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How Rogan Art Is Being Kept Alive In This Gujarat Village

How Rogan Art Is Being Kept Alive In This Gujarat Village
How Rogan Art Is Being Kept Alive In This Gujarat Village. Credit: Roganartnirona,
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A method of cloth painting exclusively practised in the Kutch region of Gujarat, 400-year-old rogan art gets its name from castor oil–the main ingredient of the paint it requires

Kartikeya Shankar
September 22 , 2022
03 Min Read

Khatri Abdul Gafur is a busy man. Based in village Nirona of Kutch district in Gujarat, Gafur–otherwise known as "Gafur Bhai"–is a master rogan artist having over 40 years of experience.

"This art requires extreme concentration, dedication, and patience," Gafur said while describing the challenges of being a rogan artist. The 57-year-old says that he and nine other family members have been practising the art for eight generations. "Many families in Gujarat practised rogan art in the past. In Nirona itself, four families were in this profession. But its orthodox requirements and low income made it difficult to pursue it as a full-time profession."

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It is widely believed that rogan art originated in Persia before ending up in India. A method of cloth painting exclusively practised in the Kutch region of Gujarat, rogan art gets its name from castor oil–the main ingredient of the paint it requires.

The process
"The fabric painting we do is created through a taxing process," Gafur explains. "The first step is to extract the oil from castor seeds by simmering them periodically for 12-14 hours, which goes on for two days. The heated castor oil is mixed with cold water, thickening it and turning it into a slimy substance–rogan."

Gafur added that after the rogan is made, it is blended with paints of different colours and water with the help of a pestle. Following this, a fabric–usually dark-coloured–is laid out. The artist takes some paint and starts winding it in his palm with 'kalam' (a six-inch iron stick), giving it the required consistency. The heat from the palm eases the dense paint for the artist to create a thread. By moving the rod above the fabric, in the form of thin lines, the artist lays the paint on the cloth.

Rogan art works. Credit: Roganartnirona

Death and revival
In the 1980s, when machine-made textiles, which were cheaper, began circulating in the market, those who practised rogan art started finding it difficult to make ends meet. This led to them looking for jobs in other cities. Gafur was one of them.

"After having witnessed the financial struggles of my father and grandfather, I decided not to follow the profession. I went to Mumbai to work," he says. "But fate had other plans for me. I received a letter from my grandfather in 1984 asking me to come back since there wasn't anyone in the family to carry on our legacy."

After returning to Nirona, Gafur realised how important it was for him to ensure that rogan art didn't go extinct. For decades, he held on, sustaining the art and struggling with poverty.

"I would like to thank PM Narendra Modi, who helped me and many other artists continue their art when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. He even gifted a rogan art piece made by me depicting the tree of life to former US President Barack Obama in 2014," Gafur mentions.

Events like these and media coverage brought Gafur and his family to the limelight. Since 2010, he has trained almost 300 women in rogan art, of which 20-25 work with him. Participating in conferences, exhibitions, and workshops worldwide has also become a part of the Gafur family's life. In 2019, the Government of India awarded Gafur the Padma Shri, the country's fourth-highest civilian award.

Gafur in his workshop. Credit: Roganartnirona

Covid and tourism
"Since our main source of income is tourism, the pandemic affected our business pretty badly," says Gafur. "However, soon we started utilising online platforms to showcase our work to the world."

Gafur also reinvented himself during the pandemic and began painting different items like masks, accessories, and home decorations. His family is also working on improving their designs to stay relevant. "Since India has opened its gates for foreign tourists now, we hope to have a good business season, which usually starts in September and ends in March."

About Nirona
Nirona features several distinctive crafts like lacquer work, bell-making, and rogan painting. One can find several designs on different clothes in the many small workshops around the village. Since the village is situated 40km northwest of the city of Bhuj, you can reach there easily via bus or car.


1

A well researched and interesting story
Kalpana Sharma September 22 , 2022

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