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Meet the Craftsmen of Ajrak Printing

Ajrak printing in Sindh, Pakistan, the Kutch district of Gujarat and Barmer, Rajasthan are fairly similar in regards to production techniques, featured motifs and the use of colours. This is primarily due to the fact that artisans in these regions descend from the same caste - families of the Khatri community who migrated from the Sindh province to the Kutch district and Barmer in the 16th century who are descendants of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. Today, the Khatri community are acclaimed for perpetuating the traditional techniques of ajrak printing.

Women from the Khatri community whose ancestors migrated from Sindh, Pakistan to Kutch, Gujarat
Women from the Khatri community whose ancestors migrated from Sindh, Pakistan to Kutch, Gujarat

Dr. Ismail Mohammed Khatri, a 9th generation master ajrak artisan from Kutch, Gujarat
Dr. Ismail Mohammed Khatri, a 9th generation master ajrak artisan from Kutch, Gujarat

Before the devastating earthquake which struck Gujarat in 2001, the Khatri community practised ajrak printing in the village of Dhamadka in the Kutch district. Government and non-government organisations relocated artisans to the relatively new village of Ajrakhpur, formed in commemoration of ajrak printing and its master craftsmen. The Khatri community are not only known for their dominance in ajrak printing within Gujarat and Rajasthan, but also for other traditional textile arts such as tie and dye, or, alternatively, bandhani.

However, it is the Khatri families that reside particularly in Ajrakhpur, Gujarat and Barmer, Rajasthan who have been known to excel at ajrak printing and, today, continue the traditional techniques of their ancestors. In recent times, master ajrak producers of the Khatri community have instructed members of the Muslim Harijan community in the production of ajrak printed fabrics. This not only ensures that the art of ajrak printing will remain strong into the future, but also exemplifies the versatility of India’s traditional craftsmen and the integration of traditional textile techniques in contemporary fashion and home furnishings.

Sign to Ajrakhpur, Kutch, Gujarat
Sign to Ajrakhpur, Kutch, Gujarat

Modern day improvements to the manufacture of ajrak printed fabrics, such as the use of eco-friendly synthetic dyes and invention of machinery that reduces production time, jeopardise the traditions of the textile art. However, the use of traditional natural dyes is resurgent, attributable to the global urban market’s recognition and appreciation of the age-old textile art whereby designs and production techniques have stood the test of time. Numerous government and non-government initiatives continue to contribute to the conservation and sustenance of ajrak printing’s traditions and the lifestyle of its artisans.

An ajrak artisan at work in Barmer, Rajasthan
An ajrak artisan at work in Barmer, Rajasthan

 

Images: Ecco Eco, D'Source, Abigail Fern, Daniel Shah