Ajrak printing is a unique form of woodblock printing technique that originated from Pakistan and neighbouring Indian districts of Kutch in Gujarat and Barmer in Rajasthan. Ajrak printing is embedded into the culture of Sindhi people owing to the traditions of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. Just as block printing, the process of Ajrak printing begins with designs expertly hand-carved into wooden blocks before being dipped in dye and printed on fabrics primarily of cotton and silk.
The term Ajrak is derived from the Arabic word ‘Azrak’ which means Indigo or blue. This reflects Sindh’s historic reputation as a dominant producer of indigo dye and illustrates the extensive use of the indigo shade of blue in traditional Ajrak print, which is still common to this day. The essence of Ajrak printing comes out with its intricate designs of motifs which mainly symbolise nature; such as stars, flowers, moons and birds.
Ajrak craft products are made with natural dyes such as herbs, vegetable essence or natural minerals. What makes Ajrak unique and comfortable is that because of the usage of natural dyes, the fabric gains an interesting characteristic. During summers, it expands the pores of the fabric, making it easy for air to pass through. During winter, the pores of the fabric close, providing warmth. This makes Ajrak ideal year-round attire.
In the olden times, it was primarily made by male artisans and therefore, you would only see men wearing them as their turbans or shawls. But later on, women artisans started working too, and Ajrak flourished more than ever, with women and children wearing it as well. Slowly but surely, the usage of this technique extended from just turbans and shawls, to fancy dupattas, stoles and even bed sheets.
Historically, Ajrak has been printed on both sides. It is said that cattle herders, who used to wear Ajrak traditionally, would leave their homes at early dawn, when it was still very dark outside and there was no electricity. Due to this, they couldn’t differentiate the right side from the wrong. Double side printing ensured that they could be worn either way. It is also believed that they preferred using bright colours so that cattle herders, who would sometimes lose their sense of direction and get lost, could be easily spotted by people around the area.
With the passage of time, Ajrak printers are now open to trying out new motifs, designs, dyes, materials and want to keep pace with the growing and changing contemporary world of fashion. There is hope that these are not just transient fashion trends and that Ajrak artisans will carry on the tradition of catering to the world with a fascination for highly proficient, elaborate, handcrafted textiles for generations to come.
You can purchase exclusive Ajrak printed stoles and dupattas from The Phoenix Company.
By Naqiyah Hasan