Thought to derive from the Arabic, azrakh, meaning indigo, Ajrakh is an ancient resist hand block printing technique that primarily uses indigo in geometric designs on both sides of the fabric; this produces a richly coloured cloth, with no right or wrong face.
* Ajrakh is closely associated with Sindh culture and until recently production was limited to a few dedicated villages in Western India and Eastern Pakistan. Its historic heartland lies between the Indus estuary and the That desert, notably in Bagru–close to Jaipur–which is where we bought the fabric used for our projects.
* Men traditionally wear ajrakh cloth as a Lunghi sash tied around the waist, a safa turban, and/or as a length of cloth (approx. 92″ x 50″) worn over the shoulder. It can be used as a shawl for warmth, a padded kneeler for prayer, protection for the young–children and animals–or to carry shopping with small items tied into the corners and larger ones across the body. Women will wear ajrakh in simpler printed motifs as shawls and full skirts, ghaggro.
( This length of cloth, the way it is worn and it’s propose is universal – is very similar to the original shepherd check length woven in northern England, the mud cloths and Kente cloths of African cultures.)
* The Islamic culture of ajrakh block printers is reflected in the distinct, bold geometric symmetry of the designs, often with motifs radiating out from the centre set in a border. There are said to be over 200 different traditional combinations of the fifteen basic motifs of daily events and artefacts. Amongst others, these include stylised figs, peacock feathers, coins, sweets, almonds and dates are worked into a grid system. Individual families might have their own specific combination of patterns incorporating shells, beads and small glass or mirror (shashi) pieces into intricate works.
* Unlike many block printing techniques, Ajrakh designs are worked out to fit together exactly on the cloth. The Ajrakh carver therefore applies extraordinary mathematical precision, for a slip of a few millimetres at any point leads to a huge mismatch by the end of the run.
* The designs are printed in madder red and black, made from iron filings and jaggery, onto a white ground cloth, resisted with dark indigo. The printing processes of resist, blocking, dying, mordanting, washing and drying in sequence is time consuming and labour intensive. Up to 25 different blocks and 12-16 different processes are requires, meaning that each length of cloth takes up to four weeks to produce. A single side cloth is called ekpuri, and a double sided, bipuri. The limited colour range, geometric designs and double sided printing help to distinguish Ajrakh from other closely related block printed textiles.
* Ajrakh printing is a tradition that has recently been revived by the Khatri family in Dhamadka, in southern Kutch, whose commitment to educate younger generations and revive these skills has been internationally recognised. Without compromising the traditional techniques, the Khatri family has also adapted some of the process for the international market, extending the colours a little and printing the design all over.