The Ayurvastra Dyeing Process
To create the subtle yet beautiful colors of their ayurvastra fabrics, HWDS workers begin by bleaching all-natural cotton or yarn with a cow urine-based preparation, which is used traditionally in rituals to bathe Hindu idols.2 They dry the fabric in direct sunlight and then apply a gumming substance, containing plants like Aloe vera (Xanthorrhoeaceae) and camphor (Cinnamomum camphora, Lauraceae), and then dip it into a concoction called kashaya that contains up to 40 medicinal plants, one of which is the primary herb selected for its specific wellness benefits. The gumming substances help the kashaya take hold, giving the fabrics their colors. The fabric is left to dry for 3 days and then kept in a room for 15 days for “seasoning,” a period of time that allows the fabric to dry completely and the kashaya to settle in to the fabric. It is then washed, dried in the shade, and seasoned for another 15 days.
“It is a process that requires manual labor that involves handling large pieces of fabric that get heavy when wet dipping and wringing,” said Rajan and Kumar. “It requires attention and focus to ensure standards, like timing and consistency.” (An online video of the workers creating ayurvastra fabrics can be viewed atwww.youtube.com/watch?v=Nx5iClrkqPw.)
Current Vastra products include shirts in 6 different colors: Yellow (main herb is turmeric [Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae]); blue (main herb is indigo [Indigofera tinctoria, Fabaceae]); olive green (main herb is holy basil or tulsi [Ocimum tenuiflorum, Lamiaceae]); beige (main herb is neem [Azadirachta indica, Meliaceae]); gray (main herb is vetiver [Chrysopogon zizanioides, Poaceae]); and light peach (main herb is sandalwood [Santalum album, Santalaceae]). These are available through Vastra’s website at www.vastra.us. Bed sheets are also available in turmeric, tulsi, and a sunset color dyed specifically for sleep-enhancing benefits. According to Narayan, the herbs that HWDS uses are either organically grown or wild crafted and sustainably harvested by local tribal groups. Even sandalwood, he said, is certified as sustainable by the Forest Department of India.