The magical Yellow colour is derived from the dye preparation of turmeric and pomegranate peels
An impromptu expedition led me to a village called Dhamadka, 45 kms away from Bhuj, Kutch. The entire village tells a story of the revival of an exclusive hand block-printing technique that came to Kutch from Sindh, about 400 years ago at the mandate of the then king of Kutch. The craftspersons from Khatri community came forward to come and practice their craft on the Banks of Dhamadka river. A popular saying amongst the local artisans is that “Ajrakh” means Aaj rakh i.e., “Keep it today”.
A series of entire generations of family have worked hard to revive this art in the purest and most innovative ways possible. Currently, it is the 9th generation of the craftspersons of Khatri family who first came from sindh, that practices Ajrakh craft extensively. Nauman, a senior person from the family, and Priyanka, an Ajrakh enthusiast took me through the process of block printing and explained everything with fine detail and passion.
It was evident that getting a thaan of Ajrakh ready is a long, laborious and conscious process.
The fabric goes through 16 intensive stages of processing, and multiple cycles of printing and dyeing. It can take about a month to produce. Natural mineral and vegetable dyes are used to print the geometric patterns with wooden blocks. They are dyed in the roots of madder plant, alizarine red and indigo blue. The Meenakari Ajrakh, which has darker and more vibrant colours, is printed again in alum. Selected areas are over-printed with resist paste before dyeing again in the indigo bath.
Customers influenced by fast fashion might not find Ajrakh worth buying. But someone who is aware of the conscious efforts directed to bring a simple piece of cloth to life by filling in vibrant layers of natural dyes and brilliant block patterns, would definitely know how vital it is to sustain this craft.
Block printing being one of the oldest printing methods in the Indian Subcontinent, has proofs from the excavations of Indus Valley Civilization, still thrives and is practiced widely. To witness the process live was a delight to my eyes. When I touched the final crisp sun-dried thaan of Ajrakh held by a happy and satisfied craftsperson, I was moved.
It felt like the fabric carries a story in itself. It’s not just a cloth but a legacy!