The Story of ‘Ajrak’: History and Making

We all are very well aware about the benefits of Globalization. Now you must be wondering if I am distracting from the “title” but it is a fact that due to globalization everything has come close to each other and nothing remains confined to a specific area or culture. But the word that draws the distinctive line between this globalization is “belongingness”.

We may adopt the culture, inheritance or values of any nation or society but we cannot steal and snatch the foundation and identity of anyone.

Now if we take “Ajrak” in that context, many people still don’t know about the story behind the origin of “Ajrak” especially our youth may be due to their occupation and the daily emerging international brands their interest has switched and may be because they can find Ajrak anywhere in Pakistan and even across Pakistan too so they may not find it important to explore the history behind it.

Etymology of the Word “Ajrak”

Pakistan is a blessed country with a variety of cultures in its provinces, be it a lingual aspect or attire, food or whatever.

The word Ajrak is derived from an Arabic word “azrak” which means ‘blue’. It is a cloth of 2.5 – 3 meters length, decorated mostly with rich crimson and a deep indigo color but a little bit of white and black is also used to give definition to the geometric patterns. It is commonly used in Sindh as men use it as a turban and curled it around the shoulders while women use it as a shawl and sometimes as a makeshift swing for children.

Besides, Sindhis have a special feeling and association for the ajrak and they use Ajrak from cradle to grave. They also wear it without any status barrier on festive occasions like birth, marriage, and death.

History of Ajrak

Tracing the Origins

Pashtuns have their own identity, Punjab stands at its own specialty, just like that Ajrak is an essential part of the Sindhi attire but the origin of the Ajrak can be marked out from the ancient times around 2500 BC – 1500 BC when a statue of King- Priest was quarried from Mohenjo-Daro which had draped a shawl over his shoulder – adorned with a trefoil pattern (like a three leafed clover) sprinkled with small circles filled with a red color.

The trefoil signifies three sun-disks glued together to characterize the unity of the gods of the Sun, water and earth. Since the Ajrak has been used in Sindh for centuries and the block printing techniques and dyes are all ages-old methods of dying cloth but this symbol is still used on the Ajrak these days.

There are also some interesting facts about the use of Ajrak including the Egyptians. They used to  clothe their mummies with Ajrak,  imported from Sindh which they called “Sindhin”. In 500 BC, the Ajrak was also presented to Persian King “Dara (first) at his crown ceremony. If we elaborate the impression of Ajrak, it is pertinent to know about its importance and use to its native and how it is made.

Process of Ajrak Making

Let’s come to the unique and motivating process of Ajrak making. Motivating, because it is more than just daily work but it involves their devotion and spiritual association as Ajrak has a deep root to the Sufi culture that encompasses throughout the Sindh. That’s why we can find more Ajrak makers and their workplace near the shrines in interior Sindh.

The basic four themes used in Ajrak preparation are known as,  Teli Ajrak, Sabuni Ajrak, Do Rangi Ajrak and Kori Ajrak.

Fabric Washing and Cleansing (Churrai)

There are numerous steps involved in preparation of Ajrak ranging from 18 to 19 steps but the basic process is called “Churrai” by local communities. Precisely, the process involves washing cloth and beating to extricate the impurities. The fabric is then soaked in a solution of a special oil and Soda Bicarbonate, which is a complicated procedure and takes several days.

Resist Printing

Next step is the printing of cloth. The real Ajrak is printed on both sides, which is called “resist printing”. The printing is done by hand carved wooden blocks, which are so perfectly carved so that the pattern is synchronized with the whole of the Ajrak.

Bleaching

In the end the ready Ajraks are again washed in Soda and water with bleaching powder to give brightness to the colors.

The International Fancy for the Intricate Ajrak

Besides being a domain of Sindh culture, Ajrak is profoundly used by everyone not only nationwide but internationally. Ajrak has been exhibited in national exhibitions since many years but these days the scale has been enlarged and display of Ajrak on Expo centers has increase its fame internationally. Many fashion designers are using Ajrak moderately with different ornaments like sequences and Gota work. The integration of traditional customs with contemporary one is a very unique and beautiful amalgamation.

Status of Ajrak Industry in Pakistan

Unfortunately, on the other hand the real local Ajrak industry is declined rapidly, which can be evidently noted from different researches and reports narrated that due to negligence of people, more than 30 ajrak factories have been demolished and replaced by iron steel and other industries. It occurs may be due to the unfavorable wages to the workers. Wholesalers pay very low prices to the craftsmen to keep their profit margin high, due to which no credit facilities are available to the workers resulted in decline of real Ajrak and weaning of traditional sources of livelihood.

This situation eventually leads to the replacement of original Ajrak to the quicker printing method of the copy and fake Ajrak pattern. But the trends have changed again and young generation is very eager to save its heritage and they value this treasure.

This can be seen from the “celebration of Ajrak Day” at individual and institutional level.

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