Ajrakh- the queen of prints
Holding a piece of ajrakh printed fabric in your hands is akin to holding a slice of history. Considered to be one of the oldest forms of printing having its basis in the Indus valley civilization, the fine craft of Ajrakh continues to create its magic in the rustic villages of Kutch, Gujarat. Traditionally believed to have originated in Sind, Pakistan, Ajrakh hand block printing is now being practised almost exclusively by craftsmen from the Khatri community near Bhuj, India.
The wooden hand blocks used in ajrakh are highly intricate and a combination of various blocks are used in perfect harmony by craftsmen to form the final pattern. The blocks used by the ajrakh printers are generally exclusive to each family in the khatri community and are handed down generations, thereby creating an unique legacy.
The magic of ajrakh lies in the seamless blending of the natural colors and intricate blocks resulting in a mesmerizing pattern of geometric and floral prints. The deep indigos and blacks contrasts against the sprinkles of whites and reds creating an image of the twilight and night sky and therein lies the magic of ajrakh. The best of ajrakh garments are considered as family heirlooms due to the timelessness of their prints.
The colors used in Ajrakh are usually blue, black, red, white, yellow and green. The natural dyes are Indigo, Harda, Maati (clay) Lokhand (iron), Majith (madder) Baval nu gond (gum) Fatakdi (alum) , Haldi (Turmeric), Dadam (Dried pomegranate) Gud (jaggery), Tamarind and Rhubarb.
The printing method itself is considered a highly sophisticated multiple step process of 14 to 17 rounds involving natural dyes, hand block printing, intense level of dyeing and mud-resist printing for each color. This process of dyeing, printing and washing is extremely laborious and is repeated at every step resulting in rich colors and tones. Traditional ajrakh involved high skill levels since it involves printing on both sides of the fabric. This requires perfect synchronization of the pattern and block printing and is a rare skill only achieved by master craftsmen, in present times.
Printing in kutch was traditionally based in Dhamadka, which is located 20kms off Bhuj. During the 2001 earthquake, which struck Gujarat in 2001, Bhuj was one of the most affected areas and large parts of this region were destroyed. The huge damage caused to property and lives, dealt a blow to the printing community based here. Interventions by various organizations and development agencies resulted in creation of Ajrakhpur, where some of the printers re-started their craft.
The resilience of the communities and their undying spirit resonates with the resurgence and everlasting beauty of ajrakh. Holding its own against modern trends and styles, it represents the return to the timelessness of Indian crafts.