rangrez community has always taken a great pride in dyeing the peelas (yellow dupattas) pagdis (head gear).

Order sheets, Rangrez workshop

Order sheets, Rangrez workshop

Large portions of Rajasthan have been a dry and arid land and the job of rangrez, which depended entirely on water, was a tough one.

But in Kolkata it was a different story, with the city located next to the mighty Hooghly River there was no shortage of water.

The newly arrived rangrez, using their language connection and relative references soon started picking up orders.

They dyed in large earthen containers in Chitpur area and took the clothes to dry in Kolkata Maidan. With the easy arability of water business soon flourished and many even made a fortune.

A mono - colour dyeing process in progress

A mono – colour dyeing process in progress

With the passage of time and the advent of new technologies many of the rangrez shifted from their traditional dyeing process to the mechanized dyeing process and set up factories in and around Kolkata.

A di - colour dyeing process in progress

A di – colour dyeing process in progress

But there are many, who still practice the traditional way of dyeing clothes and the colourfull clothes left to dry in the terraces of Chitpur area are still a reminder of the once flourishing trade of the rangrez.

Checking a sample

Checking a sample

Today several of these rangrez operates in the Chitpur area and visiting their workshop can be a colourful experience.

Work starts around 10 am on weekdays, but it depends on the volume of order. First the cloth is measured and verified with the order sheet.

The order sheet itself is very interesting and consists of a piece of paper with the length of raw materials written.

The around the order sheet paper are stapled pieces of bits of cloth, similar to colourful ribbons.

These ribbons represents the colour that needs to be dyed. Once the colour is complete the rangrez ties a knot on the particular ribbon indicating the particular colouring process is complete.

Semi finished goods, Rangrez Workshop, Chitpur, Kolkata

Semi finished goods, Rangrez Workshop, Chitpur, Kolkata

The dye comes in the form of powder and are mixed with water to obtain the colours. Then several of these colours are mixed in specified proportions to obtained the required colour. The colours are synthetic and purchased from local market. Organic colours, used for special orders, are hand made.

Electric Drier, Rangrez Workshop

Electric Drier, Rangrez Workshop

The mixing happens in warm water, kept in aluminium tubs, as the the earthen tubs are no longer in use.

The mixing of the colours in the right proportion requires amazing skills and colours like orange, blue and yellow mixed in the right proportion can produce a off-white colour.

The dyeing can happen in mono – color or multi colour. In case of mono colour the process is simple.

After the colours are mixed in slightly warm water in the right proportion, the entire cloth is dipped in the container and trampled with foot.

Dyed cloth drying in the sun

Dyed cloth drying in the sun

Slowly the undyed cloth absorbs the colour and finally it is checked with the sample provided. Checking of the sample requires an expert eye.

If dyed colour matches with the sample, the work is complete. If it does not match the sample, colours are again mixed in required proportion to obtain the right colour.

The process may be repeated several times till the dyed colour matches the sample.

After the dyeing is complete the cloth is drained of water and put into a drying machine. It looks like a small washing machine and operating principle is same as the drying section of a washing machine. Finally it is sun dried and supplied back to the client.

Coloured stones

Coloured stones

For muti – colour the process is much more complicated, although mixing of the colour is the same as mono – colour.

There is no trampling and the portion of the cloth that needs to be dyed is dipped in the water by hand and held for the required amount of time.

Checking of sample and drying part is same as the previous process and after the cloth is fully dry it is repeated for the other colours and the process can even continue for days. Today the rangrez also colours buttons, stones (American Diamonds) and beeds.

Now a days making money out of water and little bit of dye is not easy. With mechanized dyeing taking over the traditional rangrez and the with Chinese fabric coming in every hue and shade has made the rangrez’s job a tough one. Also with the young generation getting attracted to other profession and trades the rangrez is fast becoming a vanishing profession.

L: Rangrez Workshop, C: Mono Colour Dyeing, R: Di Colour Dyeing

L: Rangrez Workshop, C: Mono Colour Dyeing, R: Di Colour Dyeing

Still today the colourfull clothes left to dry on the terraces of Chitpur area in central Kolkata still attracts the attention of casual passerby, but the story of the rangrez remains forgotten and may soon be lost.

Special Thanks:

Md. Arif Solanki & Solanki Md. Zahid: These photos were shot in the rangrez workshops of Md. Arif Solanki & Solanki Md. Zahid. They deserve a special thanks for not only allowing me to shoot in their workshop but also provided valuable information about their trade.

Swati Mantri: Swati Mantri, a sociologist and research scholar at IIT (Delhi) and researching on the Marawaris of Kolkata deserves a special thanks for putting me in touch with the Md. Arif Solanki & Solanki Md. Zahid.

Iftekhar Ahsan: Iftekar Ahsan of Calcutta Walks, a rangrez himself, was the first one to inform me about the rangrez community. His blog on rangrez provided valuable information for my article.

 

 

 

  1. June 19, 2016 at 1:35 AM

    May I expect a book from you, a compilation of your great posts? I would certainly cherish your composition. Blogs are read in so casual way, I don’t get to recollect readings.

    • June 19, 2016 at 4:09 PM

      Dear Vama, a book is definitely in the agenda, but not sure when it will come up

  2. June 19, 2016 at 10:14 AM

    One of very best blogpost in recent times. Try sending this to National Geographic Traveller.

  3. Sarajit
    June 19, 2016 at 12:40 PM

    New learning within my city!
    Very informative Rangan. I salute your efforts behind raising Kolkata’s heritage to the world.
    Both thumbs up!!!

    Thanks and regards
    Sarajit

    • June 19, 2016 at 4:08 PM

      Thank you Sarajit for all the inspiring words.

  4. June 19, 2016 at 1:29 PM

    Nice to know about the rangrez community. A refreshing read.

  5. June 21, 2016 at 9:36 AM

    Absolutely fabulous article. I loved reading this very insightful piece. I stay in Delhi and here too in every market there are these men who set up stalls and dye fabric in huge aluminum ‘patilas’, creating daily magic.

    • June 21, 2016 at 10:58 PM

      Delhi probably has more Rangreez than Kolkata. Also can you specify the areas in Delhi, where the rangrez operates?? Thanks and keep blogging

  6. Sims
    June 21, 2016 at 2:26 PM

    A good read Rangan. Good one.

  7. June 21, 2016 at 3:32 PM

    Love this story, just awesome🙂

    • June 21, 2016 at 6:22 PM

      Thanks Prasun, keep shooting and blogging

  8. July 10, 2016 at 5:14 PM

    Very informative post. Pictures added to the insightful writing about rangrez. Thanks for this post.

  9. August 31, 2016 at 1:42 PM

    Excellent post on a very interesting topic. Loved it. Thank you for sharing.

    • August 31, 2016 at 9:38 PM

      Thanks Maverick Bird, keep travelling and blogging

  10. Madan Mohan Chakraborty
    August 31, 2016 at 3:35 PM

    Dear Rangan,

    Your post on varied subjects bring so much of light, excitement and knowledge to my mind, cant be written or explained. I sincerely think you are one of the greatest gift of Calcutta. Keep on writing, exploring and educating others. If I can help in anyway, let me know. ….. Bhalo theko … Swing

    • August 31, 2016 at 9:41 PM

      Dear Swing, this comment of yours is a huge source of inspiration!!! You have helped me before regarding my Kolkata exploration, but I do have plans for exploring the city together.

  11. Suvendu Rudra
    October 4, 2016 at 12:10 AM

    Wonderful!Splendid!
    I didn’t ever heard about the community,and it’s rarely discovered ,Pl. Carry-on!

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