Pakistan is mostly famous for its artifacts and handicrafts throughout the world. However, Sindhi Ajrak represents the historical culture of Sindh of Pakistan and Kutch of Gujrat. The handicraft ‘Ajrak’ refers to a block-printed designed shawl of 2.5- 3 meters. The shawl is manufactured by workers’ hard labor using several techniques to refine the products’ quality.
These shawls are represented by specific designs and patterns printed using particular block printing stamps. Interestingly, Ajrak is mainly seen in the color scheme of dark crimson, indigo, blue, yellow, green, and black and white for outlines. Nonetheless, this color scheme is not an exception, and other colors could also be used.
However, Sindhi Ajrak is the source of identity for Sindh and Kutch and preserves their valuable cultural heritage. As is known, Sindh has the oldest civilization of ‘Mohen-jo-Daro,’ which marks its dates from 3500 to 1500 BC in history. Perhaps the idea came from that civilization, as people found resembling printed designs that the statue of the king-priest was wearing.
Besides, other blocks and stamps were also found in their dye shops, which marks their presence from ancient times. Hence, the handicraft is the primary specialty of Sindh and is mainly presented to Sindh’s guests as a source of hospitality by high officials and politicians.
Origin of Sindhi Ajrak
The word ‘Ajrak’ originated from the word ‘Azrak,’ meaning ‘blue,’ which is one of the central color schemes of the shawl. On the other hand, it is also perceived that the word is derived from a colloquial Urdu term ‘Aj-rakh,’ meaning ‘keeping it today.’ In history, it is marked by the Indus civilization (3500-1500 BC), where traces have been found that the block printing process similar to Ajrak existed from that time.
Likewise, the king-priest statue in ‘Mohen-jo-Daro’ was draped in a shawl of block-printed patterns similar to Ajrak. The evidence in the form of images from ‘Harappan civilization’ also shows the history of block-printed Ajrak existed for a significantly more extended period. The manufacture of Ajrak is still in process in Sindh of Pakistan, Barmer in Rajasthan and Ajrakpur, and Khavda of Kutch.
However, due to its ancient importance, its popularity is growing throughout the world. As Sindhi Ajrak is quite an exciting form of art, it is also preserved in museums internationally. For illustration, various designs are displayed in the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, and also, an enthused textile in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is found. Hence, the Art of manufacturing Ajrak and its designs, which are ancient and valuable, is preserved mainly in the form of Sindhi and Gujrati culture.
A Symbol of Sindhi Culture and Tradition
Sindh is considered to have the oldest Indus valley civilization globally and is rich with a variety of cultures and traditions. The province also has two ancient cities of ‘Mohen-jo-Daro’ and ‘Harappa,’ where some researchers observed the Art of old Ajrak. Primarily, in ‘Mohen-jo-Daro,’ the king-priest statue was found draped with a block printed shawl
Also, ‘Harappa’ is known for its famous cloth; However, the evidence is not primary; there are many images, statues, and other secondary resources found which identify the ancient designs of Ajrak.
Moreover, Sindh has many other Sufi saints, Sindhi poetry, and other Sindhi forms of Art. However, the most famous arts are the handicrafts ‘Ajrak’ and ‘Sindhi topi’ of Sindh, which provide true Sindhi identity to the people. Perhaps Sindhi Ajrak is one of the most desired craft that every tourist or local people love to have, as it is made with Sindh’s natural products and soil.
Ajrak is not just an ordinary shawl but is considered the most valuable piece, which is a source of affection, Sindhi culture, and tradition. It might be true that most people in the world value Ajrak for its ancient designs; however, the people of Sindh wore it with pride in cultural values and traditions.
Furthermore, the use of Ajrak in Sindh is a habit; usually, men wore it as a shawl and turban. In contrast, women use Ajrak as their dupatta or scarf, while it could be used as a swing for infants. Hence, throughout the world, Ajrak is a Sindhi cultural heritage source, which has ancient ways of manufacture, design, and pattern. Besides, people from all over the world value its ancient history and fashion—especially historians and people who love to collect historical artifacts connecting with traditional stories.
Ajrak Industry in Pakistan
In Pakistan, industries are increasing with time. The demand for Ajrak was growing since December 6, 2009, when the first Sindhi cultural day was held. It was a reaction to the criticism faced by the former president Asif Ali Zardari, on wearing cultural caps on foreign tours.
Numerous celebrations of the day started on December 1, 2016, by many political, social, and cultural institutions to promote the Sindhi cultural heritage. However, due to the cultural celebrations, the demand for Sindhi Ajrak started to increase, as many people wear Ajrak on this very day and week to present the Sindhi culture.
