The Indian handloom industry is as diverse as its culture. Every state specialises in the production of unique traditional fabric. Ajrak is one such form of block printing popular in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Origin of Ajrak
Historians date back the origin of Ajrak to more than 4000 years ago. Cotton and indigo plants were found in abundance along the Indus river bank.
Hence, the Khatri community of Sindh living close to this river started using these two ingredients for making clothes.
Cotton plant was converted into the fabric because of its adhesive qualities, whereas the indigo colour was perfect for dyeing. This led to the origin of the Ajrak handloom.
Migration to India
In the 16th century, the King of Kutch noticed the brilliancy of these skilled craftsmen, more popularly known as Khoja Sheiks. The artisans migrated to Kutch on the King’s invitation, and settled in the Dhamadka region. This is how the art of Ajrak was brought to India.
In 2001, Dhamadka village was destroyed because of the Gujarat earthquake. The tragedy had a devastatingly adverse effect on the artisans. However, soon, a new village known as Ajrakpur was established by the government around 43 km away from Dhamadka, to revive the Ajrak industry and support its craftsmen.
Origin of the Word “Ajrakh”
The origin of the word Ajrak has many contradictory viewpoints associated with it.
– Some historians believe that this fabric’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word “A-jharat” meaning one that does not fade.
– Another opinion is that “Ajrak” is a derivative of the Arabic word ‘Ajrak’, which means the colour blue. This is because indigo plays a very important role in Ajrak weaving.
– Some craftsmen argue that Ajrak has originated from the popular phrase “aaj ke liye rakh” or keep it for one more day. The story dates back to the early days of Ajrak printing (timeline not known). A Sindh King got engrossed in royal luxuries and preferred his bedspread to be changed every day. However, one particular day, he liked his beautiful blue peacock printed bedspread so much that he asked servants to keep it for one day (aaj ke lie aur rakh). The phrase became popular, and soon, everyone started calling this fabric Ajrak.
What Makes Ajrak Unique?
The weaving process of Ajrak is very extensive and intricate. It involves 16 steps of washing, dyeing, printing, and drying, and each step takes a whole day. None of the other Indian handlooms has such an extensive manufacturing process.
Some more facts that make Ajrak art unique are:
Dye extracted from natural ingredients:
All the ingredients used in manufacturing Ajrak print fabric are natural. Craftsmen use herbs, mineral oils, vegetable essence, pomegranate bark, and seeds for dyeing, instead of the artificial, chemically induced colours. The blue colour of the fabric is extracted from indigo, whereas Haldi or turmeric is used for the colour yellow.
Printing on both sides:
Cattle herders in the earlier days used to leave their houses before sunrise to feed their livestock. At that time, there was no electricity; hence it was difficult for them to recognise the printed side of the fabric. Hence, artisans used to print Ajrak on both sides for the comfort of cattle herders. This practise is still continued by the Khatri community.
The authenticity of Ajrak is still maintained because artisans rely only on age-old weaving practices. For example,
Camel dung is used for removing starch from the Ajrak fabric.
Intricate geometrical and floral patterns on the fabric are printed using wooden blocks made from chiseling teak.
Unique process of creating black dye:
The process of extracting the black dye used on Ajrak fabric is also very distinct. Rusted iron, tamarind, and jaggery are soaked for two weeks in water, and then heated together for the formation of black dye.
Reason behind the bright colours:
Artisans use bright coloured dyes only while printing Ajrak for the comfort of cattle herders. During ancient times, there was no navigational technology, and sometimes, the cattle herders would lose their sense of direction and get lost in the desert. Bright-coloured Ajraks helped them to spot other people from a far-away distance.
Suitable for all weathers:
Natural dyes used in Ajrak expand the pore size of fabric during the summer season. Thus, the air can easily pass through to provide a breezy feeling in the warm seasons. Similarly, in winters, these pores shrink, thus keeping the body warm. Hence, you can wear outfits made from Ajrak in any season.
Ajrakh's prominence in Bollywood Fashion
Given the beauty, comfort, and uniqueness of this fabric, Ajrakh is widely popular in Bollywood fashion.
Ajrakh Fabric vs. Ajrakh Print
Ajrak block printing was traditionally done on handwoven cotton fabric, also known as latha. It is first washed in camel dung, soda ash, and castor oil to remove dirt and impurities. Then, it is dried and washed again to get a perfectly clean piece of cloth for printing. Nowadays, designers also use other types of fabrics for Ajrak printing, such as silk and polyester.
In the early days, artisans printed geometric patterns on cotton fabric using hand-carved wooden blocks. Ajrak printing involves multiple steps. The fabric is dried after the use of one type of dye, and then the pattern is further intensified by using another dye. At last, it is dyed with indigo twice to get a uniform blue color.
At LetsDressUp, we bring you the beauty of Ajrak in an affordable yet chic way – through Ajrak prints.
Unlike Ajrak fabric, Ajrak prints are not made from natural dyes. But they give the same look and a better feel than the Ajrak fabric, which is coarse.
That said, here are the Ajrak print fabric options at LetsDressUp, with some beautiful outfit inspirations by our designers – Sukriti and Ankita.
The Indian culture is beautiful and mesmerizing in every way, from food to fabrics. If you are one of us who loves Indian handlooms, we would love to dress you up in them. Drop a comment below and let us know which is your favorite Indian handloom, and which outfit would you like to get stitched. 🙂