Rangrez, A Muslim Marwari Dyeing Community
A Muslim Marwari Dyeing Community of Kolkata
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!!!
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.
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.
In came the Rangrez, the Muslim Rangrez community has always taken a great pride in dyeing the peelas (yellow dupattas) pagdis (head gear).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.