Fascinatingly, people’s love for these beautifully patterned shawls increased, and many people started to use the Ajrak further to manufacture different kinds of products. For example, many entrepreneurs started the business of Ajrak made bags, shirts, bedsheets, table cloths, pottery, and other variety of products.
Additionally, significant shops and industries are mainly found in different cities of Sindh, especially Hyderabad, Bhitshah, Matiari, and Halla. Additionally, the project named ‘Improved livelihoods through creative Industry in Pakistan’ was initiated by Aik Hunar Aik Nagar (AHAN) to polish the skills of workers working in the industry. Hence, much higher industry development organizations are working on this area, and a higher number of products are also being exported to America and other foreign countries.
Processes Involved in Making Ajrak
The manufacturing techniques involve the most intricate and complex methods, which require hard work to maintain quality. The original Ajrak could only be prepared by following these specific methods, which would result in an intimate color scheme and high-quality fabric.
Moreover, nature also plays a vital role in the manufacture of Sindhi Ajrak, especially, all the natural elements of sunlight, river, soil, trees, mud, other elements for pigment, and the environment are the necessary ingredients. However, the most captivating idea is its use of natural elements and resources.
Following are the steps involved in the manufacture of the original Ajrak:
The Kumbh Process
Firstly, the fabric bundles are altered into 10-meter-long pieces, which are later dumped into the river for washing. Subsequently, the wet cloth pieces are then coiled and settled on a copper vet for steam, covered with a quilt to reduce the escape of steam. However, the fabric is left overnight on the burner to cleanse all the impurities because the steam helps to open the fabric’s pores for softening and purifying methods, which will help the fabric. Hence, the whole process is known as Kumbh.
The Saaj Process
In the next process, the mixture of Eruka Sativa seeds, camel dung, oil, and water is formed so that after the Khumbh process, the fabric pieces could soak in it because the camel dung is a bleaching agent which further softens the cloth when reacted with. The stage is very crucial for the quality of the bright color combination.
Later, the soaked fabric is stretched and tied into an air-tight knot set aside for 5 to 10 days, depending upon weather conditions. After observing a strange smell, the fabric is dried in the sunlight and torn from the center to make pieces. The fabric is then treated with carbonated soda with a rinse in water; after the water rinse, another oil treatment is provided.
It is ensured that the oil is thoroughly penetrated through the cloth, after which cloth is dried throughout the night, which is again rinsed in the river water and then soaked into Sakun (a mixture of Galls of Tamarisk, castor oil, dried lemons, molasses, and water). After soaking, the damped fabric is then dried and taken for the printing process in the workshop; however, the process is known as Kasai.
The Wooden Blocks
The process involves the making of different blocks. As a matter of interest, the blocks are made by carving the Acacia Arabica trees, easily found in Sindh, which are shaped intelligently in patterns and designs by the block-maker, using simple tools. Indeed, the blocks are made in pairs to print on both sides of the fabric easily.
The Kiryana Process
In this process, the mixture of rice paste, lime, and acacia gum is used for the white outlining of the fabric, printed by using the outline block. Furthermore, the mixture of Fuller’s earth, Ferrous Sulphate, gum, and water is used for block printing of black dye, while Datta (filler block) is used in the process.
Moreover, for dying Ajrak with red color, the fabric is repeatedly heated on a vet with alizarine until the desired color is yielded. In the next stage, the mixture of molasses, alum, funnel, rice paste, Fuller’s earth, and other herbs is made to form the Kharrh (the mud resist paste). Perhaps the paste is to protect colors and vacant spaces on the fabric, where indigo printing should be resisted. For instance, the white, red, black, and other colored spaces are glued with the paste before the indigo dyeing process.
Indigo Dying Process
In this process, the fabric is dyed with synthetic indigo dye, as the use of original indigo dye is forbidden for 50 years. Subsequently, the dyed fabric is taken to the river before dawn, which is dumped in the water again and again for at least 1 hour, So that the white pieces of gum and excess dye wash away. Again, the cloth is damped in sakun for vibrant red pigment.
Soaking of Ajrak in sakun solution
After soaking in the sakun solution, the fabric is spread out for the drying process (which is called Tapai) on the river bank. However, the continuous dying and drying process deepens the colors and purifies the impurities.
