Textile crafts in the region of Kutch date back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Archaeological excavations have revealed that indigo was grown and used for dying in Mohenjo-Daro. ‘Ajrakh’ – the ancient art of indigo-dyeing block-printed fabric – was a technique used by the denizens of the Indus Valley Civilization.
Until the 1819 Rann of Kutch earthquake, the river Indus flowed through Banni, a grassland reserve bordering the desert Rann. This Banni region is inhabited by a few semi-nomadic, pastoral tribes who have preserved the Indus Valley art of Ajrakh over the last few millennia. Some of these tribes include the Khatris and Maldharis, who typically herd cattle and camels. Ajrakh, derived from ‘Azrak’ meaning “blue” in Arabic, involves a process whereby fabric is first treated, then printed using wooden patterned blocks. Finally, it is dyed in indigo and then, in mordant, along with alizarine, henna, and rhubarb to enhance other colours and hues such as green, red, and brown. The dyed fabric is tailored into clothes, turbans, and shawls. The nomadic herders are not inclined to waste any fabric, so all leftover fabric is patched together to make patchwork quilts, hangings, and even drapes for covering camels.
Our Ajrakh-dyed fabric, sourced from Master Craftsman Ramji Devraj of the Banni tribal community, is done on Mashru silk – a rare form of silk woven with cotton such that the silk faces the exterior while the inner fabric in contact with the skin, consists of cotton weaves. The cotton base makes it a tensile fabric. Once the weaving is completed, elaborately carved sheesham wood blocks are used to create repetitive patterns across the several meters of fabric. They are dipped in vegetable dyes and then firmly imprinted by the steady hands of the dyers on the fabric. Block-printing is done by hand, making every square-inch of fabric unique.