The Making Of Dyes And Pigments
Many dyes and pigments were extracted in ancient India from vegetable and mineral bases. The Greek historian Ktesias who lived in the 4th century B.C. at the Persian Court has observed that "Among the Indians are found certain insects about the size of beetles and of a colour so red that at first sight one might mistake them for cinnabar. Their legs are of extraordinary length and soft to the touch. They grow upon trees which produce amber, and subsist upon their fruit. The Indians collect them for the sake of the purple dye, which they yield when crushed. This dye is used for tinting with purple not only their outer and under-garments, but also any other substance where a purple hue is required. Robes tinted with this purple are sent to the Persian King, for Indian purple is thought by the Persians be marvellously beautiful and far superior to their own." Ktesias also says that the Indian dye is deeper and more brilliant than the renowned Lydian Purple.
We will discuss some of these dyes which were extracted in ancient India, e.g. indigo, lac, ochre, copal, anline, in the following pages.
Lac is a resinous substance secreted on trees by an insect called the Lac insect. This is used as a protective covering and as varnish on wooden furniture. According to the Oxford Dictionary the English word lac is derived from the Sanskrit term Laksha which itself is derived from the word Raksha which in Sanskrit means protection. This was perhaps as lac was used as a protective covering. Lac was also used as a dye. In ancient times it was used by women for dyeing nails and palms. It was also used to dye cloth. The process of dyeing cloth with lac was termed Vastra-ranga-kruta which literally means 'to give colour to cloth' . In doing this screens were used to hold cloth in place while the dye was being applied.
In ancient times, lac was used both as a dye and a resin but with the introduction of aniline, the demand for lac as a dye became less. It is today used mainly as a resin called 'shellac', which is melted into thin flakes and used to make varnish.
Ochre is a pigment varying from light yellow to orange and brown. It is a mineral of clay and hydrated ferric oxide. The old name of ochre is cinnabar which was perhaps derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhura. According to the Century Dictionary, the word cinnabar originated from the Persian word zinjafr, which is a corruption of the Sanskrit Sindhura.
Ochre (or cinnabar) was used as a dye for cloth and also as a paint for walls in Roman times. In India it was, and still is used to paint images of Gods and as a caste mark applied on the forehead called tilaka.
Copal is a resin extracted from a tree which in Latin is named Vateria Indica. This tree is to be found in the Western Ghats (Hills) of India. The word copal is not to be found today in the Oxford Dictionary, but according to the Periplus, " it is derived from the Sanskrit term "Kankamon".
ANILINE : This is a blue coloured dye obtained from coal tar. This was being extracted in ancient India and was Transmitted to the west by the Arabs. It was called Neel or Neelam in Sanskrit. The Arabs named it AI Nil or An Nil from which we have the English word Aniline. This is corroborated by the Oxford Dictionary.
Indigo: Indigo is also a blue coloured dye obtained from a plant named Indigofera. In ancient times, indigo was used both as a dye and as a medicine. The word indigo is derived from the Greek word Indikon which means 'from India'. In Sanskrit it is referred to as Neelam.