Ajrak Printing and its Timeless Motifs

The essence of ajrak printing is a celebration of nature. Traditional colours found in ajrak printing are deep, intense and symbolic of nature: crimson red for the earth and indigo blue for the twilight. Black and white are sparingly used to outline motifs and give definition to the symmetrical designs. Though the use of eco-friendly synthetic dyes is the norm in these modern-times, the use of traditional natural dyes is resurgent.

Indigo is extracted from the plant of the same name. Historically, artisans made use of the abundance of true indigo plants that grew along the Indus River. Red is obtained from alizarin found in the roots of madder plants. Black is acquired from iron shavings, molasses and millet flour, with the addition of tamarind seeds to thicken the dye. Contemporary ajrak prints incorporate contrasting vibrant colours such as orange, yellow and rust.

Traditional elaborate motifs are still used in ajrak printing today, having been passed down for generations. They are symmetrically geometric, symbolising elements in nature such as flowers, leaves and stars.

Another common motif in ajrak printing is the trefoil, a three-leaved graphic that has been hallmarked for centuries in architecture, religion and heraldic emblems, and even modernised as in the universal recycling symbol. In ajrak printing the trefoil represents the unification of Indian sun, water and earth Gods. All motifs are built around a central point and repeated across the fabric in a grid-like manner, the result of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines that occasionally feature as part of the design.