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The Beauty of Ajrakh Print

The highly prized bold geometric forms using indigo, madder and printed mordants, are the ingredients to these easily recognisable Ajrakh prints. Traditional block printing carried out by a limited group of master printers, the Khatari community of dyers and printers in Pakistan, Kachchh in Gujarate and Barmer in Rajasthan, A complex process of printing geometric patterns, using natural dyes and mud resist technique

Traditionally worm by Men, as a lunghi,(a little similar to a sarong) or turban. And quite often just over the shoulder to carry spices or vegetables. Worn by the Maldari Muslim community of cattle herders in Gujarate and musician communities in Rajasthan. More recently it has enjoyed political status as a sign of Sindhi pride and solidarity. Worn almost exclusively by Muslims. It is important that these designs are true to aniconism in Islamic design, no human or animal depictions.

In Gujarate the Khatris community print ajrakh in 3 different motifs for local women as well as for men, used for a simple ghaggro skirt (9-10 metres of cloth joined to make a tube, with the upper edge turned down and stitched to form space for cord to be inserted to draw in the cloth in) different prints depicting a woman’s age and marital status.

Along the Indus River valley, the craft of ajrakh printing dates back to early civilisation 2600-1750 BC. Cotton threads dyed with madder have been found at Mohenjo Daro in Sindh, modern day Pakistan, where remains of whorls for spinning and sewing needles were also excavated. By the first millennium AD Indian traders were moving their goods overland through Central Asia and the Silk routes of China as well as overseas into the Mediterranean and Egypt. These trade routes not only moved cotton cloth, spices and gems but people, languages and Buddhism, influencing styles to honour political rulers, as artisans moved from one area to another at royal invitation.

A true ajrakh print will follow a traditional layout of multiple boarders, colour and central fields. The ends dyed red, the sides blue… The core design feature includes simple flora and diamond designs, with dates, figs, almonds and plant also used in the mathematical symmetry of ajrakh., requiring several blocks to complete the print. A true ajrakh requires 14 different stages.

1. Washing out impurities in the cotton

2. Saaj – softening process

3. Washing

4. Kasano – pre-mordant – with harde (fruit of the myroballan tree)

5. Khariyanu – printing an outline design with a block and resist paste

6. Kut- printing black with kut paste - from jaggery and horse shoes

7. Pa mordant – printing with the red mordant – from tamarind seeds

8. Gach resist – printing with a resist paste with alum to prevent the indigo staining the cloth, the alum as a mordant for subsequent red dyes

9. Dhori gach resist. – resist paste without alum

10. Indigo dip 1 and 2

11. Washing to remove paste

12. Alzerin or madder bath with dried tamarisk flowers

13. Tapano – soak in camel dung solution – left over 3 days on the river bank to bleach the areas where the madder has left a pinkish hue.

14. Final washing

The greater the number of borders the more sumptuous and expensive the final piece becomes. Print can be applied to one or both sides of the cloth; double sided printing requiring advanced techniques, with patterns lining up on both sides. A sign of great mastery and quality, creating a status piece for the wearer…. And making sure that the cloth is never worn by mistake inside out!

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