Ajrakh is a Sindhi word that describes an ancient technique of decorating cloth. It also can refer to the textile itself. The technique is believed to have developed in the Indus valley, now part of Pakistan, over 4000 years ago. Many of the families who excel at this art form, often with the surname of Khatri, migrated to northern India, to the states of Gujarat and Pakistan, after partition in 1947. These families pass down the skill and knowledge of making these beautiful textiles from one generation to the next.
The process starts with the choice of fabric, usually cotton or silk and often handspun and woven. Washing the fabric multiple times using different mordants gives it a soft background color. The geometric patterns are transferred by stamping the dyes onto the cloth with the utmost precision and steady hands. These blocks, carved from wood (often Gum tree) are works of art in themselves. The dyes are all natural, made from plants or minerals. The combination of resist painting and the use of multiple blocks can create very intricate designs. Depending on the complexity of the pattern, almost 20 steps are involved in the production of one piece and may take months to complete. Traditional pieces are double-sided, with trefoil or circular designs, in red, blue and green colors.
The decorated cotton cloth is used in many ways. It can be a shawl, a belt, a turban, a table covering, a throw, or a baby sling! Receiving an Ajrakh as a gift is an honor.