Ajrakh is an ancient block-printing method on textiles that originated in the present day provinces of Sindh in Pakistan and the neighbouring Indian districts of Kutch in Gujarat and Barmer in Rajasthan. The word ‘ajrakh’ itself connotes a number of different concepts. Ajrakh printing is an ancient artistic tradition, whose development has seen the contribution of many cultures, which is apparent from the prevalent designs.
Ajrakh: Against the dull canvas of the Kachchh desert the rich and bold colours of the textiles are strikingly displayed. Ajrakh carries many meanings. A popular story amongst locals is that Ajrakh means “aaj rakh” or “keep it today.” It is also associated with azrakh, the Arabic word for indigo, a blue plant which thrived in the arid ecology of Kachchh. The craft was practised by the khatri community, living in the banks of river Sindh. These families migrated to Kutch from Sindh in the 16th century. In 2001 a devastating earthquake severely damaged Bhuj, Dhamadka and other villages and towns all over the Kachchh region. In the wake of this tragedy, the Khatris were brought closer together and a new village was created to rebuild their lives and their craft production, aptly named Ajrakhpur (‘place of Ajrakh’).
Ajrakh block printing follows a lengthy and demanding process. Printers prepare fabric for printing by tearing un-dyed fabric into 9 meter lengths. Authentic Ajrakh is printed on both sides by a method called resist printing. The printing is done by hand with hand carved wooden blocks. Several different blocks are used to give the characteristic repeated patterning. Artisans select a wooden block from their collection of blocks carved with traditional designs. The constant sound of the wooden block being stamped with force onto the table echoes in the workshop and sounds almost like a heart beating. It is the sound that the craft is still going strong.