This is a Post I am writing on my travel to the west of India. This time I am in Kutch which is in the north west of the Indian state of Gujarat, it’s a dry region and has a lot of mysteries and rich history dating back to the Indus Valley and Harappan Civilization. More on that in another post. This Post is about an art form called the “Rogan Art” and as we at thumbprints passionate about handmade original art work we found the right place and a unique art form. Rogan artists don’t use any pen, pencil or tracing paper its straight done on cloth in painting form using a small stick which comes from years and years of painstaking training.
When I heard of the word “Rogan” – I was like dude that’s a lamb meat dish served in Kashmir which is a culinary delight and I have known a few people of Irish descent having last names called Rogan. So what is this Rogan art doing in Kutch? I am uploading a few pictures here which I took while having a look around in the Village called Nirona, the pics are not art gallery types as we were in the heat and dust of Kutch but it gives you an Idea of how intricate, rich, bursting with color and serene they are.
After asking around in the village I figured that essentially there was one family (Yes just one family in the whole of Gujarat or even the world who was running this art form) but then I found one more who was from the same clan but now doing his own Rogan art called Rizwan. The community of artists in the olden days (about 6-8 generations ago) did Rogan artwork on the clothes of local animal herders and farming communities. But as machine-made textiles became affordable the youth lost interest in the hand work and stayed away from learning the art, Rogan art began to disappear. But the Khatri family revived it in 1985, as more connectivity to these remote villages brought in NGOs and co-operatives who would source this art work for making high end fashion, wall hangings etc. When I spoke to the artisans, they said they themselves don’t know how and where this art form originated but Rogan is a Persian word and so the guess is that this has some link to Persia. The Rogan art form has no elaborate history or any ritual or religious relevance attached to it (Which personally I love) the significance of the art lies in the credibility of the work and the painstaking efforts of the artists, which we at thumbprints are super passionate about. Some of the most popular paintings are called the tree of life which depicts the richness of life, the hope, despair, beauty and love which makes each of our life unique and so much worth living. The significance of depicting life as a tree is that like a tree who lives for itself but provides a lot more for the community of life forms around it (Now that is how I looked at it when I saw it).
The colors for this are a trade secret and the families won’t divulge a lot of information, but the base is castor oil and then they boil various vegetables and naturally occurring organic material to make a jelly kind of color which looks like melted wax. I did some reading and found that in older time Persians did use castor oil which means there could be a link to Persia for this art form, but interestingly, I could not find any similar artwork on the internet in today’s Persia. Colors used are like white (Safed), red (Lal), blue (Vadadi), yellow (Pavadi), green (Leelo), and orange are used in the pure form (the names in parentheses are the name of the colors as the artists call them). The Rogan paste(colors) is prepared by heating either safflower oil, castor oil or linseed oil (The artists told me it’s mainly Castor oil as its abundantly available in Kutch for centuries) to boiling point over a period of three days, thereafter pouring it into water. This paste is then mixed with natural chalk color pigment or vegetable pigments, as per the choice of the artist, to create a thick gooey dye (see the adjoining picture). This gives rise to bright and lively colors. These paintings are usually done on Cotton, silk, polyester, Georgette and chiffon.
In this Video which I shot of the artist making a Rogan Art Painting one can see the ingrained art as they do it without tracing the image. So it’s completely left to the imagination of the artists on what they want to make or which colors they want to use (We can customize these as per our customers request)
The artist essentially takes a small rod resembling an oversized blunt needle and dips it into the color pod and makes a series of intrinsic (almost magical) manoeuvres staying completely focused on the job as there are no second chances here. Nimbly, he twirl-wraps the color around one end of the rod, then rubs it on the palm of his right hand, as if it was an easel, he mixes the color to achieve a perfect consistency, then gently stretches out a vibrant strand of color with the rod, creating that perfectly fine strand to make it into a beautiful flower.
Our common understanding of weaving involves a needle and color thread that goes through fabric to make pictures and images. Rogan form of art defies this logic: the artist manipulates the strand of color in the air to create intended motifs before it hits the cloth material. The fingers under the fabric help shape the final form into the fabric. In this sense, there is a duet between the two hands. It is only when one sees the time, nimbleness, and the utmost concentration required to draw a simple flower, that one begins to understand the artistry behind the intricate work of art. It is a calling for those with a monk’s patience, willingness to take the long road of practice to perfect beauty. What struck me was No drawings, no planning – It comes from the Soul via Hands to the cloth !
So all you fans of original hand made art, Rogan art is not a printing technique, but a handmade process which makes it special. Feel free to get in touch with us to get your own Rogan painting which can be used as any lifestyle products in today’s day and age. These include Wall hangings, cushion covers, bed covers, dresses, tablecloth or any other way you can image using it. These paintings can be made available in any size you like.