Saree Story No. 4: Ajrakh – Rooted in tradition

Von Jyotika Purwar & Martina Spies

mehr infos

27 06 17 — 8:57

Amongst the saree and textile connoisseurs, Pracheen is considered a hidden gem in the city of Mumbai. Located in the busiest part of the city- in the narrow by lanes of Mohammed Ali Road, Pracheen is a Ajrakh studio run by Sarfraz Khatri and his father Ahmed Khatri.


I met Sarfraz at his workshop several months ago on a photo assignment and was completely mesmerized by the process in which the block printed fabrics are created. The rhythmic sound of the wood blocks making contact with the fabric stretched on long tables, the absolutely neat repetition of patterns, and the layering of colours over time.

Sarfraz is very conscious of the need to practice slow design in the textile industry, where a block printed saree could take 3 months average to make. He also is a 5th generation Ajrakh artist pushing the boundaries of the age-old technique of block printing with natural dyes. His workshop consists of a group of highly skilled block printing craftsmen. His worry, that if he does not contemporaries the design, the younger generation will lose interest in the art form. At Pracheen, Sarfraz has created an amalgamation of modern design and traditional practice, creating breathtaking fabrics coveted by designers around the globe.


I am the proud owner of a saree that took 6 months to print. I will be wearing this at the opening of The Wittenberg Saree project.



I am 37 years old

I belong to a company called Pracheen

I am born and brought up in Mumbai itself.

I am a Muslim


What do you do?

We are into hand block printing using natural colours onto silk and cotton materials. I am the 5th generation from my family who is continuing the work of block printing with natural colours. We try to innovate with our designs and colours through natural dyes.

What is Ajrakh?

Ajrakh originated from Sindh. It is still practiced in some areas of Kutch, Gujarat. Ajrakh is inspired from Islamic motifs of the stars and moon. These geometric patterns and motifs are traditionally used in Ajrakh. We are using the same process of what goes into making Ajrakh, but we are creating and innovating through our designs. Ajrakh literally means keep it for today. It is a very lengthy and tedious process and after each step we need to keep the fabric for sometime for the dye to colour the fabric. Ajrakh is done in layers of resist and dyeing, through which we can create millions of patterns.


Typically how long does a saree take to make?

This will take around 2- 2.5 months. The process of dying with natural colours is very lengthy. Before the main printing, there are four stages and for each stage we need to keep the fabric for 2-3 days.

Do you make sarees? What is your process of making sarees?

We always work upon a collection. Before that we think about whether we should make a traditional saree or a contemporary saree. Depending on the demand of the time, we work on the design concept and decide the palloo and layout of the saree first and lay it out on the table and then we implement the design.
What is the difference between a traditional and contemporary saree?

The traditional saree has the Mughal motifs, which are very fine, detailed geometric or floral patterns, whereas the contemporary patterns are more abstract.




And this is all block printing (pointing at piles of fabric in the room)

This is 100% done with block printing.


How many blocks do you have?

We have plenty. Since I am the 5th generation we have many blocks from our grandfathers time. We have blocks that are 75 to 80 years old.


Has the saree making changed during the 5 generations?

As I said, that we are making from traditional to contemporary. The demand now is to make contemporary, which we have evolved into to keep this art alive. The contemporary design attracts the younger generation.


What is the challenge of Ajrakh?

Well the main thing is that Ajrakh is 100% natural and eco friendly and with globalization and unsustainable practices, people are becoming more conscious of what they buy and consume.

The time to make an Ajrakh garment can be around two months. It is eco friendly and it is slow design. So it is not fast production. I believe this is the future.

It’s a product that is worth waiting for. As the fabric ages, over time, the Ajrakh becomes more brilliant and matured. So the more it ages, the better the look gets.


Everything is made here in Mumbai?

The base fabric we source from all over India. We have our weavers who follow the composition and we get the fabric made from them. And then everything is done under one roof here at Pracheen.

Jyotika Purwar

Mein beruflicher Hintergrund und meine Ausbildung ist in der Innenarchitektur mit interdisziplinärer Ausrichtung angesiedelt. Ich habe den Master in Bildender Kunst (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) und den Bachelor in Interior Design (CEPT, Ahmedabad). Ich arbeitete an verschiedenen Orten, wie in Chicago und New York als Ausbilderin für Design, bevor ich wieder nach Mumbai/Indien zurückkehrte. Hier arbeitete ich zeitgleich zur Innenarchitektur, verstärkt in den Design-Bereichen: Branding, Designstrategien, Werbung, Aktivierung im Einzelhandel und Erfahrungsdesign für Immobilien. Gegenwärtig bin ich Erfahrungsdesignerin bei Godrej Properties Ltd.. Meine spezielle Aufgabe ist es, das gesamte Life Style Angebot unserer verschiedenen Immobilien in ganz Indien zu designen.

Martina Spies

Martina Spies ist promovierte Architektin, Baumeisterin und Aktivistin. 2013 gründete sie mit ihrem Vater die Organisation Anukruti, welche Spielplätze auf urbanen Brachflächen innerhalb von Slums in der Megacity Mumbai baut. Ihre Erfahrung machte sie in internationalen Büros wie Shigeru Ban in Japan, COSTFORD, B.V.Doshi und Hasmukh Patel in Indien. Zwischen 2013 und 2016 war Martina als Forschungsleiterin des Projektes Ground Up – A Dwellers´s Focused Design Tool for Upgrading Living Space in Dharavi, Mumbai in einer der dichtesten und größten informellen Siedlungen der Welt tätig. Im Studio X Mumbai war Martina Spies in Kooperation mit der Columbia University erfolgreiche Kuratorin zweier internationaler Ausstellungen namens Dharavi: Places and Identities und Mumbai – die vier Nachbarschaften im Slum in mitten der Megacity Mumbai lebendig werden lässt – und Let´s Play! Children as Creators of Informal Playspaces, welche erstmals die Kultur des Spielens in Indien zeigt.

Michaela Rotsch

Bildende Künstlerin, transdisziplinäre und -kulturelle Forschung mit arabesken Organisationsstrukturen und syntopischen Werkstrukturen.

* Der Prototyp der Glaskuben stammt aus der künstlerischen Werkstruktur SYNTOPIAN VAGABOND, die hier mit dem transkulturellen Projektansatz von GLASPALÄSTE durch die gemeinsame Rahmenstruktur der Glaskuben verbunden wird. Dadurch wird die Grenze zwischen Bildender Kunst und anderen kulturellen Bereichen ausgelotet.

Michaela Rotsch

Fine artist, transdisciplinary and transcultural research with arabesque organisational structures and syntopic work structures.

* The prototype of the glass cubes comes from the artistic work structure SYNTOPIAN VAGABOND, which is linked here to the transcultural approach of GLASPALÄSTE through the common structure of the glass cubes. Thus the boundary between contemporary art and other cultural areas is explored.

Irmtraud Voglmayr

Soziologin und Medienwissenschaftlerin, Schwerpunkte in Forschung und Lehre: Stadt- und Raumforschung, Medien, Gender und Klasse.

Irmtraud Voglmayr

Sociologist and media theorist, focussing on research and teaching: city and urban planning, media, gender and class.

Juliane Zellner

Juliane Zellner studierte Theaterwissenschaft (M.A.) in München, Urban Studies (MSc.) in London und promoviert derzeit an der Hafencity Universität im Fachbereich Kultur der Metropolen.

Juliane Zellner

Juliane Zellner holds a degree in Theatre Studies (M.A.) from LMU Munich and a degree in Urban Studies (MSc) from UCL London.

Currently she is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Metropolitan Culture at the HCU Hamburg.