Chhapa is a traditional print made for Muslim brides and all women's relatives coming for their wedding in Bihar. It is said that in the Muslim upper castes, weddings cannot take place without this specially printed cloth.
Chappa print is made from silver foil design which is embossed on the cloth with a special wooden block. The artisans involved in it are from the Rangrez community, considered socially and economically backward. The printing of Chappa is done in Gaya, Bihar Sharif, Aurangabad of Bihar while this cloth is available in markets of Darbhanga, Siwan, Muzaffarpur, and Patna.
The dress sent by the groom to the bride for wearing in her wedding ceremony is usually in the Chappa print.
The Chappa cloth dates back to the beginning of the 19th century.
Doctor Francis Buchanan who came to India as an employee of the East India Company wrote an article in his journal somewhere between 1811 and 1812 in which he briefly mentioned the chappa design. Buchanan visited various districts of Bihar, including Gaya and he wrote a lot about the tradition of Bihar’s Muslims wearing Chhapa cloth for weddings.
Over time, due to the evolution of the fashion industry, the custom of wearing Chhapa clothes has decreased on other occasions and yet it is a strong element of weddings in Bihar, especially among Muslims.
According to tradition, the groom's family gives various gifts to the bride and her relatives, which is called 'Dala.'.
The cloth part of 'Dala' is also made of printed material. All the attire of the bride is made of printed cloth. The silver Tabak is printed on sarees, suits, salwars, garrahs, shararahs, lehengas, and other dresses using design blocks made of wood.
Apart from Chappa being used as a dress for the bride, the cloth is also used for making bed covers and curtains.
There is also a tradition of keeping a handkerchief made of Chhapa in the groom's hand on the wedding day.
Mustaqeem Akhtar Rangrez, leader of the Rangrez Jagran Manch – an association of cloth printers - says that the silver layer in Chapa is very important from the physical and medical point of view as it energizes the wearer.
Chhapa clothes are popular not only in Bihar but also abroad. Apart from Pakistan, Bangladesh, America, Canada and Australia, Bihari Muslim families living in other states of India buy only clothes made of Chhapa for weddings.
Chhapa clothes are a roaring business. According to the associated businessman Muhammad Mustafa and artisan Muhammad Wasim, people think that the wedding ceremony is incomplete without printed clothes.
Chappa clothes are prepared and sent to the markets of Bihar and other states of the country, including the Bihari families settled abroad. Mustafa says that during the partition, some Bihari families had gone to Pakistan but they followed their traditions.
He said that with the changing fashion, the design is also being changed. According to Wasim, printed clothes are sold in large numbers during the wedding season.
Chappa is made from chemicals and layers with a delicate design of flower petals etc. on an artisan wooden frame with intricate designs of flower petals. Apart from gum and adhesive, some chemicals are also added to the boiling water on the stove and it is heated vigorously.
It is applied on a wooden structure and imprinted on the clothes. While printing on the clothes, they are placed on the top layer, which is silver in color like paper, and then it is beaten. Pressure is applied so that the layer sticks completely.
After washing the printed cloth two or three times, it starts fading but the shine remains. Artisan Mohammad Naushad says that he is used to working with chemicals. Printing of one saree costs 500-600 rupees while is s sold for Rs 1000.
He said that at present there has been a sudden increase in its demand in the market. “We sell clothes for women of all ages. The specialty of Chhapa cloth is that it’s low cost,” Ghazala Parveen, a resident of New Karimganj, said.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also formed the Rangrez Artisan Development Committee to save this trade from extinction and for its development. However, due to red tape, the committee is not active.
A key member of the committee, Mustaqeem Rangrez told Awaz-the Voice. We hope that if this committee starts working fully then the pain and suffering of the printing community will go away.
The artisans want Chappa to be accorded the same status that products sold under the Khadi Village Industries board are.