A Comprehensive Guide to Ajrakh Print

If there is one print in India that holds the place of pride, it is none other than the popular hand block printing technique "Ajrakh". The old-age craft of coloring or dyeing fabric with the help the wooden blocks has been practiced for generations. These ancient block printing are symbolic of our country's rich culture and vast heritage, popular with various names across different regions.

India, being one of the largest producers of this Ajrakh Printing, it is therefore important that you must know more about it. To help get know about the Ajrakh print in India below we are going to take you back to a detailed guide about the Ajrakh print and going to discuss the beauty of Handcrafted Ajrakh saree and Ajrakh Stoles.

What is Ajrakh Block Print?

The popular term Ajrakh or Ajrak is derived from the Persian Arabic term "Azarak" which means blue. It is a handcrafted wooden print technique using the resist dye method with the help of natural dyes. It is an exclusive fabric printing method with its roots in the Sindh region of Pakistan, along with the various districts of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The creation of asymmetrical floral designs with the help of natural dye makes it unique and different from any other art form around the world.

The Khatri community religiously practices this ancient Ajrakh craft. The art form includes a variety of floral designs, making them one of the most complex art practiced on fabric. These patterns on the Ajrakh fabric are created using Indigo, madder and mordents where any human and animal abstracts are avoided. The synergy of natural dyes and the handloom textile creates the magic of Ajrakh print.

Origin of Ajrakh Block Printing

During the Indus Valley Civilization, cotton cultivation was quite popular, it is believed that it laid the foundation of the Ajrakh print in India. Some of the historical references indicate priests put the Ajrakh Dupatta on their shoulders. Also, studies reveal that fabrics similar to Ajrakh were found in Mesopotamia.

The Ajrakh hand block printing was practiced by the Khatri community who used to live on the bank of the river Indus. Later on, these families migrated to Kutch, where the king of that time allowed them to settle on the barren, uninhabited land. They put up their dryers and printers and started practicing printing.

Story of Ajrakhpur

Ajrakhpur, also known as Gujarat's art and craft village, is Ajrakh print's home. Over 100 families live over here with the 30 official block printing workshops. Earlier, these families used to live in the Dhamadka district and later relocated to the Ajrakhpur district of Kutch. The Dhamadka was no more suitable for the further production of Ajrakh since the river dried, the water level went down and at last, after being hit by the earthquake, they have to leave the town. The Ajkrajpur is where you find the worker and artisans engaged in wooden hand block printing.

Ajrakh Print Technique and Process

The technique of Ajrakh block printing is complex and tedious and usually takes10-15 days to be perfected. The fabric requires several stages of washing and printing done repeatedly with the help of mordants and natural dyes. The printing involves the resist printing technique where the dyes are absorbed in some respective areas only.

With the growing trend and the evolution in the fashion, these artisans who earlier used to work specifically on Ajrakh fabric have started to work out with other fabric materials also. One of the popular collaborations which is worn by everyone is the Bandhani with Ajrakh saree collection.

Ajrakh Block Printing Steps

Here is the list of the complete Ajrakh Print procedure which is being done step by step.

1. Grey Cloth-

In the first step, the cotton is loaded with the impurities like oils, wax and pectin which help the thread lubricate and prevent them from the brokerage. Later on, these impurities are removed before the printing and dyeing process.

2. Saaj-

The process is done to soften, clean, and prepare the cotton. The pre-treatment of the cotton is done which involves a minimum of 3 soaking in the Neerani solutions. The cotton is emulsified with soda ash, castor oil and camel dug and kept overnight. The process is done ten times which helps in getting that bright white color with a soft touch.

3. Washing-

After the Saaj process, a thick layer of lather is created on the cotton which is to be cleaned using soap and water. The washing is done precisely by soaking and beating which help rinse out all the impurities.

4. Kasano-

Once cleaned, the cloth is soaked in Harde (a yellow paste made from the dried myrobalan tree). The fabric is later dried in the open air under the sun without rinsing off the solution. The sun tanning permeates the cotton fiber, which helps in the adhesive of the subsequent printed mordant onto the cloth.

5. Khariyanu -

It is an outline of the design where white is required and printed with the help of a carved wooden block and resists paste containing the lime and tree gun.

6. Kut- Kut is areas where black is required and not printed with the Kut paste. The paste is a smooth jaggery paste in which scrap iron such as horseshoes is fermented for ten to fifteen days. Later the resulting liquid is drained off and mixed with the smooth tree gum paste.

7. Pa Mordant-

A mordant is a substance also known as inorganic oxide. It combines with the dye or stain, which later fixes it in the material. The mordant is now applied to the cloth. Alum ( Aluminium Sulphate used in leather tanning ) is transformed into the sticky paste of boiled powder from the roaster ground tamarind seed. The smooth paste is known as Pa. This Pa is later printed with the blocks which have been carved so that the printed portion of the raised face is patterned only with the design called Mavi.

8. Gach Resist-

In this stage, a fine smooth paste is mixed from the tree gum, water, clay and millet flour. The alum is added to half of this mixture. This Gach is then used to overprint the previous pa, which helps achieve the deeper reds or more complicated coloring pattern. The clay and millet paste created earlier acts as a resist which helps in preventing the Indigo from staining the cloth beneath.

9. Dhori Gach Resist-

The second half of the Gach mixture which was left in the above stem without the Alum is called the Dhori Gach. This mixture is printed over all the previously printed white and black areas where the previously Gach paste did not receive. The clay and millet flour in this Dhori act as the resistant, protecting areas of patterning where no indigo is required. At last, the sawdust or finely powdered cow dung is sprinkled over these two Gach pastes preventing it from smudging the design.

10. Indigo Dip 1 -

As Ajrakh represents the blue color design, the fabric is dipped into the bucket or concrete pit to absorb.

11. Indigo dip 2-

Dipping the fabric for the second time will help deepen the color of the blue portion of an Ajrakh design. If two shades are required in the design, then the cloth is again reprinted.

12. Washing-

Once the dyeing process has been completed, washing and beating is done. It helps in removing the resist paste. It helps lose the extra indigo dye and the tamarind paste from the cloth. The remaining fiber is the indigo blue, Alum and Kut black and the resisted white plain.

13. Red Dyeing-

The crushed roots of the Majeeta and Indian madder are heated along with the cloth in a large copper pot. This process helps get the purest red dyes. In case the color is spread into the white areas, a handful of dried tamarisk flowers are added to it.

14. Tapano-
The color compound contained in the natural madder roots is much more complex than the synthetic one. To act against this, the dyed cloth is soaked in the solution of camel dung, which is later on laid out on the banks of the river. It is then regularly sprinkled with the water over the period of 2-3 days. The sun, moisture along with the compound in the dung act as the bleaching agent in the white areas of the designs.

15. Final Washing-

The final step involves washing and beating, which helps in removing any loose color on the fabric. The washing clears off the excess dyes and makes the cloth brighter. The water helps enrich the alum, tin, and chrome deposit in the material, which helps brighten the fabric's colors. The presence of iron in the water supply dulls and darkens the final results.

Ajrakh Print in Modern Day

The Ajrakh block printing has now become increasingly popular in the present time. A huge amount of brands along with popular fashion designer chooses Ajrakh print. Apart from this, you will find famous Bollywood actresses flaunting themself in the trendy Modal silk Ajrakh print saree.

The Ajrakh is not only limited to women nowadays, the Ajrakh is popular among men also. You will find the market flooded with the Ajrakh print shirt for men, which is easy to match with any bottom wear.