My quest for art, culture and beauty led me to the colourful villages of Kutch, where I discovered an extraordinary and unique form of art. At the first sight, I considered this art to be a form of intricate embroidery. But, as you enter the house of Sumer Gafoor Khatri, you unravel the mystery behind the richness of colours and an embossed hand painted art called ROGAN ART.
Rogan art hails from the land of Persia that was brought to Kutch around 400 hundred years ago and is now only pursued by this lone family of Khatris, residing in a small village of Nirona, 20 kms from Bhuj, Gujarat.
Originally, Rogan art was developed as a cheaper and quicker substitute to hand embroidery to adorn bridal clothing of regional tribes of Kutch. From Ghaghras (traditional skirt) to huge odhanis (bridal veils), pillow covers to bed spreads, this art involved a diverse concoction of folk art forms, Persian architecture and linear embroidery patterns. Like my friends who accompanied me on this journey, I too wasn’t aware of this exquisite form of art.
Though Rogan art, could well be on its last leg, but the dedication and the effort taken to keep this form of art alive is definitely noteworthy. And the credit goes to Abdul Gafoor Khatri and his extended family. Abdul Gafoor Khatri is Sumer Bhai’s uncle who like his peers had given up rogan painting and left Kutch in search of a steady job. Gafoor Bhai, as he is referred to in the village returned to Nirona after two and half years once he received an appeal letter from his grandfather to come back, rejoin the family tradition of Rogan Art and continue the legacy. This was the turning point in his life as well as the art form. Returning from a cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, Gafoor Bhai had gauged the mindsets of the new generation and started experimenting innovative ideas in the art form. And thus, today, rogan art finds expression on cushion covers, table mats, kurtas, wall hangings, stoles, purses, paintings and saris. While the age old folk art forms are an all time favourite, patterns such is “Tree of Life” was something that bedazzled me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet Gafoor Bhai, but was taken aback by this inspiring story and commitment to his art. The Khatris claim that no one on this world can produce such elaborate forms of Rogan art. This art has been passed to generations in the same family. Currently, the eight generation performs this art.
The intricate process of Rogan painting involves 3 steps.
First step involves the basic preparation of color used in Rogan Art. Castor oil is heated to a boiling point to reduce it to a thick gluey pulp to which appropriate amounts of colour pigments are added and thus we get different hues of red, yellow, white, green, and blue. These colours are stored in containers with water to keep them malleable. This process takes place over a period of 3 days in deep jungles as it leaves strong odour.
The second step involves placing the fabric. Sumer Bhai squats on the ground, places the blank cloth on his thighs, pins it up to his jeans so that the cloth remains intact and doesn’t move.
The third and final step is the most important and time consuming process. The painting process starts as Sumer Bhai takes the colored pulp on his palm with the help of a metal stylus and keeps stirring vigorously till the pulp is stretched to a thread like consistency, perfect enough to start laying out the designs on the cloth. Apparently there are no outlines on the cloth, its free hand intricate painting done effortlessly with a precision born out of experience. Some designs have symmetric patterns. So to reduce the effort Sumer Bhai folds the fabric into half to get the mirror impression on the other half. This sight of painting left me completely awestruck and made me wonder, why not many art enthusiasts have tried their hands at this form of art?
Once the outline designs are laid out, the entire taar work as they say is filled with vibrant colours to emphasize the beauty of the art. And then finally the cloth is kept under sunlight to dry for atleast 2 days.
The Khatri family boasts of some wonderful work on Rogan art and is also honoured by the Indian Government for their efforts to preserve this striking yet fading art. Gujarat Government has been taking a lot of effort to promote this art form by presenting framed rogan art work to foreign delegates who visit the state. With Gujarat tourism reaching new heights, let’s just hope this effort of the Khatris doesn’t go waste and the potential of Rogan art is appreciated by art lovers worldwide.
So if you are planning your next visit to Gujarat, the house of the Khatris is a must visit.