Ajrakh

About Ajrakh:

Against the dull canvas of the Kachchh desert the rich and bold colours of the textiles are strikingly displayed. Ajrak can trace its roots back to 16th century ancestors who came to India from Sindh, bringing with the craft of Ajrakh printing with them. Ajrakh cloth carries many meanings. The popular story amongst local printers is that Ajrakh means “aaj rakh” i.e “keep it today”. It is also linked to azrakh, the Arabic word for indigo. In addition, A blue plant which thrived in the arid ecology of Kachchh until the 1956 earthquake. 2001’s 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’). Today there are Khatris living and working in both villages.

Ajrakh block printing follows a lengthy and demanding process. In the first place, they prepare the fabric. Its done by tearing un-dyed fabric into 9 meter lengths, washing it to remove starches, wax and impurities and then dying it with myrobalam. Artisans select a wooden block from their collection of blocks carved with traditional designs. The sound of the wooden block being stamped with force onto the table echoes and sounds almost like a heart beating. It is the sound that the craft is still going strong. This first block is coated in lime coupled with Acacia gum and carefully pressed onto the cloth at regular intervals. It acts as a resist.

Myrobalan turns the cloth a yellow colour and works as a mordant, helping to fix the dyes. The cloth is laid flat to dry in the hot sun after being calendered. A resist of lime  coupled with gum is applied to define the outline of the design. This is known as rekh. If the cloth is to be double sided, this stage is repeated on the reverse side of the cloth.

This first block is coated in lime coupled with Acacia gum and carefully pressed onto the cloth at regular intervals. It acts as a resist. Artisans continue the process by selecting and coating blocks in dye, aligning them with previous prints, and pressing them carefully onto the fabric. Jaggery coupled with gram flour are used for black designs; alum and tamarind for red. After each colour of print, artisans rinse and sun-dry the cloth. After the printing is complete, the cloth is washed, dyed in one of many natural colours, and once again laid in the sun to dry.

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