Ajrak, a unique block-printed cloth from Sindh, is said to be as old as the Indus Valley Civilization. Making it requires time and intricate knowledge of the environment.
Ajrak refers to a unique block-printed cloth that has come to symbolize Sindhi culture and tradition. Derived from the Arabic word Azrak, meaning blue, Ajrak is said to trace its history back to the Indus Valley Civilization. At Mohenjo-daro the bust of a Priest-King was discovered with a cloth draped over his shoulder that resembles Ajrak. A versatile piece of clothing, men usually wear it on their shoulder or on their head as a turban, while women prefer to use it as a shawl to drape themselves or as a makeshift swing for their children. As a sign of its value, Ajrak is often given as a gift.
The process of making Ajrak requires time and effort. Depending on the intricacy of the design, the number of colors, and the different types of blocks used, it can take up to twenty people to prepare a single unique garment. Traditional Ajrak makers still use the methods handed down for centuries, and since this process uses mostly natural ingredients it is necessary for them to develop a harmonious relationship with their environment. The pure cotton cloth is first washed by the river and then steamed. This allows for the cloth to become soft and free of impurities. It is then soaked in camel dung, seed oil and water, then packed into an airtight bundle for five to ten days and later dried under the sun. Upon drying it is again given an oil treatment, then thoroughly washed in the river and finally soaked in a special mixture containing dried lemons, molasses, castor oil, water and Galls of Tamarisk. When dried, it is finally ready for printing.
The wooden blocks used in printing are made from Acacia Arabica trees. It is believed that block printing was first used in China and later made its way south to Mohenjo-daro. The design is then imprinted on to the cloth, and outlined using a paste of lime, acacia gum, and rice paste before the dying takes place. The dying process requires multiple steps involving the use of dyes, namely indigo (blue) and red, and the use of natural pastes to protect the white areas in the dying process. The finished product is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and a tribute to Sindhi culture.
Bilgrami, Noorjehan. Sindh jo Ajrak. Karachi: Department of Culture and Tourism, Government of Sindh, 1990.