Ajrakh is a traditional block printing craft that has been practiced for centuries by the Khatri community in Kutch, Gujarat, India, as well as in Sindh, Pakistan. The craft involves the use of natural dyes and intricate hand-carved wooden blocks to print complex geometric patterns onto fabric.
The word "ajrakh" is derived from the Arabic word "azrak," which means blue. Historically, the craft was associated with the Maldhari pastoral community of Kutch, who used ajrakh-dyed fabric for their daily wear, turbans, and shawls. Ajrakh was also used as a form of currency and was highly valued in the region.
The popular story among local practitioners is that Ajrakh means “keep it today.” The cloth is made in a sixteen step process of washing, dyeing, printing, and drying, with one step being performed in one day and the fabric being put to rest for the day.
The craft has a long and rich history and has been influenced by various cultures and civilizations over time. The earliest evidence of ajrakh can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, where fragments of ajrakh-dyed cloth have been found. The craft was also influenced by the Persian and Islamic cultures, which brought new patterns and designs to the craft.
Traditional 'Ajrakh' involves various stages of dyeing and resist printing using natural dyes and mordants. Indigo and madder are the primary colours that are used for dyeing. The resist and some colours are printed on the cloth using carved wooden blocks. These blocks are carved with intricate symmetrical patterns so that the same block can be used for both sides of the cloth.
During the 16th century, the Mughal empire played a significant role in the development of ajrakh. The Mughal emperors, who were patrons of the arts, commissioned ajrakh craftsmen to produce fabric for the royal court. This led to the development of new techniques and designs, and ajrakh became a symbol of luxury and wealth.
Today, ajrakh is not only a traditional craft but also a symbol of cultural identity and heritage. It continues to be produced by the Khatri community in Kutch and is valued for its intricate designs, natural dyes, and sustainable production methods. The craft has gained international recognition and is now exported to various countries around the world.
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