Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000


Copyright © 2000 by the author(s).


Ajrak is a traditional cloth from the province of Sindh in Pakistan, whose lineage dates back to the period of the Indus Valley Civilization which flourished from 2500 - 1500 BC.

Pakistan, bordered by India, Afghanistan and Iran, has the River Indus flowing southwards from the Himalayas and emptying into the Arabian Sea. Pakistan is only fifty-three years old as an independent country but excavations here have revealed several major ancient cities and their material cultures, which existed on this land thousands of years ago. Amongst a wealth of pottery and ornaments discovered at the site of Mehergarh (6500 - 4500 BC) was found the impression of a woven cloth.

The celebrated statue of the King Priest discovered at Moenjodaro has a trefoil motif on the draped shawl. The ajrak craftsmen claim that the pattern is kakar, a cloud pattern. The same trefoil is seen on the Hathor Cow and on the bodies of Sumerian bulls in Mesopotamia where the concept of trinity was evolved. The trefoil is thought to be composed of three sun discs fused together to represent the inseparable unity of the Gods of Sun, Water and Earth.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the sub-continent was the development of the technology of dyeing and printing of fabric. This is evident from the discovery of a dyer's workshop at Moenjodaro. Indigo Ferra Tinetoria, the most ancient fabled dye also grew in abundance on the banks of River Indus.

In 1930, hundreds of cotton fragments were retrieved from Al Fustat - harbor of Old Cairo - dating from the 11th to the 14th century AD. These fragments are the earliest known printed textiles. The simple patterns printed with small sized blocks, resist dyed in indigo and madder, bear a striking similarity to ajrak.

Historically, Sindh has been trade-oriented and receptive to external influences. Over a period of time, the craftsmen developed printing techniques from simple resist patterning on one side, to the rich tonal, two-sided resist-printed cloth, the 'ajrak' .