The Crafts of Kutch | Ajrakh Block Printing of Ajrakhpur

12:37 AM


Gujarat is a mecca of creativity and imagination. The use of natural resources to dye and paint makes it all the more interesting. In the land, that refuses to let go of its centuries old tradition today we discover one of the significant art forms called “Ajrakh” that is still carried forward by the younger generations with love.



How to reach Kutch

One of the easiest ways to reach Kutch would be by flying into Bhuj. Last minutes flights to Ahmedabad are usually less expensive and less time consuming compared to flying into Bhuj, so Ahmedabad could be a good base to move around Gujarat. That’s exactly what we did when we flew into Ahmedabad. There are Ahmedabad to Bangalore flights too if you are returning back to Bangalore.

There are super-fast trains that runs from Ahmedabad to Bhuj that we took. Once at the Bhuj Railway station, one can always hire an auto to take you around. We remember hiring one for our explorations for a day in Kutch and it was priced very reasonable too! Bhuj is a city where one can easily rely on the people. Our autowalas were no different.

Ajrakhpur Village - The craft of Ajrakh Block Printing

During the scorching summer days of Mid-March, our Autowala drove us to what felt to us like the land of nothingness as we arrived. Our journey was sweetened by the local Rabri we had as we kept it on the two flat seats in front of us in the Auto, making it seem like a private table with two guest and our host. What could possibly be behind the blocks of a few homes that we see ahead? I asked myself.

Just then, we met Junaid Khatri, the Ajrakh Artisan welcoming us inside with open arms. A room full of artisans were working on dying the patterns in various sizes of hard-carved wooden blocks busy in manifesting designs in the full force, somewhat oblivious of our presence. He said, “The designers give us the designs and we make it accordingly. Sometimes we create our own designs and that makes for a successful fashion show on Kutch. We don’t hold back from our technique - we do both traditional and contemporary designs with it” .

The word Ajrakh in Arabic means “Universe”. It also means “Keep today”. The tradition of Ajrakh Block Printing dates back to 4500 years ago in the region of Sindh. The Ajrakh artisans in India came from Sindh and migrated to Kutch. Ajrakh is the traditional attire for the Maldhari pastoral community of Bhuj and were worn by men as a turban, Lungi and by the shoulder. Junaid continues, “We have been doing this for 400 years in Kutch. When my dad went to the UK in 2003 and saw the designs there, he got to know that similar inscriptions were found on the Mummies of Egypt. “. Artifacts of this technique is found in excavated remains of Indus Valley as well as Al-Fostat excavations in the Nile Delta.


He continues, “Like Saree has Pallu, Ajrakh has Cheda. Ajrakh Designed Clothes also has a border known as Tabeez. Traditionally, it is printed on both sides. In its most traditional process, the making of Ajrakh involves many steps.” Surrounding us, we saw the clothes being washed, the clothes being beaten, the clothes drying in the open and the clothes perfecting dyed. We were all ears to know the intricacies of each step by now. So here are some of the steps that are part of the process:

1. They prepare the cloth by cutting it in required sizes.
2. They remove the starch from the white fabric by preparing a mix of camel dung, soda ash and castor oil.





3. Then they prepare the cloth with Myrobalam (a dried fruit of Indian tree) to absorb the base dye color.
4. Then they do resist using Quick Lime and Gum Arabic (Bamboo Tree Resin) with wooden blocks on the outline of the pattern.




5. Then they prepare the paste with Jaggery. Jaggery is mixed with water and kept with old iron which kept after 20 days to rot in a tank. This is called “Lohe wala Pani”. Since this water solely cannot be used as a Black dye because it will bleed, it is mixed with Tamarind seed powder (Kachuka) and boiled. That makes for the black base color that we see in Ajrakh.







6. Resist is applied again which is made of Alum, Quick Lime and Gum Arabic.

7. Various colors are applied that are derived from natural dyes or mordents, and printed with wooden blocks. Some of the colored dyes are even made of pomegranate peel, turmeric and henna.



8. The cloth is final-washed.












After briefly interacting with Ismail Mohammed Khatri, the master Ajrakh Artisan it was our time to leave. Watching the Ajrakh printing that involved passion and persistence, I couldn’t stop myself and got a stole. The transformation of a white plain fabric to the riot of rustic colors creating art in front of my eyes was not only soothing to see but interesting to learn about. The journey I must suggest in Bhuj to my readers.

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