Bahi Art from Rajasthan

Bahi is the art of making handbound accounting books with characteristic wavy pattern on the cover. This is an art from Udaipur in Rajasthan. The colour of the binding cover is red, and is considered to be auspicious.


Bahi are handbound accounting books, made in Rajasthan, the white and yellow pages of which are horizontally creased at specific intervals to create columns. Most businessmen start the new year during the festival of Diwali. They worship the goddess Lakshmi and begin the new year with new accounting books. These are usually red, as it is considered to be auspicious.


The double entry system of account keeping is believed to have originated in Asia about 2000 years ago. Notebook makers beautifully customized the pages for the purpose of accounting, without the use of ink drawn tables. They crimped the pages to give subtle folds to the paper, to be used as columns; “naam” for debit and “jama” for credit, much like modern methods of accounting.


The bahi-khata style of stitching has remained unchanged over the years, the only change being the use of sewing machines for the fabric cover. The craftsmen of Udaipur have adapted to the tastes of urban consumers,tourists and the export market and they have developed a wide range of handbound books—the covers may be made of leather, zari fabric, silk and printed cotton while the paper used may be handmade paper with flowers, threads, rice paper or machine produced paper.


Books with covers made of different materials like cloth, leather, etc.


The fabric covers of the books are first stitched into a pillow cover like shape, to insert the cardboard in and then, the two are fixed together with the characteristic white curvilinear stitches that the notebooks are known for. This wavy pattern of dashed lines has remained constant during the switch from hand stitching to machine stitching. According to the craftsmen, this is probably because this way, it is faster to make and the stitches are evenly distributed, giving better hold to the cardboard cover.Cut paper is folded into sections and pressed with a wooden folder. The sections are hand stitched with needle and thread in the middle and joined with other sections at the spine. Once the required numbers of sections are joined, it is time to attach them with the cover. A binding cloth is stuck to the centre of the sections of paper and the cover for reinforcement. The cover is invariably in traditional red colour, believed to be auspicious due to its association with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.The cover is bordered with green, yellow and blue striped niwar, or nylon tape. Sometimes the binders add a decorative paper at the beginning and end of the notebook.This association is restated in the second leaf of the bahi where a hymn, the words shubh labh, ‘good luck’, and an image of the goddess are printed. The outer cover, binding cloth and paper bundles are finally stuck together with glue and left to dry.In another type of notebooks, there is only one large section of paper which is directly stitched to the spine with a thick cotton thread and a punching tool called “ari”. One end of the thread is left long, to be wrapped around the notebook, to prevent the pages from opening.