The Tale Of Ajrakh Print: Keeping Up The Long-Lasting Legacy Of Khatris

By: Himakshi Phukan

Acute geometrical and floral patterns with striking colours describe the alluring art of Ajrakh. The gorgeous colours used bring vivid imageries ranging from the clear blue sky to the limitless universe, reflects the vastness of the art. Aj-rakh, a colloquial term that means keep it today, represents the age-old ongoing tradition of this art. While rushing through all the way to have a stylish western get-up for club parties in contemporary times; a bit of Indianness is always present in our hearts to glam up for a wedding night or to get a classy formal look while attending office parties or relaxing while going for casual meetups as we need to roll on with our dear ones. Designs and the use of natural colours are vital sources that make Indian handloom textiles shine globally. Wholesome colours of nature always carry some messages to convey to its people, where artisans play a primary role in reflecting those messages through their divine art.

Rooted In Antiquity

Known for its cultural richness and varied symmetrical motifs printed on cotton & silk cloth material, Ajrakh fabric still carries its grace and glamour. Though the block designs and floral patterns are deeply rooted in the Khatri community culture, these sarees never go out of fashion due to their extravagant quality and substantial craft. Like Bandhani, another famous fabric of Gujarat, Ajrakh has its roots in the ancient Indus valley civilization. The priest-king of Mohenjodaro wrapped a shawl on his body with circular patterns that provide a piece of evidence regarding the existence of Ajrakh art. The people living in the Kutch region of Gujarat practice this art form that has become the limelight in all the Indian ethnic boutiques.

The King of Kutch Rao Bharmalji I was very fond of this art for its integrative beauty of colours and patterns. He brought the Khatri people of Sindh to work for him in his kingdom of Kutch. They settled in Dhamadka village and produced Ajrakh paintings. They had to relocate themselves to Ajrakpur village near Bhuj, the capital of Kutch, after the havoc created by the earthquake in 2001. No disaster could restrain these skilled artisans from breaking their record of creating antiques with passion and diligence.

Sustainable and Eco friendly

Using natural dye made from indigo, madder, pomegranate bark, seeds, jaggery, harder, camel dung, rusted iron, and many natural ingredients bring vibrant colours by stamping the printed blocks on the plain fabric offers a unique texture to it. The entire process of this art involves fourteen to sixteen steps of washing, dyeing, printing, and drying. Washing the fabric multiple times with soda ash, oil, and water to soften its pores is the first cleansing step of the process. Harda, a natural dye, is applied as a mordant to the washed cloth, making it yellow. It helps fix the other colours, like alizarine, indigo which produces red, black, and blue colours. These are colour reactions produced by intermixing the natural dyes, and they have several representations of nature. Indigo & White represents the sky and stars, Red represents sunrise and sunset, whereas Black represents monsoon clouds.

The dyed cloth is washed further with water and detergent that creates a fine product. Ajrakh is also known for resist painting which is done by combining with other printing and dyeing techniques on both sides of the fabric. As this art form is known for its block patterns, there are tools called "printed blocks" made from the trees of Acacia Arabica. Beautiful carvings in pairs with intricate designs and patterns in these traditional printing blocks show the expertise of the artists. Once the cloth is stretched and pinned on a table, the printed blocks are imprinted accordingly to form symmetrical patterns. The printing and dyeing process is repeated twice to produce brilliant colour contrast and clarify the art form. With the development of this craft, new contemporary motifs have come up to replace the traditional twenty-four designs. Earlier, Ajrakh prints found their roots in turbans, lungi, and shawl used by men of the Maldhari community(tribal herdsmen in Gujarat). Women also wore skirts of block prints and used Ajrakh textiles as bedcovers for baby cradles.

The presence of naturalness in Ajrakh sarees strengthens the pores that allow the air to pass through and provides a sense of comfort in the summer days. Pores remain thick and dense without allowing the air to pass on, which provides warmth in the winter days. The feeling of comfort it serves throughout the year is what makes it usable, even today. Moreover, the natural substances used in the art form make the fabric non-toxic and non-allergic to the skin. While maintaining the authenticity of the craft and appreciating the hard work of Indian artisans, Ajrakh sarees range from the price of 2000, and it exceeds depending on the designs and fabric. These sarees also need utmost care to handle because the colour may fade sometimes. According to the given instructions, users should soak these sarees in cold water with mild detergent, dry them in the shade, and iron them (only cotton Ajrakh sarees).

When it comes to fashion and beauty, no other country can bet on the creativity of Indian youths. With better ideas and choices, Indian fashion designers are working on the revival and recreation of traditional fabrics, giving rise to fusion and indo-western wear. The Lakme Fashion Week of 2017 took sustainability of fashion as its primary objective to work. Fashion designers from different parts of India, including renowned Manish Malhotra, Ritu Kumar, and many contemporaries, showcased their plethora of designs. Ahmed Khatri & Sarfraz Khatri's showroom Pracheen marks as legendary for Ajrakh's wardrobe. Safraz Khatri associated with Anjali Patel's label Verandah, and she presented her Bohemian apparel with Ajrakh motifs. Mohammed Yusuf Khatri's block printing techniques in Bagh patterns will let you feel the beauty of the fauna and architecture of the land. He collaborated with Anjali Patel, incorporated block prints on her high-end Boho chic creations. Paramparik Karigars, a

group of five designers, showcased their unique collection of textiles which included Ajrakh fabrics with an oriental touch. Bhoomi Dani's love for Ajrakh handwoven textiles made her create the label Vraj Bhoomi with a sporadic collection of treasured items.

The National award-winning craftsperson Khatri Abdullah received international recognition for presenting preserved timeless Ajrakh crafts in the workshops and exhibitions held in Germany & the US. It also made its way to occupy a place in the international museums like Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Another artisan Jabbar Khatri for his innovative Ajrakh designs won the 1st International Crafts Award in 2017 and UNESCO Excellence Awards. The Khatri community is acclaimed overseas for its remarkable contribution to sustaining this 4000-year art form that has transcended over so many generations. With their continuous effort, they will be able to set a benchmark in the global fashion industry.

SOME HANDS WITH HEARTS(SHWH) is always up to fill your closet with their

the vast collection of Ajrakh fabrics and to honour their traditional magnificence.

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