Colors from the Universe- Natural Dyes of Ajrakh


The magic of capturing the colors of nature on clothes is a divinely inherited skill of Khatris of Kutch which is known as Ajrakh block printing. Traditionally, the Ajrakh was prepared for pastoral communities (Maldhari) such as Rabaris, Bharwads and Jats. The nomadic and tough life, migrating from place to place in search for the best pasture for the cattle; signifies their spiritual connection and utter respect for the nature and universe. Ajrakh patterns of stars, flowers, moon and leaves celebrate the beauty of nature in the form of art and expression on the clothes they wear. The multipurpose cloth of Ajrakh is majorly used by Maldhari men as lungi, turban, and shoulder cloth and also used to tie around knees and waist while sitting on the ground to get the comfortable posture. 


Traditional colors

The traditional color palette for Ajrakh block-print comprise of white, red, blue and black. According to Junaid Khatri, one of the master artisans of Ajrkah block printing; these four colors create the most subtle palette which represents the universe. White color represents the cloud and starts in the sky, red color symbolizes the warm red of sunset sky, Indigo blue is the basic color of sky and Black color signifies the dark nights of Kutch. Other than these primary colors, there is palette for secondary colors too. They are generally prepared by mixing the basic colors of Ajarakh.  


Each color is made with natural materials. Even today, some of the Artisans (Khatris) of Kutch use natural dyes for printing. However, they have developed/altered some of the traditional methods of preparing dye as per the need of market. 

White:  White is the resist used for blocking a particular design with the original color of fabric from dyeing. It is made from lime and gum Arabic. Before poring fabric inside the vessel of dye, the desired design with white is printed with this solution as a resist with wooden blocks. This resist is generally used for getting the outline of design, which is also called as ‘Rekh’. 

Red: The soothing color of the sunset is captured in the red dye made from ‘Alizarin’, ‘Masak’ and ‘Mazist’. Alizarin is a mineral based man-made substance. Alizarin was named after the plant belonging to the Arab countries. It’s roots were being used to get the red color dye. As that particular species of this plant got extinct, the mineral based color resembling the same red, took the place and the name of Alizarin plant.  Mazist is an Afghanistan native plant stem, being used for preparing red dye in Ajarkh printing. 

Blue: In Arabic, Ajrakh means blue. Indigo blue is the basic color for traditional Ajrakh block printing. The blue color is obtained from the tropical plant named Indigo, jaggery and Khajoor.  The extraction of the leaves with lengthy process brings the Indigo dye. This plant was vastly grown in Kutch region earlier, but today it is being imported from Andhra Pradesh. Preparing Indigo is quite tricky, it requires the knowledge of perfect proportion and a lot of patience, as it takes months to get ready.  

Black: Rusted iron is the source of Black dye for Ajrakh printing. Jaggery is used to let the iron rust more and bring out the dark black color from it.  Generally, black is used to create solid background for colorful patterns of Ajrakh.  

Yellow: The spray of yellow on Ajrakh printed fabric converts it into mesmerizing shades of yellow. The blue becomes green, white looks yellow and red takes the shade of orange. This process consists of two layers of dye spray. One dye color is obtained from dried pomegranate peels and another yellow dye is prepared from the most celebrated Indian herb turmeric. 

Apart from these basic colors of Ajrakh, artisans kept exploring the different dyes from different natural materials and successfully, they have created some of the colors too. Green and grey colors are one of the popular colors being used in Ajrakh in recent times. Green is obtained from Henna and grey is the lighter shade of black prepared with little alteration in the process of preparing black. 


The ancient craft of block-printing comprise of multiple skills which includes the hand carved Blocks. Traditionally, the blocks are prepared by the ‘Suthar’ community of Pethapur village near Gandhinagar. 


To dab the proper amount of color on the block color tray is used in Ajrakh printing. Inside the tray, the floating screen made from bamboo sticks wrapped with jute fabric brings the necessary amount of dye on the front. The block is dabbed on this screen to get the perfect amount of dye.



The long fabric should be properly stretched and pinned on the table to get the design right. The workshops of Ajrakh block printing also known as ‘Karkhana’, includes the space for long wooden printing tables and store. 



To dye the fabric, big containers are required to steam the fabric with dye. After dyeing the fabric, it needs a shallow water tank to wash away the excess dye from fabric.  


Ajrakh block printing is a long process which involves multiple stages of printing and washing the fabric. This follows the resist printing technique. To resist the particular pattern from dyeing. The desired pattern is blocked with the paste of mud, alum and lime while dipping the fabric in the dye.  For each color, the process is repeated and each stage of dyeing requires the fabric to be dried under the proper sunlight.  


Ideally, the fabrics should be washed in flowing water where pressure of the water brings out the excess dye from it. This justifies the location of Block printing villages near the flowing river. Dhamadka village which was known as hub for Ajrakh, had two rivers alongside, which is now in completely dried stage. In present, the water is thatched from the ground with boring. 

This complicated and multilayered method of creating a great aesthetic from beautiful patterns with colors makes Ajrakh block printing the expression of patience, inherited knowledge and fine skill of the Artisans. 

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