Workshop on a pantheon of Indian Art & Crafts: Ajrakh Printing

Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them to express ourselves.” 
                                                                                                                           -  Phyllis George


Introducing the young enthusiasts to some of our rich craft traditions, Sushant School of Design conducted its first, three day ‘Craft Appreciation Workshop’ on ‘Ajrakh’ conducted by Dr. Ismail Khatri in the month of September. While, Dr.I.Khatri is a master craftsman and recipient of many awards including an Hon.D.Art from De Montfort University, UK, his family has been practicing and sustaining this craft for ten generations.
Dr. Ismail Khatri with his son

Ajrakh is the traditional attire of the Maldhari pastoral community of Bhuj.

(Fig 1) The men wear it as a lungi (wrapped lower garment), as a turban (sofa), or draped on their shoulders.The true origin for the name ‘Ajrakh’ is unknown however there are various interesting interpretations that could be shared here:

( Fig 1)
According to folklore there was a King who loved to change his bed-sheets every day.  One day when an artisan presented the king with a sheet that had been created through a lengthy complex method he had been working on for days the King liked it so much that he requested to let the sheet be for the day saying ‘ aaj rakh’ each time someone tried to change the sheets. This led to the name of this uniquely created fabric the artisans came to call ‘Ajrakh’.According to Dr. Ismail Khatri, the name has evolved from the lengthy processes involved. As the fabric is developed over many days requiring printing and dyeing to be done in layers with a gap of time this led to the phrase ‘Aaj ke din rakh’ (Keep it for today) before the next process can begin.
An Arabic word 'Ajrakh', means ' blue’ referring to the blue of Indigo, a dominant colour used. The uniqueness of the craft of ajrakh dyeing and printing lies in the method of dyeing and printing the fabric. Ajrakh is a double sided resist block-printed and natural dyed technique practiced and sustained by the Khatri community of Kutch in Gujarat.  Though it came to Kutch some 400 years ago, when the Khatri ancestors migrated from Sind (said to be its birthplace), it can be traced back to the Indus Valley civilization. The two-week printing process results in stunning printed cloth.
  One of the wooden blocks used for printing the resist
Another belief is that the Sanskrit word ‘Ajharat’ or ‘that which does not fade/decay ’may have had some contribution to the name….According to Dr. Ismail Khatri, The starry geometrical pattern on an indigo background denoting the sky is also a symbolic representation of the Universe.

   Dr. Ismail Khatri with participants
The process of 'Ajrakh' is lengthy and involves a number of stages. According to Dr. Khatri the following steps lead to the creation of the beautiful Ajrakh.

 Saaj  -The process of desizing the fabric by washing the cotton cloth and then soaking it in a solution of castor oil, soda ash and camel dung overnight is known as saaj. The following day, the cloth is laid flat to dry in the sun. When it is semi-dry, it is returned to the solution of castor oil, soda ash and camel dung. Saaj and the drying stage are repeated (7-9 times) until the cloth foams when rubbed. It is then washed in plain water.                                                             
Kasano- The cloth is dyed in a cold solution of myrobalan (powdered nut of the hard tree). This stage is known as kasanu. The cloth is then calendered, after which it is laid flat to dry in the hot sun. If the cloth is to be printed on both sides, it is turned over during drying to ensure sun treatment for both sides. The myrobalan powder is then brushed off the cloth. Myrobalan acts as the first mordant.

 ·      Rekh - Is a resist of lime and gum Arabic which is printed on to the cloth to define the outline of the design. Rekh is printed onto both sides of the cloth using carved wooden blocks.
                Students Printing Rekha 

     Kat - Is the paste made by fermenting scrap iron, jaggery (raw cane sugar) and besan (gram flour). This mixture is left to ferment which takes about one week in the hot season and two weeks during the cold season; a yellowish scum on the surface of the mixture indicates that it is ready for use. The liquid, or “iron water” is drained off and added to tamarind seed powder. The iron and tamarind solution is thoroughly mixed, and then boiled for one hour. The resulting “iron paste” is printed on to the cloth creating black impressions.
 The resist printed pieces ready for dyeing
  Kan - Tamarind seed powder is mixed with alum (aluminium sulphate) and then boiled for one hour to produce a printing paste for red areas of the design. A small amount of a fugitive dye is added to this in order to aid registration when used for printing. Traditionally geru (red clay) was used. Printing of the alum paste is known as kan.
·   Gach - A paste of alum, millet flour, red clay and gum arabic is printed on the cloth where there are large areas of red in the design. A resist of lime and gum arabic is also printed at this time; this combined stage is known as gach. Sawdust is sprinkled on to the printed areas to protect the design from smudging. After gach printing, the cloth is left to dry naturally for several days. The paste used for gach printing is made from local clay which is filtered through muslin, millet flour and alum. The millet flour is boiled and then red clay and alum are added and the paste is filtered to achieve the required consistency for printing.

