The Ajrakh block printing came into being in Kutch when the Muslim Khatris migrated from Sindh almost 400 years ago. Khatris is a community known for applying color to cloth. They settled in a village called Dhamadka. After the devastating earthquake in 2001 most parts of this village got destroyed therefore the entire Khatri community came together to create a new village called Ajrakhpur which has been the primary place for Ajrakh craft.
The word Ajrakh has two meanings. One which means “keep it today” and the other is in relation to the Arabic word azrakh which means indigo or blue.
Ajrakh printing is a special kind of pattern making with blocks using geometry for creating starry constellations in indigo, madder, black and white across lengths of cloth. The shapes and motifs observed in Ajrakh are representative of Islamic architecture’s intricate jali windows and trefoil arches.
Kutch ajrakh is distinguished by the use of traditionally designed blocks and four colors, red, black, blue and white.
There is a huge tedious process for the creation of ajrakh cloth. There are several steps to the process. As per tradition the longer an artisan waits before beginning of the next step the more stunning the final outcome is.
- An un-dyed fabric from a factory is torn into 9 meter lengths and washed thoroughly to remove any wax, finishes or any such impurities.
- Saaj– The process of soaking the washed cloth in a solution of castor oil, soda ash and camel dung overnight and then leaving it to dry the following day under the sun. This step is repeated 7-9 times and then the cloth is washed in plain water.
- Kasanu– The cloth is dyed in a cold solution of myrobalan which is powdered nut of the Harde tree. It turns the cloth to a yellow color and works as a mordant to fix the dyes. Thereafter the cloth is laid flat to dry in the hot sun.
- Khariyanu– A resist of lime and gum arabic is printed on the cloth to define the outline of the design and is done on both sides if it is meant to be printed on both sides.
- Paste of scrap iron (horse shoes), jaggery (raw cane sugar) and besan(gram flour) is prepared and fermented. The fermentation process takes a week in the summer and two weeks in the winter. The paste is then added to tamarind seed powder and the iron and tamarind is well mixed together then boiled for an hour. The resulting paste is black in color which is then printed on the cloth.
- For the red color printing the tamarind seed powder is mixed with alum (aluminium sulphate) and then boiled for an hour to give the resulting red paste. Printing of alum paste is known as kan.
- Gach– A paste of alum, millet flour, red clay and gum arabic is printed on the cloth with large areas of red in the design. Along with this a resist of lime and gum arabic is also printed and this combined stage is called gach.
Sawdust is sprinkled to prevent from smudging and the cloth is left to dry for several days.
- Indigo Dyeing– Two ways to do this. Traditionally natural indigo, sagikhar (a salt), lime, casiatora (seed from kuwada plant) are mixed together in a clay vessel, plastic barrel or concrete vat. The dye is left to ferment for a month. Sometimes jaggery is added to aid in the fermentation process. It is ready to use when it is yellowish (best) or greenish (medium) in color.
Faster method- natural indigo, caustic soda and hydrosulphate is mixed together and it is ready to use in a day or two.
- Vichharnu– Cloth is washed in running water and then laid flat to dry under the hot sun.
- Minakari– The Gach process is repeated here and the cloth is left to dry for several days. Minakari means “double work”.
- Second indigo dyeing is performed and again the cloth is left to dry.
- The Vichharnu process is repeated.
- The red and black areas are revealed and resist is applied to the white areas.
- Pomegranate skin liquid is sprayed onto the cloth and then dried. This is repeated twice.
- A solution of turmeric and lime is then sprayed onto the cloth.
- Finally the cloth is washed in alum solution and washed in plain water and then dried.
While Ajrakh cloth has recognition in the western markets we still have to carry on the process of continuation of recognition and expand the market for Ajrakh buyers which will then complete the cycle of boosting the spirit of the local artisan putting in tons of hard-work in the process.
Our aim is also to preserve the traditional methods of dyeing and printing to make sure the traditional values sustain and the craft is retained only in the hands of knowledgeable artisans who make a living out of it.
We bring to you original Ajrakh forms from these extremely talented artisans of Kutch (India) who believe and work based on the traditional methods they have learnt from their ancestors.