Rogan Art: All you need to know about this Kutch craft
Rogan art is a 300-year-old textile art form practised in the Nirona district of the Kutch region. It uses thick paint derived from castor seed oil. While most speculate on the craft’s origin from Persia, the common theory is that it was brought to India by the Khatris, a Muslim community who migrated from Pakistan.
After the Bhuj earthquake, a renewed infrastructure helped bring in more tourists and revive the art to a certain extent. Craft tourism has also played a role in harnessing development in Nirona where tourists from across India and the world flock to see the artists at work. It is no doubt a rare, painstaking, and delicate process with exquisite outcomes.
The paint is made by heating castor oil over fire for nearly 12 - 48 hours hours while stirring it continuously to ensure it does not get burnt. It is then cast into cold water to produce a residue called rogan (Persian term for ‘oil’). Rogan is then mixed with colour pigments to form a paste. which is then stretched out continuously to obtain a thin, threadlike consistency.
Gathering the paste, they use blunt needles to stretch it out into a thin, threadlike consistency. The artists deftly place the paint threads on fabric to form the pattern. Using their fingers, they adjust the paint delicately. Usually, they create one half of their imagined art piece and then fold the fabric carefully, so the damp paint transfers the mirror image and completes the masterpiece.
What makes it special?
Creating rogan art requires precision when using the paint threads to create intricate motifs (floral, peacocks, local folk art, the tree of life). There is no tracing involved and every strand must be evenly stretched out before spreading it on the fabric. But above all, the most noteworthy aspect of the work is the physical endurance needed. To ensure the paint stays wet, the artists must work at room temperature always and cannot use fans, even at the peak of Indian summers. This affects their health and mental state.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted President Obama a few Rogan paintings and this has helped bring about attention and appreciation for the art.
Today, only one family – descendants of the Khatris - in the Nirona village practices this form and are involved in teaching it to other women in the community as a bid to preserve it. But the Khatri community is protective of their craft secrets and their motivation to teach women is more to do with coping with demand than to sustain the craft. With this delicate balance between knowledge and ensuring continuation,the future of rogan art remains as delicate as its technique.
ARTIST STORYArtisan: Rizwan Khatri
Rogan art is an ancient textile art form that came into the Kutch region from Persia nearly 300 years ago. It uses thick paint made of castor seed oil. The process of extracting this paint base is a cumbersome process where the oil is boiled for days till it reaches enough viscosity to be stretched into thin threads. These paint threads are then used to create intricate motifs with the help of a metal rod. The design is done on one side and then transferred carefully to the other half to build symmetry.
Today it is practised only in the Nirona district. Rizwan is one of the few rogan artists from here. He is part of a ten-member team of trained artisans, along with his father and brother. He has been practising the craft since he completed tenth grade in school. The craft has been in his family for eight generations. They work an average of six hours a day.
Apart from the demands of the intricate work, the biggest challenge in rogan art is that artists must work in room temperature. Even in the peak summer, they cannot use a fan to cool themselves. This leads to severe dehydration. During monsoons they take a break as the dyeing process cannot take place in these weather conditions.
Castor is grown locally, and the oil is sourced from farmers thereby benefiting the farming industry as well. Earlier designs used to be rustic but over time the craft has evolved and become more stylized and finer. Rizwan’s best sellers are the framed wall hangings and dress materials. Motifs used are floral, peacocks, the tree of life. He also does customized paintings.
Rizwan enjoys drawing a lot and finds that to stimulate his imagination. “This craft is important to us and we will do whatever it takes to continue it. We are special because very few people know this work. “, he says with pride. He takes the time to train young people who are keen on learning.
His team is constantly thinking of how to innovate. Although there is little scope in changing the technique, they want to adapt to more daily-use fabrics like denim and dress materials. Their goal is to make rogan art accessible to a wider audience. Currently, they market through government organized exhibitions, Whatsapp and Instagram.
Rizwan is worried about the impact of Covid19 on their business. Completed orders are yet to be dispatched and some products are stuck with courier companies Bhuj. Each product is highly valuable and so the inventory must be tracked and managed carefully. The Gujarat hastha kala nigam has assured marketing assistance.
“The only good thing is we have used this lockdown to finish a lot of repair work in our house.”, he says.
The Khatris retain the same style on a variety of products to suit contemporary tastes. Apart from the basic framed paintings, they make bags, cushion covers, tablecloths, wall hangings, and pillow covers. Rizwan even does palazzos and skirts!