In this process, the mud resists mixture is again used on the cloth with dried cow dung to dry the wet areas; usually, the process is known as Meena. Later, the thick mudded cloths are again dipped in the indigo vat to refine the quality. Lastly, the dried Ajraks are rolled and taken into the craftsmen’s shops for washing, which are folded tightly for drying.
Importance of Ajrak in Pakistani Culture
The Art of Ajrak in Pakistan is the essential source of Sindhi culture and tradition, which is acknowledged nationally and internationally. However, its importance is not limited to the ancient cultural value; instead, it is a unique form of Art with great reverence in Pakistan. People understand the value of this Art, and for them, it is not just a piece of cultural heritage but a feeling of pride, which shows admiration for their moral values.
From birth to marriage and till death, people use Ajrak as their daily life products, especially for dressing in shawls. For illustration, we could see that the traditional Ajrak’s primary importance is a valuable traditional gift, which many politicians present to their important guests or guests from foreign states to show their cultural love and prosperity. Also, many tourists use Sindhi Ajrak as a souvenir of Pakistani culture.
Nonetheless, Pakistani people require Ajrak for daily use, mainly because Sindhi people use it as shawls for both men and women for table cloths, bedsheets, valuable gifts, and other products. Remarkably, it could also be innovated to make handcrafted pottery, quilts (called Rillis), shirts, handbags, sofas, curtains, carpets, and other advanced products, which would be helpful for export purposes and help Pakistan improve its economy.
Besides, it is also a famous dress code in Pakistan because most the musicians, actors, and other artists wore it as a symbol of national pride on social media, and at cultural and international events. It could be perceived, that Ajrak is the most significant source of national identity for Pakistan because its intellectual knowledge has been passed down to the generations with great dignity. And there could be steps taken to preserve the ancient cultural identity, which is in the form of cultural day celebrations on a bigger platform.
The Color Scheme of Colorful Sindhi Ajrak
The color scheme is vibrant because it has gone through many processes to maintain its quality. Astonishingly, it is one of the benchmark motifs, which increases its demand and people’s interest among the masses. Moreover, the primary color dyes are red, white, black, blue, yellow, and indigo.
However, there are more than 20 colors used for the manufacturing of colorful Ajrak nowadays. Usually, the dye used for the color scheme is prepared by using dried pomegranate peel, Katha (an ingredient used in paan), alum, dried lemon, soda ash, clay, mustard oil, sakun (the mixture of tamarisk gall, castor oil, molasses, dried lemon, and water), Kesu Phool, indigo dye, and alizarine (red dye), which provides lively colors to the fabric.
Subsequently, these natural products soften the fabric and mature the color combination quickly. Also, there are many ancient designs and patterns of blocks which make it more figurative and attractive. According to many researchers, the history dates back to the Mughal era and is many centuries old. Hence, it could be seen that the color scheme and patterns play a vital role in its popularity and demand.
Variety of Ajrak products
Ajrak is an artistic block printed shawl, having a variety of designs and blocks, which could also be transformed into new products with the help of innovation. Mainly, Ajrak is used as a cultural shawl; however, other varieties are bed sheets, cushion covers, dresses, table cloths, handbags, curtains, and other critical handcrafted products.
However, these handcrafted products hold a higher value in foreign countries as a unique form of Art. These innovative products could be used for exportation throughout the world, which would help the Pakistani economy grow.
If given time, companies could make block-printed masks for cultural awareness. Nonetheless, many Pakistani projects and organizations are working to preserve the cultural heritage and demand in foreign states.
However, the primary use of Ajrak for shawls is still in demand, how beautifully the prints are incorporated with individual artisans’ hard work. Especially for women throughout the world, Sindhi Ajrak is considered a source of fashion. Its remarkable patterns and designs would make the crafts buyers crave the attractive block printed designs.
For example, the Gowns, shirts, and other dresses made attract women to spend on this product more easily. Not only do eastern countries demand these designs, but also the west is now launching designs of similar shirts. Moreover, the original Ajrak shawl is of four main varieties;
Teli Ajrak: (Meaning= oily Ajrak)
The kind of Ajrak is manufactured in the most challenging working way and is gone through various processes repeatedly. However, this kind is famous for its long-lasting properties. It has the quality that its combination of colors intensifies with washing; the pigment’s brightness depends upon the number of uses as the Ajrak has gone through many oil treatments. Its capacity for pigmentation increases.
Sabuni Ajrak: (Meaning= Soapy Ajrak)
This kind of Ajrak has an easy manufacturing process than the Teli Ajrak. However, the process includes a mixture of soap and bleaching agent, which reacts with the fabric to maintain the quality. This process contains fewer oil treatments than other kinds.
