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Craft Revival: Why Rogan Painting's Future Depends On One Family Of Craftsmen In Nirona

Textiles, glorious as they are, rely on craftspeople and artisans that form the pillars that support their beauty. The sheer amount of will that goes into creating an age-old craft is enormous. So, where does an art-form stand when its makers are limited to one family in the whole world? For Rogan, the craft exclusive to a single family that resides in the small village of Nirona, located 40 km away from Bhuj in Gujarat, it's the question of the hour. 

Image Courtesy:  Navaldeep Thareja on Instagram
Image Courtesy: Navaldeep Thareja on Instagram

Rogan Painting: A Unique Craft

The incredible patterns of Rogan painting are not new to the textile landscape of India, but not many know of its existence, let alone the fact that its survival depends on one family that specialises in the art. The Khatri family, forebearers of the craft that has been passed down for seven generations, are actively involved in sustaining this art form. The last flagbearers of the legacy of a craft that depends entirely on them for its survival. The men of the family partake in creating the art form generation after generation, trying to overcome the lack of awareness that surrounds it even in today's digital age. 

Image Courtesy: Monika Saurabh on Instagram
Image Courtesy: Monika Saurabh on Instagram

The Design Process

It goes without saying that the making of this art form is not an easy task to accomplish; castor seeds are used to procure oil, which is heated for up to 12 hours in order to obtain a gelatinous remnant that is mixed with cold water to make the paint. Combined with natural colours to achieve a vibrant hue, the mix is spread over the palm of the artisan who uses a blunt needle to place the elastic-y strands on the fabric, creating extravagant, detailed patterns while never directly touching the base with the stylus. And if that sounds like a meticulous process, wait till you hear what's next. Once the artist has made one-half of the design, the fabric is folded to replicate the pattern in a splitting mirror image, achieving a consistency that is tough, if not impossible to replicate. 

Popular Depictions & Past

The hard work that goes behind it is fortunately not lost on its limited avid viewers. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted a set of customised 'Tree of Life' Rogan paintings to erstwhile US President Barack Obama, highlighting the craftsmanship of its purveyors on a global scale. Rogan, which finds its roots in the Sindh region, refers to 'oil-based' in Persian and is said to have travelled all the way to Kutch over 400 years ago. The art form which was once a staple for bridal trousseaus and ghagra-cholis is now available in contemporary versions too; jeans, T-shirts, wall-hangings and home furnishings adorned by it are presently made by the family. Once practiced in Peshawar, Lahore and other regions of Pakistan via which it is said to have travelled through, Rogan paintings now remain only in the small Kutch hamlet. 

Image Courtesy: Roganartnirona.com
Image Courtesy: Roganartnirona.com

Revival Efforts & Status

Today, Abdul Gafoor Khatri, the head of the family and recipient of a number of awards, amongst others the Padma Shri and the National Award, which has rightfully been granted to other members of his family as well, is in support of elevating the art form's status. From once being a trade secret kept under wraps by the Khatri men, the only practicing craftsmen alive, Rogan painting is now being taught to local women, a step that is meant to elevate its current status. Today, a cluster of local women actively contribute to the craft, helping the Khatris meet the demands.

Image Courtesy: Anna Grabowska on Instagram
Image Courtesy: Anna Grabowska on Instagram

On an official website dedicated to the craft, Abdul Gafoor Khatri shares his thoughts, “We have been practising Rogan for 46 years. If we don’t do this, no one else will and the art will be lost forever. I never dreamt of doing anything else. It is our responsibility to take our age-old tradition forward, make changes and improve the designs as much as we can.” Not far from where the Khatris live, another family has recently invested in the art form, going back to their roots to create a craft that enamours. 

It is our hope that the step undertaken by the lone family finds the support to bring back this craft that was once a norm. 

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