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The story of two time-sculpted crafts

Ajrakh and Kalamkari

When we think of fabrics that represent India’s heritage and culture, the two art forms that come to mind are Kalamkari and Ajrakh. Both come from diverse parts of India, Andhra Prahesh and Kutch, but have stood the test of time and evolution. Best known for their eco-friendly, natural colours and earthy prints, here are some remarkable elements of their evolution through the years, and why they need to be preserved as torch-bearers of India’s crafts.

KALAMKARI TALE

Sourced directly from the village of Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, comes the age old art form of Kalamkari. Derived from the word “Kalam” meaning pen, the Kalamkari prints are a saga of motifs from the Persian era.

The Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari involves carving on wooden blocks and printing. The motif is sketched and converted into hand-carved blocks by the craftsman, adding his unique touch to every creation! A distinct Persian influence is reflected on the MachilipatnamKalamkari patterns.

The Ajrakh Saga

Ajrakh is a proud emblem of the nomadic, pastoral community in and around the Kutch region. The craft has been practiced by the community since the 16th century! Deriving its name from the Arabic word “Azrak” meaning blue, Ajrakh is a treat to the eyes in its rich earthy tones of indigo. The word Ajrakh is also locally interpreted as the starry evening sky, rightly describing the rich complex geometric motifs. The influence of the Sindhi tradition can be distinctively noticed.

The Making of an Ajrakh fabric

An Ajrakh fabric goes through a series of washing, dyeing, resist printing and sun drying. Each step is repeated for every colour that is used. The cloth is first washed to remove all dirt and other impurities, followed by the soaking of the fabric in a special solution of soda bicarbonate and oil. Finally, the Ajraks go through another washing process with water, soda and bleaching powder, enhancing the vibrancy of the colours. The skill and precision with which the karigar (craftsman) does the printing has a rhythm to it and is reflected in the intricacy of the design.