Ajrak is a unique art form that originated in the
present-day Sindh province of Pakistan. The word Ajrak refers both to the
fabric and the technique used to produce the print. Ajrak fabrics use colorful
and repeated patterns using complex geometric shapes or figures like flowers
and elephants. Traditional woodblocks are used to imprint the designs on the
fabrics. The elegancy of the designs is nothing less than that of Islamic architecture
found across the sub-continent. Striking colors like rich crimson, black and
white are used but the most prominent and the most significant color is indigo,
from which many experts believe the art derives its name from.
Counted as among the oldest art forms, Ajrak
has survived millennia of transformation to be in the current form. The
earliest known versions of this fabric date back to the Indus Valley
Civilisation. They used tree cotton which was available to them and using local
vegetable dyes, prominently the colors of indigo and red, imprinted colorful
patterns on the cotton fabrics.
in other parts of the old world, in places around Mesopotomia, have yielded
similar fabrics, showing the reach and popularity of the fabric. A most notable
example is the fabric found on the rotal couch of King Tutankhamun of Egypt who
ruled 1400 B.C.E.
many variations on how the word Ajrak originated. According to one source,
Ajrak means ‘aaj ke din rakh’ which means ‘keep it for the day’ in the local
tongue referring to letting the fabric dry in the sun for the most elegant
manifestation of the color dyes. Another source, claims that the word comes
from an Arabic word for the color blue, and few historians believe that the
Arabic word itself originated from Ajrak.
Ajrak is sometimes spelled as ‘Ajrakh’, the subtle change represents a
significant difference. ‘Ajrak’ is a word from ancient Arabic language whereas
‘Ajrakh’ finds its source in Sindhi.
an art is very demanding and this made the final product expensive compared to
daily wears. Hence Ajrak shawls or clothes were reserved for the most prominent
guests and gifting of Ajrak clothes was seen as a mark of showing tremendous
is famous on both the sides of Indus river and was historically a skill
practiced by Sindhi-Muslim nomadic animal-keepers from Sindh (in present-day
Pakistan), Kutch ( in the state of Gujarath of India) and Marwar (in the state
of Rajasthan in India).
It is now
used for all kinds of attire like cummerbunds, plaids, turbans, kurtas, etc.In present
times, most of the qualities, colors, and patterns of Ajrakh can be easily
mimicked by artificial fabrics. But, the art is not dead and demand for genuine
Ajrak still exists in the country.
which literally means ‘Town of Ajrakh’, is located near Bhuj in the state of
Gujarat of modern-day India. Dhamadka, their original ancestral village located
50 kilometers away from Ajrakhpur. The place was devastated during an
earthquake which rocked this part of the sub-continent in January 2001 and left
many shelter-less. The
Ajrakhpur have become the guardians of the art and practice it to this day.
Originally, inhabitants of Sindh, moved to Kutch during the early 1900s in
search of better water sources, on which their craft heavily depends upon.
Since then, they been residents of Kutch and playing their part in keeping the
One of the
reasons why Ajrak is a dwindling art currently is because it a demanding
process to make genuine Ajrak fabric. Ajrak printing is an artistic tradition,
which had undergone generational changes but has succeeded to preserve the
essence of its origins, through the colors and patterns.
Picture credits - Manjira Majumdar
Being in a
semi-arid desert, none of the plant-based raw materials can be grown in
Ajrakpur. This has been true for centuries as this part of the globe has been a
desert since the sudden decline of the Harappans.
is procured from various parts of India. Silk and rayon from Surat that is
relatively closer to cotton from Tiruppur, a place 2000 kilometers away in the
state of Tamil Nadu. Mulmul is bought from Bhiwandi in Maharashtra, silk from
Bengaluru in Karnataka and Chanderi cotton from Madhya Pradesh.
are naturally prepared. Natural substances like indigo, henna, turmeric,
pomegranate, jaggery, iron, mud, camel dung, castor oil – the list continue.
The various components are mixed carefully to obtain a spectrum of shades of
about fifteen stages of dying and printing and based on the complexity of
pattern and range of colors used can be as high as twenty stages. It usually
takes about three to four weeks for the whole process depending on the weather
conditions, as the extent of sunlight plays a major role in drying the fabrics.
The cloth is washed several times before printing. Starch is removed to imbibe
stability to the colors. Each stage of printing is followed by extensive
washing and drying before the next print is put upon. Lime is used as an
adhesive in the resist dyeing process and lime is used as an adhesive.
beautiful, intricate and signature patterns of Ajrak are first carved out on
wooden blocks and then used to print the patterns on the fabric. Very few can
afford the services of modern machinery and hence almost all artisans develop
the blocks in the house. Some of them sell these blocks to other practitioners.
patterns were limited in the past but since recently are exploding in variety.
Sometimes, designers from cities get there own patterns carved out and printed
to gel with the changing demands of the consumers.
among the lucky few arts to have survived the onslaught of the modern textile
industry. The laborious process makes it man-power and resources intensive,
with unusually high demand for water. Yet, the artisans are happy and proud to
be the custodians of what can be considered as living history. We have to do
our part and expand the market and spread the colors of blue and crimson to all