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The great Indian journey of colour:Colour Journey goes on a voyage, from Puducherry to Kutch, unravelling the world of the colour Indigo.

The white desert of Kutch

Indigo dyed cloth is the material, ideal for local use, given the extreme day to night transformation of the climate in the white desert.

Ajrakh

Ajrakh, translated from the Arabic word Azrak, meaning blue, is the craft practised in the quaint locale of Ajrakhpur in Kutch.

Indigo dyed yarn

The dye, however, is inordinately difficult to manufacture, causing weavers all around the country to turn to the use of synthetic blues.

The seeds that conceive the colour

The mysterious colour is formed by the oxidation and reduction of the green leaves of the plant Indigofera Tinctoria.

The Indigo Vat

The dye makers compare the vat to a child, that needs to be taken care of, fed often, maintained closely, and loved, as it proceeds to evolve into the perfectly hued dye.

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Lab 01 Nov 2017

Tales of Indigo: The journey to understanding Indigo, a colour that breathes

Every colour is made up of a certain specifics: the technicalities, the origins, the aesthetics, the usage, and the stories that lie beneath it all. Taking forward the annual tradition of Colour Journey, Asian Paints started out on its expedition across the country to uncover the expressions of colours woven into India’s arts and crafts. But this year saw the light of something entirely new when Colour Journey gravitated not towards seeking various colour palettes through arts, but rather a single colour – Indigo.

Indigo, an ancient, ambiguous colour, is one whose ties with India and its history, run deeper than we know of. A colour so mysterious, our curious colour researchers didn't quite know where to begin this quest of discovering the stories that make it. Although we trace their path briefly on CQ, more of these narratives reside at Colour Journey.

Drifting to the craft of Ajrakh, that derives not only its existence but also its name from the hues of Indigo, our journey commenced. Ajrakh, translated from the Arabic word Azrak, meaning blue, is the craft practised in the quaint locale of Ajrakhpur in Kutch. Comprising mainly of inordinate geometric patterns woven from the notions of the universe, the craft is principally dependent on shades of red, that signify the earth, white indicating the clouds, and indigo as the vast, dark, night sky.

Speaking to Dr. Ismael Khatri, patron of Ajrakhpur, helped our Colour Journey researcher's grasp a deeper understanding of the craft, “Inspired from Sufism, Ajrakh has a connection to the universe, the night sky and the stars. The greater each piece’s shine, the more its charm.”

The intricate practice of fabricating Indigo

The process of Ajrakh looks towards natural, non-allergenic materials, therefore manufacturing a cloth that is strong, reliable, and infused with herbs. The natural method conserves the wax properties of the Indigo dye, that causes the threads to solidify in the cold, and loosen up in presence of warmth. This deems the material ideal for local use, given the extreme day to night transformation of the climate in the white desert.

The dye, however, is inordinately difficult to manufacture, causing weavers all around the country to turn to the use of synthetic blues. But as the past few years have branded organic materials precious, the weavers have once more commenced their quest for natural Indigo.

The mysterious colour is formed by the oxidation and reduction of the green leaves of the plant Indigofera Tinctoria. The leaves are harvested, compressed using rocks, and left to brew in river water overnight. The residual liquid is collected to be beaten and oxidised, before being reduced with the addition of lime water. The almost-black paste produced, is then made into Indigo cakes.

“The dye makers compare the vat to a child, that needs to be taken care of, fed often, maintained closely, and loved, as it proceeds to evolve into the perfectly hued dye.”

The procedure, aside from being lengthy and strenuous, also depends heavily on the fickle aspects like the soil, the climate and the harvest, thus driving weavers to seek out synthetic options or pre-made Indigo cakes.

The concept of pre-made Indigo cakes led us to Mr. Anbalagan, the founder of KMA exports. Located in Tindivanam, a small town in the district of Puducherry, the family of third-generation farmers are the largest suppliers of Indigo cakes to markets across the country.

The living colour

In comparison to other dyes, dyers  all over speak of Indigo differently. Most, often speak of the dye as though it is living.

The procedure required to harvesting a dye out of the Indigo cake involves the paste to be processed in controlled temperatures, liquidised with water, lime and dates, oxidised and brewed in a vat. The vat refers to a 3-to-4-feet-long pot, dug and placed underground. The liquid in the vat, first a shy yellowish green, gradually takes to its indigenous shade as it dries over a fortnight. The dye makers compare the vat to a child, that needs to be taken care of, fed often, maintained closely, and loved, as it proceeds to evolve into the perfectly hued dye.

The journey to deciphering Indigo led us to grasp the tremendous patience, intuitivity, and strife necessary to creating Indigo, making us believe in the gravity of its multiplicity. Indigo, the quintessentially Indian dye, as seen from its emphasis across the nation, weaves alluring tales across hearts from Puducherry to Kutch, as unearthed by Colour Journey’s 2017 edition.

To unravel more on the search for Indigo and its stories, join us on Colour Journey – In Search of Indigo.