Ajrakh printing is a skilled craftsmanship practised in Gujarat. The traditional hand printing method dates back to 4500 years ago, and the excavations of the Indus valley and the textile fragments found in Fustat, stand testimony to this.
The name Ajrakh is derived from the Arabic word ‘Azrak’ which means blue. The art form has influences from Sufiism, in the choice of colours and motifs used for printing. Ajrakh block printing has more geometrical shapes and uses dark colours like blue, red and black.
In the pic : Maldhari cattle herders, wearing ajrakh prints.
Ajrakh was produced by a community of people called “Khatri” artisans for the cattle herders of the region, the Maldhari men. Printed on both sides, the Maldharis used Ajrakh printed cotton as dhoti or lungi, turbans and shoulder cloth.
The Khatris belonged to Sindh, the original heartland of Ajrakh. They later migrated to a village near Kutch, called as Dhamadka. (Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, was instrumental in reviving this art form).
In the earlier years, Ajrakh printing was done only on shawls and cotton yardage. Later, from the 1970s, they made saris, and also diversified to printing on silk fabrics, mainly in Gajji satin and Mashru.
After the earthquake in Dhamadka and Bhuj, a village called Ajrakhpur was set up for the practice of this craft. The workshops here specialize in printing with both chemical and vegetable dyes.
One of the important techniques in Ajrakh printing is called the “do-rukha”, where the printing is done on both sides of the fabric. A lot of technical expertise is required for executing this complicated handwork, especially in applying colours and maintaining the consistency of dyes. The craftsmen use resist dyeing and hand block printing together, making it a coveted craft.
The art of Ajrakh has thus travelled a long way and has evolved beautifully at every juncture to what it is today, absolutely alluring!