Ajrak (Sindhi: اجرڪ), also known as Ajrakh, is a unique form of blockprinting found mostly in Sindh, Pakistan and Ajrakhpur, Kutch district, India. These shawls display special designs and patterns made using block printing by stamps. Over the years, ajraks have become a symbol of the Sindhi culture and traditions. Ajrak print is also famous in neighbouring areas of India in the state of Gujarat due to their influence from Indus Valley Civilization in Sindh, Pakistan. A similar ajrak type of shawl, Sajarak is found in South Punjab of Pakistan. Sajarak is mostly of cyan color while the simple Ajrak is of red and black.
The Sindhi word ajrak (اجرڪ) comes from Persian language ajar or ajor (اجر) meaning brick and -ak (ک) meaning little. In Persian -ak is a suffix which forms the diminutive.
Early human settlements in the lower Indus Valley found a way of cultivating and using Gossypium arboreum commonly known as tree cotton to make clothes. These civilizations are thought to have mastered the art of making cotton fabrics.
A bust of a priest-king excavated at Mohenjo-daro, currently in the National Museum of Pakistan, shows one shoulder draped in a piece of cloth that resembles an ajrak. Of special note is the trefoil pattern etched on the person’s garment interspersed with small circles, the interiors of which were filled with a red pigment. Excavations elsewhere in the Old World around Mesopotamia have yielded similar patterns on various objects, most notably on the royal couch of Tutankhamen. Similar patterns appear in recent ajrak prints.
Ajrak can be called the identity of Sindh and Sindhi people. Ajrak is a symbol of pride and respect for men and glory for women. Sindhi people also present Ajrak as gesture of hospitality to their guests.
The level of geometry on the garment comes from the usage of a method of printing called woodblock printing in which prints were transferred from geometric shapes etched on the wooden blocks by pressing them hard on the fabric.
The tradition still prevails centuries later, and people still use the same methods of production that were used in the earlier days to create an ajrak. The garment has become an essential part of the Sindhi culture and apparel of Sindhis. Men use it as a turban, a cummerbund or wind it around their shoulders or simply drape it over one shoulder. Women use it as a dupatta or a shalwar and sometimes as a makeshift swing for children. Ajraks are usually about 2.5 to 3-meters long, patterned in intense colours predominantly rich crimson or a deep indigo with some white and black used sparingly to give definition to the geometric symmetry in design.
Ajraks are made all over Sindh, especially in Matiari, Hala, Bhit Shah, Moro, Sukkur, Kandyaro, Hyderabad, and many cities of Upper Sindh and Lower Sindh.
The ajrak is an integral part of Sindhi culture. ts usage is evident at all levels of society, and is held in high esteem, with the utmost respect given to it. According to Sindhi traditions, ajraks are often presented as gifts of hospitality to guests and presented to the person who is utterly respectable. They are also worn on festive occasions such as weddings and cultural events. Many prominent politicians from Sindh publicly wear ajraks, including the deceased former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto.