Ajrakh Printing: The History Behind Indian Textile
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India is known for its rich culture and heritage art. Handicrafts and handloom have been the backbone of India’s traditional art and craft. The first ever traces of Indian hand crafted textiles appeared in the form of cotton saris draped around Sumerian statuettes, dating back to 3000 BC. Ajrakh printing evolved in parallel as an intricate genre of block printing. It was a design that flourished in India with the roots of Sindh culture from Pakistan to the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan due to the inhabitants of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization who, from 3300 BCE, settled along the basins of the Indus River. The art of block printing as a whole flourished in India in the 12th century and the motifs were heavily influenced in the 17th century
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The statue of a King priest of Mohenjo-Daro featuring in Ajrakh printed shawl was excavated from the ancient Indus valley Civilisation.
- The Khatri community from Sindh province migrated to Kutch district, the King of Kutch recognized the intricate art of textile that spawned into the Khatri family. This art was the ajrakh printing art.
- Today, the Khatri community continues to dominate in ajrak printing in the few remaining areas where the art perseveres, Ajrakhpur village in Kutch district, Gujarat and Barmer, Rajasthan.
- Ajrakh means blue in Arabic, and its geometric pattern adorns the cloth in indigo, madder, black and ivory.
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- Ajrakh prints are traditionally done on fabric that measures 2.5 - 3.0 metres in length.
- Both men and women, in and out of the Maldhari community, respectively wear ajrakh printed fabrics as turbans and cummerbunds or dupattas, chadors and shawls, or simply drape it over their shoulders.
- The Khatri community continues to produce Ajrakh printed traditional and contemporary products using techniques that were once used by their Sindhi ancestors.
- Dhamadka village was once the hub of ajrakh printing. The ajrakh printers settled by the banks of river Dhamadka, whose waters they used in the Ajrakh dyeing process.
- The village was left devastated following the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. Government and non-government initiatives ‘moved’ the entire village to the newly formed Ajrakhpur village. Also, the waters of Dhamadka Rivers have dried over time and the local artisans face a daily struggle to procure water to aid their production.
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- The design of the block is created on a piece of paper. The wood is then mechanically cut to the required size of the block. Once the wood is ready to use, then the design or the pattern is transferred to the wood. This is called “likhai”, drawing the design on the block.
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- Ajrakh craft products are made with natural dyes. The entire production includes both vegetable dyes and mineral dyes. Indigo being the key dye.
- Pomegranate, turmeric, flowers, minerals and other such ingredients are used to produce the luminous colors of ajrakh printing.
- There are 22 stages of ajrakh printing process, which makes it tedious and time consuming.
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- Neeraj Shah