Ajrakh Print: The Ancient Beauty
The historical province of Sindh in Pakistan and the nearby Indian regions of Kutch in Gujarat and Barmer in Rajasthan are where the ancient block-printing technique known as ajrakh, which is used to decorate textiles, began. Several various ideas are implied by the term “ajrakh,” itself.
Some claim that it originates from the Arabic term ajrakh, which signifies blue and is one of the main colours used in ajrakh printing. According to some historians, the word was created from the Hindi phrase aaj rakh, which means to maintain it now.
Others claim it refers to creating beauty. Ajrakh printing has its origins in the Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished approximately 3000 BC, and although it is a part of Sindh culture, its roots also reach Rajasthan and Gujarat in India. The Indus River was a valuable resource for washing clothing and sustaining the abundance of cotton and indigo dye that could be found there.
Due to the movement of Khatris from Sindh province to Kutch area, ajrakh printing flourished in India around the 16th century. Indirectly encouraging the migration of Khatris to Kutch’s desolate territories, the monarch of Kutch recognised and appreciated the textile craft. A few Khatri printing families eventually went to Rajasthan, settled in and around the Barmer district of British India, including modern-day Gujarat, and became masters in the skill of ajrakh printing. In the villages of Ajrakhpur in Kutch and also Barmer, the Khatri clan is currently focused on creating consistently high-quality jrakh printed cloth.
Gypsy, Jat, and Meghwal men typically wear ajrakh. Safa, a shoulder covering, and lungis are worn by the males. The Ekpuri Ajra Kh is worn by those with lesser earnings. As a status symbol, this is more expensive. The colours and motifs used in ajrakh printing honour nature.
It takes several stages of printing and numerous washes of the cloth with various natural dyes and mordants to complete the laborious and drawn-out ajrakh printing process. Resist printing is a technique used to prevent dye from absorbing in regions that are not intended to be coloured while allowing dye to absorb where it is needed. The next resist printing will be done using a paste made from a combination of clay, alum, and gum Arabic. Sawdust or finely crushed cow dung is applied to the printed area to protect it from smearing the clay. To completely remove the excess dye and resist print, the fabric is properly rinsed. The fabric is boiled with an alternative dye to produce new colours.
In the process of printing ajrakh, water is important. The key element that decides the final product’s quality is the amount of iron in the water. The cloth is treated by artisans with mordants, dyes, oils, etc. Water has an affect on everything, including the colours’ tones and hues as well as the process’ overall success or failure.
Craftspeople in Ajrakh now deal with a variety of issues that make their job difficult. Because one wooden block can cost up to Rs 3,000, the high cost of wooden blocks used in Ajrakh printing places a heavy financial strain on artists. The centuries-old traditions of this textile craft are under danger due to the use of modern machines, eco-friendly colours, and synthetic dyes. Lack of new craftspeople because to poor payoff and high labour demand.
The ancient skill of ajrakh has endured through natural catastrophes, industrialization, and shifting political regimes. A lot of NGOs are presently working to improve this skill by giving the artisans new materials. For western markets, artisans are reviving the traditional use of natural colours. The government, NGOs, and others committed to this art should step up and come up with strategies to protect the interests of craftspeople.