Date of this Version
Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.
The region of Gujarat in the west has been an important textile export zone of India and remains an important source of printed cloth, in terms of both volume and quality. Early evidence of Gujarat’s involvement in international trade of colourful block printed textiles comes from the fragments found at the Fostat excavations in Egypt. These have been dated back to the fifteenth century and have been printed by the resist printing technique. The designs, motifs and colours are typical of the hand block printed textiles characteristic of the region today. Khavda and Dhamadka villages in Kutch were known for printing the exotic rich blue and red cloth known as Ajrakh. These cloths were printed in a complicated sequence that involved both resist and mordant techniques. The deep blue sheen was derived from repeated dipping in indigo followed by vigorous beating and polishing. The most highly prized Ajrakh textiles were bipuri, i.e. the ones printed identically on both sides. Traditionally these were used by men as turbans, lungis (sarongs) and shoulder cloths and also as yardages for women’s skirts and veils. The last fifty years has witnessed a tremendous change in every sphere of life, be it economic, social, technological or aesthetic. More and more, old techniques, design structures and patterns are disappearing or losing integrity as a result of transition into other regional or cultural contexts. Ajrakh, with its rich visual vocabulary is in a state of transition, as traditional processes, raw materials, designs, product categories and markets are evolving within the worldwide phenomenon called globalization. In spite of the omnipresent changes that have occurred over the last millennium, the printers of Ajrakh in Kutch continue to print some of the same design motifs that have been popular since very earlier times. The origin of Ajrakh can be traced to Sind, Pakistan. Although the name Ajrakh has many legends as to its origin but more popularly the term seems to be derived from Azrak, which means blue in Arabic. The artisans who made these textiles belonged to the Khatri community (both Hindus /Muslims) and have had artisans from the Gajjar community making the blocks in a place called Pethapur, near Ahmadabad. Ajrakh (a term thought to be derived from azraq, the Arabic for blue) has a multitude of uses. Always made in a rectangular format (about 2.5 x 1.8m), Ajrakhs may be used as turbans, shawls, or lungis by men and in certain areas of Kutch, as odhnies by women, not to mention the many household uses to which a large rectangular cloth can be put (Charpai-cover, curtain, floorspread). The designs are restricted to a range of geometrical patterns based on squares, with stars, circles and ellipses arranged symmetrically within them. The traditional colouring of Ajrakh is deep blue and red, with a small amount of white and black. According to popular legend, this textile tradition was started in the family of late Mohammad Siddiki when in the year 1586, Raja Bharmal I, invited his forefathers, to migrate from Sind and settle in Dhamadka, Kachchh. The printers amongst the crafts persons who migrated to Dhamadka from Sind were printing the true Azrak – blue, red and white, used by men of the Maldhari community.