·    Badow - The stage where the cloth is dyed in indigo is called bodaw. In order to establish an indigo vat, natural indigo, sagikhar (a salt), lime, casiatora (seed from kuwada plant) and water are mixed in a clay vessel, plastic barrel or concrete vat. The dye bath is left to ferment for about one month; sometimes jaggery is added to this to aid fermentation. It is ready to use when the colour of the solution is yellowish (best quality) or greenish (medium quality). With an established indigo vat, indigo, jaggery and water are added as required to maintain the strength of the dye colour. A faster alternative is to make a solution of natural indigo, caustic soda and hydrosulphate, which is ready to use in one or two days. 
   Before Dyeing and washing
  Rang- Traditionally, this stage is either madder or al dyeing, depending on the availability of the dye stuffs. The cloth is boiled in a solution of tamarix (from the dhawri tree) and either madder root powder or al root powder and is then washed and sun-dried. But for some ajrakh, alizarin (synthetic madder) may be used, in which case the cloth is boiled in a solution of alizarin and tamarix powder. In all cases, the cloth is washed in plain water after dyeing and dried flat in the sun. At this stage (rang), the red and black areas of the design develop and the resist areas are revealed as white.

 Minakari Persian refers Minakari to enamelling but in Kachchh (Kutch) it means ‘double work’. Gach (alum printing) is repeated. The cloth is left for several days after this.

  Second Indigo Dyeing (bodaw) - Cloth is sun-dried.

 Vichharnu - The cloth is washed in running water and laid flat to dry in the sun
After Dyeing and washing
Traditional ajrakh printing continues in craft villages such as Ajrakhpur and Dhamadka   in Gujarat.

Further demonstrating on the workshop at SSD, it was open to anyone interested in Indian crafts and its significance. No prior knowledge of traditional crafts or design was required. The overwhelming response has encouraged us to continue this endeavour of creating a platform where craft enthusiasts can get a better understanding of our rich craft traditions and be able to appreciate them.
Gaze out for our other workshops on “Craft Appreciation” too.

Ms. Promil Pande
Sushant School of Design
Ansal University                                                                                                                   



Technology Innovation: Boon or Bane

Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind's greatest achievements have come about by talking. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.
-Stephen Hawking

Imagine you are walking in to a store to purchase a mobile. The sales person may display four to five models in front of you. A comparative table of these models shown in front of your eyes would be of great help to select a mobile.  Let us consider another situation. Imagine you are travelling in car and have lost your way back home. You wish to have the path displayed in front of your eyes and guide you to reach home.

Hope all these imaginations discussed by you with your friends have reached Google and has come out as a new innovation in technology named as “Google Glass”.

It looks like a normal spectacle with features like taking pictures of what we see, giving information about what we see and responding to what we talk. Hope you would have guessed it right. It’s the latest innovation in technology named “Google Glasses”. It is a camera, touchpad, microphone and battery built into spectacle frame. The display will be on the upper right and is designed to be easily seen without obstructing the normal view. According to Google, the display is “the equivalent of a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away”. Real time transmission of what is being seen by a person on his foreign trip to his family and friends through video conferencing will make him feel at home in the foreign land. A microphone and a touchpad on one arm of the frame will enable us to select the required action by gesture or by talking to the device. The sound will be produced through bone conductor transfer – vibrating the skull to transmit to ears. Google glass assisted surgery may help medical students to see the surgical process literally through their senior doctor’s eye. Assistance of experts from remote locations is also possible. This is can transform the face of technology.

With an array of rosy side of this new gadget let us look at the thorny side of it. Privacy could be an issue as the pictures or video of persons can be taken without their consent. Not even a click is required to capture pictures. This gadget in the hands of an evil minded person will be a disaster. Usage of this device for driving direction is advisable but could also be a distraction while driving. A Facebook update or mail notification in the middle of driving may be a great distraction which may even make them to update their facebook status as “met with an accident”. Usage of bone induction technology to transfer sound and viewing display close to eyes may bring serious health hazards when it is used incessantly. Display of Information and advertisement of the frequently used products while shopping may be annoying.     

Now comes the question of whether go for Google glasses or not. All technology advancement has bright and dark sides. The utilization of it in the constructive manner always depends on the user of the technology. It has to be used in conjunction with business, economic and social system. The phrase “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” can be redefined for technology usage as “Constructive usage of technology is in the hands of the beholder.” Let us wind up with an expectation for the constructive usage of Google glass which will be available in the commercial market by 2014.   

P Vidhyalakshmi
Assistant Professor
School of Computer Applications