Ajrak is a shawl that originates from the beloved soil of Sindh. Over the years, Ajraks have become an integral part of Sindhi culture and traditions. Employing a unique process of block printing with wooden stamps, this process takes time, teamwork and skill. A labor of love, Ajrak symbolizes hospitality and prestige-proudly worn by the people of Sindh and beyond.
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. This symbol illustrates what is believed to be an edifice depicting the fusion of the three sun-disks of the gods of the sun, water, and the earth. 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.
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. Block printing is thought to have been first used in ancient China, at least as far as movable type is concerned. On its way through the populous regions of the Indus Valley, this technique of fabric printing was adopted at Mohenjo-Daro.
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 shawl and sometimes as a makeshift swing for children. Ajraks are usually about 2.5 to 3-meters long, patterned in intense colors predominantly rich crimson or 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 and Sindhi nationalism. Its 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.