Do Rangi Ajrak: (Meaning= two-coloured Ajrak)
This kind of Ajrak consists of the same manufacturing process as Teli Ajrak, but its block printing process is different. Because two primary colors are used in it except for the basic border colors of black, white, and indigo, this kind is also known as double colored.
This kind is the simplest of all four themes And contains fundamental block printing patterns. The color scheme used in this kind is also not as lively as in Teli Ajrak. However, the quality is still maintained by the workers.
Scope of Ajrak Selling Business
Since Ajrak is a massive part of Sindhi and Pakistani culture, it has great importance in the business industry. The Sindhi culture is exceptionally vast and dates back to a time long ago. Consequently, its traditions and cultural values hold a special place in people’s hearts. It has since forever been considered to be a part of the Sindhi identity.
They are a symbol of power and culture among the Sindhi people. As it holds importance to the vast majority of Pakistani people, it is a highly sought-after product. Ajraks hold cultural importance and are now also considered classy and fashionable among teens. As a result, there is a huge demand for different styled.
Moreover, the Sindhi population considers Ajraks a must, so the product has a fair market share in the Pakistani and Eastern clothing industries. Interestingly, increasing demand is seen when there are cultural days celebrated over the country. Almost all of the people in Sindh prefer Ajraks to represent their cultures.
Ajraks are the most common gifts exchanged among the Sindhi people. Since its beginning, it has held unique importance that no other thing has among Pakistan’s people. With its beautiful design, people around Pakistan love the product.
Ajrak Kurtis is very famous in the fashion industry these days, with various prints, colors, and designs. Kurtis printed some very aesthetic brands that have also developed bed sheets. Creativity has no limits, and therefore there is no limit to what one can do with a simple idea.
The scope of doing Ajrak business shows encouraging results. There is a good demand in Pakistan and internationally. Moreover, the product sells itself because of its ties to the culture and traditions of the people. And with the variety of products the cultural value has been added with style and fashion, making the product so much more attractive and appealing to the customers.
Ajrak Printed Clothing
Recently, a new line of printed clothing has been making rounds in the fashion industry. This spectacular clothing is featured in a variety of fabrics and colors. The majority of the people have liked the new inspired clothing idea. Beautiful design modifications have been done in the original piece to get variety.
Moreover, these designs are appreciated by the people that are connected to the Ajrak culture. They think of the designs as modifications of the original and highly appreciate them. Kurtis, Shalwar Kameez, and many eastern designs have been created using cultural print, and people love and endorse it.
Ajraks present in their designs some beautiful patterns that are not usually found in other clothing prints. The printed clothes give a breath of fresh air and an edge of something different and unique. Women of all ages love the refreshing designs and variety of these prints.
International Trade Value
Ajraks are a source of pride for the people of Pakistan. Pakistan exports a good number of items; textile fabrics and designs being one of them. And therefore, it holds charm and allure for people outside of Pakistan. Pakistan is a significant exporter of these designs and prints.
It may even be the only place Ajraks are exported from, except for India. Many international fashion brands have decided to use the Ajrak prints for their collections, which results in the high import of these magnificent designs from Pakistan.
Seeing people from outside Pakistan wearing Ajraks printed clothing brings Pakistanis joy. To see our culture being spread throughout the world is truly unique. However, its international trade value is relatively high because of its ancient history and origin.
Sindhi Ajrak Summary
Ajrak is the source of national pride for the people of Sindh. It is a beautifully incorporated shawl of block print, manufactured by a complicated method. However, the patterns involve designs from a thousand years back in the history of ancient Indus civilization and the Mughal empire.
The benchmark motifs are its artistic outlook, unique patterns, attractive color schemes, ancient history, cultural value, and tremendous importance among the Pakistani people. Nonetheless, its attractive elements became the reason that it is famous nationally and internationally, as many foreign museums are displaying its artistic patterns.
Moreover, the quality is made perfect by manufacturing it using several complex techniques. The scope of the Ajrak industries in Pakistan is very high, as it has become a fashion among the celebrities whom everyone follows throughout the world.
Many steps are taken by the ministry of Pakistan’s foreign affairs to raise the field and business in Pakistan and other international countries that value Art and literature. Subsequently, many innovations in the production of new Ajrak handicrafts and objects took place.
Changing the shawl into objects like Ajrak handbags, pillow covers, sofas, curtains, and other crafts are exported to different international states and help Pakistan improve its economy. Hence, the craft is recognized and valued in Pakistan and other international states.