During the early Aryan period the rig-veda samitha – Hindu sacred text, composed in the second millennium B.C. refers to Sindh as ‘suvasa’ – the maker of good cloth, and in the first century A.D. the cloth imported by the romans from the east was known as ‘cendatus’ or cloth from Sindh. (Bilgrami).
The Usto – master craftsman, of Ajrak printing firmly believe that the shawl draped on the figure of the king priest is Ajrak and the trefoil motif is actually kakar (cloud) pattern. It is also thought to be composed of three sun discs merged together to represent the inseparable unity of the gods of sun, water and earth.
It’s been always believed that Sindh is good at making cloth. And Ajrak is still believed to be most durable cloth. Its durability is because of the natural processing and all the material used in its manufacturing and printing is natural.
The fabric went through different processes before coming into its form. Making of an Ajrak takes a lot of effort and time. The craftsmen work in total harmony with environment. The process is highly complex and comprising 21 stages. It takes the craftsmen almost a month to complete one traditional Ajrak. Art of this Ajrak is handed down from father to son and time has perfected this craft in long and complex process.
Making of Ajrak starts with tearing crisp white pale of cotton into length of cloth. It is then soaked in khaar – carbonated soda which helps to remove starch and impurity after which cloth is allowed to permeate steam, which opens the pores within the woven surface and soften interlocking, this process is called khumbh.
Gissi – camel dunk mixed with khaar and oil from eureka sativa plant. Each Ajrak is soaked into this mixture for eight days; it increases the softness of cotton fibers and enables to receive color. Sakuns – galls of tamarisk, helps fabric to get color from dye. Sakun balls are dissolved in water and cloth is soaked – kasai. These sheets are then dried in sun and dusted before taking to printing. (Bilgrami)
From the seasoned wood, a block is cut to the required size and sanded on a stone to get a leveled plane surface, which is then checked out by the edge of a steel rule. (Bilgrami). Pattern is then transferred from paper to block by aching fine lines along the surface of sheet of tracing paper. These carved designs are based on traditional crafts such as tiles, stone, wood carving, embroidery and other textile. Basic element of these patterns is mizan – balance. (Bilgrami)
Ajrak is then printed with kiryana. Kiryana resist paste is made with gum from keekar tree. Gum is pounded and crushed and then dissolved in water. Lime is added to form resist paste for printing. Phuli are small white stars printed with kiryana. Buffalo dunk is scattered between printing tables. Khaar mixture enables the cloth to receive red color at those areas which are printed at same time khaar mixture acts as a resistant and prevent same areas from turning blue. Cloth is then dipped in indigo vat and pulled out to breath in the oxygen from air. A dye, which is made by the roots of plants found in mountains, is used to give Ajrak its red color. Ajrak are then repeatedly dipped and lifted in steaming liquid and this process is repeated for two hours.
Once it is cooled down it is soaked in camel dunk and water, this helps to remove any excess of color that might enter white areas of Ajrak. Cloth is then scooped with water on river bank.
Ajrak are printed with khaar mixture once again, cow dunk is powdered on these wet areas to quickly dry it. Ajrak is then dyed again in indigo color and then taken to river for final wash and its folded while still damp.
Ajrak making is a long and complex process, all the material and processes are totally natural because of which it takes a lot of time. Ajrak is believed to be sacred cloth of Sindh. There are many workshops all over the Sindh where it is made with same old techniques. Ajrak is categorized into two different types, based on its manufacturing process and designs. Ajrak printed from one side ek-passi is an old technique which later developed to bi-puri Ajrak. (Printed on both sides). Ajrak which have same designs but different manufacturing processes are teli Ajrak, sabuni Ajrak, do rangi Ajrak and kori Ajrak. Whereas Ajrak which have same processing but are different because of their designs are hasho taweez, hasho jo asl, hasho selemee and hasho jo bazar. Manufacturing of an Ajrak takes a lot of time and a lot of craftsmanship; also the makers of Ajrak get very less profit from the whole sale buyer because of which it is quite threatening to keep this heritage alive.

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