CHAPTER I . PRINTED TEXTILES
Ajrakh Block Print
Ajrakh: the magnificent fabric of Sindh and Kutch.
ONCE UPON A TIME...
There was a king of Sindh (today, in Pakistan), who were used to sleep on a new bedspread everyday. One day, when his servant was about to change the bed sheet, the king told him: “Aaj Rakh” (keep it today). It was a beautiful hand block printed bed sheet that came to be referred as Ajrakh, the magnificent fabric of Sindh and Kutch (Gujarat, India).
In our days, for the local printers of Kutch, Ajrakh means “keep it today”. This word can also be linked to Azrakh, which means "blue" in Arabic, once indigo is one of the main colours in this textile; or even to the Sanskrit word A-jharat, which means "which doesn't fade".
In the 16th Century, Ajrakh was brought to Kutch, to Dhamadka, a village close to the Saran River of saline water - good for dyeing of Ajrakh cloth. The river bed was also a good source of natural alum, a crucial ingredient in the dyeing of cloth.
In the 1940's, the bright chemical colours and synthetic fabrics swamped the markets, putting Ajrakh printing into a "pause-mode". Then in the 60's, this craft re-woke up thanks to local craftsmen and patron's efforts.
THE AJRAKH'S MASTERS: THE KHATRI COMMUNITY
Before the devastating earthquake which struck Gujarat in 2001, the Khatri community practised Ajrakh printing in the village of Dhamadka in the Kutch district. Government and non-government organisations relocated artisans to the relatively new village of Ajrakhpur, formed in commemoration of Ajrakh printing and its master craftsmen. The Khatri community are not only known for their dominance in Ajrakh printing within Gujarat, but also for other traditional textile arts such as tie and dye, or, alternatively, Bandhani.
However, it is the Khatri families that reside particularly in Ajrakhpur, Gujarat who have been known to excel at Ajrakh printing and, today, continue the traditional techniques of their ancestors. In recent times, master Ajrakh producers of the Khatri community have instructed members of the Muslim Harijan community in the production of Ajrakh printed fabrics. This not only ensures that the art of Ajrakh printing will remain strong into the future, but also exemplifies the versatility of India’s traditional craftsmen and the integration of traditional textile techniques in contemporary fashion.
Numerous government and non-government initiatives continue to contribute to the conservation and sustenance of Ajrakh printing’s traditions and the lifestyle of its artisans.