Rangrez - A Vanishing Community of Kolkata

Rangrez Cloth Dying Technique by Hand

Rangrez a Muslim Marwari community whose tradition involves dyeing of clothes by hand in Kolkata is vanishing soon. Yes, you read it right a unique culture,  heritage, and way of living will vanish from the city of Kolkata in the next 10 years if we don't do anything about it. Every year many cultures, communities, heritage vanish from the face of the earth due to modernization and this photo story is one such example of it where communities are vanishing from Kolkata in India.

While I was walking through the lanes of Kolkata in search of the Rangrez community who dye the clothes with hands using colors I remembered the Bollywood song from the Bollywood movie Tanu Weds Manu which means- "my Rangrez tell me which color have to put in the water with love"

Aye rangrez mere,
Aye rangrez mere,
Yeh baat bata rangrez mere,
Yeh kaun se paani mein tu ne,
Kaun sa rang ghola hain…

These days only 10-15 families out of 3000+ Rangrez community practice the art. Rest all of them have shifted to other work. And if the current plight of the Rangrez community continues within 10 years these 10-15 families will stop practicing the art of dyeing clothes using their hands.

History of Rangrez Community

Rangrez community is either Muslim Rajputs or of Persian ethnicity. The actual Muslim Rangrez community used to live in Northern India. Their main occupation was dyeing and printing clothes and in early days they used organic colors and dyed clothes with their hands. 

The word Rangrez is of Persian origin which means a person who pours colors of dyes. The Muslim Rangrez community is converted people from Hindu Rangrez community. Some Muslim Rangrez migrated to Pakistan or Bangladesh during the 1947 Partition. 

The Rangrez community were a part of the Marwari community in Rajasthan. With time Rajasthan became dry and arid which led to the depletion of water sources. Since the work of Rangrez community depended on the use of huge quantity of water they were forced to move out of Rajasthan.
The best place for them was to move to Kolkata which no shortage of water due to the Hooghly river which flows in the city.  In earlier years they used to dye clothes at their home or workshop and took the clothes to Maidan area to dry them. Few people from the Rangrez community made fortunes through dyeing of clothes.

Current Situation of Rangrez Community

After the industrial revolution and as machines started arriving in Kolkata, the Rangrez community started using machines and slowly the art of dyeing clothes using hands started vanishing. Many people from Rangrez community who couldn't afford to buy expensive machines took other professions.

However approx 10-15 families from Rangrez community in Kolkata still practice the art of dyeing clothes in the old traditional ways using hands.

The Rangrez community gets Rs 130 per kilo for dyeing the clothes. This is not a sustainable cost as they end up losing almost Rs 20,000-Rs30,000 per year if the cost of raw materials, cost of the process and labor is considered.

How the Clothes are Dyed by Rangrez Community

Visiting a workshop of this Rangrez community is a colorful experience. This photo story shows how the clothes are dyed using hands and aims at documenting the same for the future generations when this art of dyeing might not exist.

Step 1: Preparation of Colours

Currently, the Rangrez community uses chemical dyes instead of earlier organic dyes.

The colored dyes come in powder form and there are two types of dyes one which mixes in cold water and the other which mixes in hot water.

The colors are weighed. The wrong weight and proportions will give wrong color tinge and hue. The measurement comes with experience and this is a secret which is passed through the generations. The weight needs to be perfect to give the cloth the right color.

Step 2: Preparation of Liquid Colour for Dyeing

The color is mixed in water in large aluminum tubs. If the color mixes in hot water, the water is boiled and then the color is mixed in the hot water. 

Step 3: Preparation of Cloth for the Dyeing Process

The cloth has to be prepared before the same can be dyed.
The cloth which needs to be dyed in first dipped in plain hot water and then pressed by hand to take out the water. This process is extremely tedious and requires strength as every drop of water needs to be taken out before the same can be put in the tub filled with colors.

Step 4: Colouring the Cloth

After every drop of water is taken out from the cloth the same is carried to the aluminum tub which has colored water which will be used for dyeing.

The cloth is dipped in boiling colored water. Since the water is hot the cloth is dipped in the color using aluminum rods.

During the entire process of putting the cloth and dyeing the hot colored water needs to boil and can't go cold.

The process of coloring the cloth which uses cold water for dyeing the clothes is relatively easier and the same can be done anywhere and even on the roads.

Step 5: Taking out the Clothes for Drying

After the clothes get the desired colors the same is taken out of the colored vats and prepared for drying. The clothes which require Hot colors are relatively tougher to take out as the clothes need to be taken out from hot water by hand and then the steaming cloth needs to be kept for the drying process.

Step 6: Final Step Drying the Clothes

The final step in dyeing the clothes is drying them to ship. The colored clothes are taken to the rooftops for drying. The drying takes approximately 4-5 hours if there is enough sunshine.

If you would like to visit this place drop me a mail.
Kindly share this article so that people come to know about this vanishing community and it reaches the right people who appreciate handmade clothes and they place an order from the Rangrez community which helps in sustaining their livelihood.

Let Shoestring Travel know in the below comments whether you have played your part to help any vanishing community survive.

Shoestring Travel


  1. What i like about these photographs specially the blog is that they capture the complete lifecycle of Rangrez and their perceived threats. However they will also have to revolutionize to stay competitive i.e. Taking up a small kiosk in a shopping mall from where they can accept orders and do the delivery, Tieup with dry cleaners from where they can get incremental orders, can go online with Urban Clap etc.

  2. Appreciating the persistence you put into your blog and detailed information you offer.
    It's good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same
    old rehashed material. Great read! I've saved your site
    and I'm adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  3. Beautiful photos in your post. Thanks for all the explanation, I felt I was experiencing it myself.

  4. Such an interesting read. I feel it is not just Rangrez alone who are suffering; countless of other local artisans are facing the same issues due to automation. It is important to let the word out so that something can be done in this regard.

  5. This is such an interesting post. I really loved the photos, they are really awesome. You have touched upon an interesting issue of local artisans. Thanks for sharing

  6. Oh. Thats so sad to know.

    Thanks to responsible bloggers like you, who brings out such important things out and readers get aware.


  7. so much hard work Rangrez community does and the industrial revolution has eaten up their cost of living

  8. That's such a beautiful insiight into this vanishing artisan community so well captured in your blog post.

  9. This is a detailed post about Rangrez community and their hardworking. You have captured each step of process so well in the post and in pictures too.

  10. This is really sad! We have such a rich culture and we are losing it all along with our skills due to this crazy modernization! Thank you for sharing about this community!

  11. Never heard about Ranrez but your post made me curious to know more about them.. Local artisans need to be preserved

  12. This is such an interesting post. Great to learn so much about the Rangrez community.



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