Their name means 'one who fills or changes colours'.
The Khatris of Kutch, in the words of the natives, are originally "the Kshatriya Brahmins from Sindh, 'Khatri' being derived from 'Kshitriya'. The King of Kutch had once invited them to settle down in his land. They were called to practice and teach their craft, to make interesting prints and therefore attire for the royal court and the people of Kutch. During the rule of Rao Raydhanji (1666-1698), the tax laws were very strict. As Hindus they needed to hand in a lot of money and gifts to please the 'Baats', who maintained the statistics of their births, marriages and deaths. The demands for these gifts kept increasing over time. If their names were not recorded in the books of 'family and lineage', then arranging a marriage in the community was very difficult. At the same time there were Sufi saints in the village who propagated Islam as a much lenient religion. With the absence of caste hierarchy, Islam came as a relief to the suppressed cast and they soon converted. It's the ninth generation of Khatris and their children today carrying on the craft tradition from the village of Dhamadka. When the Bhuj earthquake happened in 2001, the iron content in the water went up due to shifting of the tectonic plates, making it unsuitable for Ajrak printing. So, they moved to a new village and named it Ajrakhpur.
Ajrakhpur is about 12 kms from Bhuj, located along National highway 42. It is the main centre for Ajrakh printed fabrics.
Apart from Ajrakhpur, Ajrakh printing is done all over Sindh, especially in Matiari, Hala, Bhit Shah, Moro, Sukkur, Kandyaro, Hyderabad and many cities of Upper Sindh and Lower Sindh.
The weather is dry and tends to go to the extremes during summers and winters both. The rainfall is scanty and it rains around the months of July and August. During the rainy months, the printing and dying process takes a halt owing to the humidity, which affects the outcome badly.
The village is characterized by vast stretches of drying fabric, stained vats of dye and multi-hued water found in every house compound. The population is less and mostly every man in the family practices the craft. Printers or dyers at work are the usual sights. Subsidiary activities like washing, drying, preparing dyes, food, cattle also revolve around the workshops.
Ajrakhpur is a small village created and resided by the Ajrakh craftsmen, the main occupation of the people being block printing and natural dying. The houses as well as the facilities required to carry out the craft have been constructed by the community themselves. The village has a school made by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. There is a mosque for daily prayers and occasional gatherings. A common concrete washing tank for the fabrics is a priced possession. They value the water, which aids them in their craft, and use it with care. For this purpose, they also have rainwater harvesting demonstration plant. The village has electricity and water supply pipelines but they still use the bore wells and water tanks. Its a self sufficient and well connected village, with its proximity to the highway and other cities to get the supplies. For a daily munch or small needs there are four general shops along with a bunch of men eager to exchange a few words. A push-cart with knick-knacks can be expected to arrive anytime.
The village as compared to the other craft settlements is new, since they shifted from Dhamadka only in 2001. The houses and buildings of Ajrakhpur do not match the antiquity of the craft owing to their new and very need based, economic construction. The structures are modern and to-the-point, made with bricks and concrete. They have colonies of small blockhouses often separated by vast empty land used for drying etc.
The inhabitants of the village are predominantly Muslims. Eid is the main festival celebrated with much aplomb. This is one of the very few times they take a break from their work and celebrate. Celebration usually means group picnics to the field where arrangements for night stay and barbeque have been already made. Swings on the branches of huge mango trees are installed and cool breeze blows across the open fields unhindered.
The craftsmen will be working away amidst blocks, stretches of fabric and dyes most of the year. On January 26th of every year, they clear the village accounts and select a new person for keeping the accounts for the next year. Though television and cable have reached Ajrakhpur, the primary recreational activity for them is catching up for chitchat. The children however spend their energies on lots of after-school cricket. Women of the village spend most of their time looking after the household matters, children and food being their primary focus.
Ajrakhpur was established by Khatri community, who migrated from Dhamadka village after the earth quake of 2001. Even now the village is majorly inhabited by them. The primary occupation of the community is fabric dyeing and printing. All the major festival of Islam is celebrated with fervor. Men from Khatri community have a well-built body and majority of them wear traditional kurta pajama. Women of the community wear salwaar suit.
Ajrakh block Printing, Natural colours