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The block-printing Khatri community of Barmer recognize themselves as Bhram-Kshatriya (Hindu clan). This has relation to a popular mythical story – when Parshuram was eliminating every Kashtriya from the earth, he reached Sindh where two of the Kashtriya devotees of Hinglaj Mata went into hiding in her temple and requested her to save them from the wrath of Parshuram. Hinglaj Mata came to their rescue, appeared before Parshuram and asked him to leave them by reasoning that two of them were Bhram-Kashtriya, i.e. Brahmin Kashtriya and not purely Kashtriya. Parshuram forgave them. Since then the community has recognized themselves as descendants of the two Kashtriya devotees of Hinglaj Mata and worship her as their main mother goddess (Kuldevi).

This articleprovides a different perspective on theAjrakh tradition that has thrived in the Thar Desert i.e. western Rajasthan for the last seven decades unnoticed by the craft fraternity. Ajrakh printing in Barmer started only after the 1947 India-Pakistan partition when many Khatrifamilies from Sindh migrated to Barmer and settled there. The third and fourth generation of these Khatri families still continue this tradition in Barmer. The influence of regional resources (raw material), language (Thali and Marwari), topography (dry desert), ecology (local flora and fauna) and the user community influences have resulted in an Ajrakh culture which is distinct from that of Kutchh (Gujarat) and Sindh (Pakistan). This documentation highlights these differences and presents another aspect of Ajrakh with a different vocabulary that has thrived in western Rajasthan.

According to another folklore, the Nagar Thatta province of south Pakistan was inhabited and ruled by the Bhram-Kashtriya Khatri during the 15th Century AD. Near to it was another province ruled by the Mughal ruler Bagga. His eyes fell on two daughters of the Khatri community and he proposed tomarry them. In the vicinity of Nagar Thatta there was no other Hindu province to seek help from to oppose Bagga’s move. They only got assurance for support from a far distant ruler Vikramdeo of Jalore state. He asked them to come to his region where he would provide them all help. The Khatri decided to leave their province. They made an escape plan by giving an extended date for marriage to Bagga and abandoned their native place. On their way they were chased and stopped by Bagga’s soldiers. In the initial skirmishes the Khatri defeated them. Soon they reached the periphery of Jalore and camped at Bhawatra near Sanchore under the protection of Vikramdeo soldiers. Later Bagga came himself with a large army but he was defeated and killed by Vikramdeo’s army. After killing Bagga the Khatri realized there was a larger threat to their lives so they decided to disperse in all directions adopting different trades to hide their original identity.

Ajrakh printing has remained centralized in Sindh (Pakistan) around the Indus river delta which was fertile for indigo cultivation as well as having mineral rich water suitable for dyeing and printing. Many references links Ajrakh’s history to the Indus Valley Civilization which thrived in the same region. In Barmer the history of Ajrakh printing is not very old, though other kinds of calico-printing existed around the Nargasar lake in the centre of the city. During Independence in 1947 when a major migration took place, many of the Hindu Bhram- Kashtriya Khatri left Pakistan and settled in Barmer to join the already existing Kashtrifamilies. Those families who were expert in Ajrakh printing started their independent units and started selling the cloth to local communities. Ranamal’s father, Jetharam Ji, was one of them. His printing quality was regarding to be the best in Barmer. His Ajrakh was worn by the Sindhi Muslim communities in Barmer and Jaisalmer and part of it was sent to Pakistan as the border was porous and security was not tight.

Another migration took place in 1971. The Hindu Khatri families living in villages like Chandaro and Mitti near to the border migrated to Barmer and started their printing business afresh. This was a time when the printing profession earned more profit than any of the government jobs. Many of the educated Khatri left their jobs and resumed their ancestral printing businesses. Thus printing was at its peak with some 400 families (both tie and dye and block-printing) engaged in it. With growing disturbances at the international border, rising terrorism during the 1980s led to a tightening of security and fencing along the border which affected the sale of Ajrakh and other blockprints of Barmer. Most of the printed cloth was produced for the Sindhi Muslim community living along the border both in India and Pakistan. Simultaneously cheaper polyester options further affected the cotton block printing. Communal distinctions in the last few years have also influenced the craft to some extent as the producer and user communities belong to two different religious sections. It is a matter of concern that in the last twenty years none from the present generation of Khatri has chosen to learn block-printing in Barmer.Also none of the traditional user community demand cotton block-printed Ajrakh as screenprinted synthetic versions are available at a much cheaper rate in the market.

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