Ajrak: The pride of SindhIrum Ishtiaq
I was watching television the other night and came across a woman dressed in a gorgeous Ajrak shawl. It took me back to my childhood where a particular style of clothing was the appealing trend. A dark maroon bold and attractive patterned shawl that South Asians would pair with plain white or black dresses. Appealing to both young and old blood, the classic and timeless pattern was unique. The fabric and its pattern are called Ajrak.
First, lets celebrate one of the greatest accomplishments of the subcontinent. The invention of dyeing techniques which led to the creation of ‘Ajrak’.
What is Ajrak?
Ajrak is derived from the Arabic word Azrak meaning blue, which is one of the key dye making the pattern.
It was first found on remains of a terra-cotta bust of a Priest-King during an excavation at Mohenjo-Daro in the 20th century. Draped across one of his shoulders, with an etched trefoil (three leaved plant) was an Ajrak cloth. For the history geeks: The trefoil symbol represents fusion of three Gods: Sun, Water and Earth.
Ajrak was meant to give the Priest- King an air of nobility that his rank deserved. Giving birth to an attire that became suited for royalty.
To be honest. I feel like a royal myself when attired in Ajrak, prancing around like a noble lady straight out of Sindh!
Ages ago, Indus Valley civilization was already adept at making fabric from cotton. They adapted the wooden block printing technique which combined with the fabric originated in the first designs of Ajrak. Even though it is believed to have originated at Mohenjo-Daro. Some experts suggest the art of block printing, at least the moveable technique has been adapted from China.
Ajrak in its current form in time is available in vibrant colors: crimson, maroon or plum paired with white and black motifs, with defining and symmetric geometric designs.
Ajrak’s integration with culture:
Ajrak has continued to be an integral part of South Asian culture and fashion. Its part and parcel of the subcontinent, mostly Southern Pakistan’s culture and values. Men wear it on their heads as turbans or around their waists like belts, women use it as a dupatta or a shawl. Some other uses include a makeshift swing for children, a parting gift for brides from her family and sometime as the funeral shroud for departed.
Ajrak is custom to gift this fabric to guests that are found worthy or to people that are highly respected and revered by their communities, a symbol of goodwill and hospitality by the gracious folks whose hard work result in these masterpieces.
Ajrak is a precious inheritance, an icon linked to Sindh and its Sufi roots, synonymous with pride in villages in Pakistan and India, continuously striving to keep the art alive.
How is Ajrak made?
Ajrak is made with natural dyes, both vegetable and mineral based, with Indigo being the key dye. The process comprises of 21 tedious stages, each stage manifested in its own way and each stage spread over rivers to wash or to dry. From the cloth being prepared to the final product it is as if a sculptor focuses his or her full attention to the product being made and still skeptic on how it could have been improved.
One of the most beautiful clothing creations, Ajrak is simple but regal, bright and bold, attractive and inventive. Definitely a must have in modern closets, Happy Ajark-ing to everyone!