Why I wear the universe

Keep it for today!

The philosophy of Ajrakh

Have you heard of Ajrakh … the interactive fabric?

No no. No brand, trademark or glaring neon designs that whip the eye with their gaudiness. This sheet is real magic … strong and reliable … warm in winter, cool in summer. So you heard me right … real magic.

Ajrakh has the universe in it … teeming with stars and clouds as seen from the Universe …the way the Earth looks like from above – a singular blue …because of its oceans. If you look at the sea from above, the deeper parts appear a dark ultramarine. The inky sky above is yet another blue.

Those who have ever worn this fabric will empathize with me and my absolute fascination for Ajrakh. Those who haven’t …you are missing a fundamental sensual experience. Truly … wearing an Ajrakh is like wearing the universe and the earth at the same time.

In common parlance, Ajrakh refers to the

exquisitely designed, dyed and printed multipurpose fabric presently going through a revival. In pre-Partition India – it was worn by animal-keepers from Sindh in Pakistan, Kutch in Gujarat and Marwar in Rajasthan.

No self respecting Ajrakh is dyed in anything but natural dyes. And I’m completely ignoring the modern trend of faux, pretend ajrakh prints – these are bland. These have no magic.

Think of alum or madder, pomegranate or turmeric. And think of cloth soaked overnight in camel dung, soda ash and castor oil. Or hold in mind scrap iron, jiggery or tamarind seed powder and then … indigo. Yes…indigo – among the oldest dyes to be used for textile dyeing and printing.

If you have ever used Ajrakh sheets and garments you will definitely understand what I am saying.  Not many of us know that the wax property in the dyes thickens the fibre during winter, and hold-in the body’s warmth.  In summer, the wax loosens and lets the air in. Truly interactive!

Stories

The story goes that the fabric derived its name from the Sanskrit word ‘A-jharat’ or ‘that which does not fade. ‘Azrak’, the Arabic word for blue, could also be the reason as indigo is extensively used in the process. Ajrakh motifs were also found on an Indus Valley figure.

It is said that this sixteen day process is so laborious that the artisans say, ‘Aaj rakh do’‘let this be for today’. But if you’d rather have a king and queen story instead there is one about the king who grew so fond of his bedspread that he gave instructions for it to be left on his bed for one more day. He muttered the Hindi words “aj ke din rakh” meaning ‘keep it for today’. The phrase stuck, and went on to be used to name this uniquely printed fabric – Ajrakh.

The traditional colour palette of crimson for the earth, shades of indigo, the radiant white spots for the stars and the geometric motifs are said to reflect Sufism’s underlying philosophy or the idea of ‘Brahmand’ – the Sanskrit term for ‘universe’.

But one of the biggest questions around Ajrakh/ is how best to define it? Is it a technique of cloth printing, a special kind of design composition or just a type of attire? The other question is confirming the origins of its name: does it emerge from Arabic, Sindhi or Sanskrit?

My simplistic response is … why define it. Just feel the magic. Go ahead … put on the universe …

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