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Have you ever wondered about the beautiful textiles that India has to offer? India was the largest exporter of textiles in the 17th and 18th Centuries, before the Industrial revolution. One such beautiful textile craft is Ajrakh Printing. Of course a lot of these crafts are being revived now, thanks to the enthusiasm of individuals, NGOs and government. Here is some information on Ajrakh printing.

Sindh is the actual birthplace of Ajrak cloth. Ajrak has been in Sindh since the era of Mohenjodaro, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, or even before that. However, the true origin of the word "Ajrak" is unknown. In Arabic, Ajrak means blue or indigo. Blue color is dominantly used in Ajrak printing and hence the word. Also, Sindh was traditionally a large producer of indigo and cotton cloth and both of these products used to be exported to the Middle East. It is unknown whether the word Ajrak came from Arabic to Sindhi or added from Sindhi to Arabic. Traditionally, the fabric would be about 2.5 to 3 meters long. Men used it as a turban, a cummerbund, and wrapped it around the shoulders. Women used it as a dupatta and chaddar or as a shawl. There are some people who still use it, though it has become more commercial now.

It is patterned in intense jewel like colors. The dominant colors are rich crimson and a deep indigo. A little bit of white and black is also used to give definition to the geometric patterns. The geometrical designs in the fabric seem to echo principles of Sufism or Islamic spiritualism that has several great proponents in the ancient land of Sindh. The symbolism of geometric patterns is generated from the concept of symmetry these repeated patterns representing cosmic processes that extend in all directions.
Ajrak colors come out the best on cotton fabric. Earlier only cotton fabric was being used for Ajrak printing. These days silk is also used but the colors on silk do not come out very rich. As wood absorbs the color better and more uniformly, only wooden blocks are used in Ajrak printing. First block (used in printing of mud resist) is made of sesham and the blocks used in third and fourth stages of printing are made of teak. Wooden blocks are soaked in mustard oil when not in use so they do not expand in the rainy season.

Dyes Used: In olden days only natural vegetable dyes were used for Ajrak. Now they have been substituted by chemical dyes. Blue Indigo Red color: Alum, molasses, wheat flour, and fennel. The areas to be dyed red are printed and while still wet are dusted with ground cow dung or rice husk to protect against the indigo dye to be printed later. Black color: Ferrous sulphates, molasses, millet flour, and tamarind seed powder is used to make it thicker. Traditional Ajrak colors are red, black, and indigo. These days yellow, orange and rust are also being used for a more contemporary look.