Dying crafts of India: Into the world of colourful Rogan textile art

Rogan art GettyImages
Written by Anjali Jha
| New Delhi |

Published: July 8, 2020 7:10:50 pm

Rogan is a 300-year-old inherited tradition that once flourished in Gujarat’s Kutch region. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock Images)

Rogan, a 300-year-old craft tradition that once flourished in Gujarat’s Kutch region, today rests in the hands of Abdul Gafur’s family in Nirona village. A craft form that has been handed down through the menfolk, Sahil is the youngest, representing the eighth generation to take it forward. Initially, Rogan graced mainly ghaghra-cholis, bridal trousseaus, bedsheets and tablecloths, it now adorns more contemporary items.

The lack of opportunities took it to the brink of extinction, with entire villages that practiced it switching to other trades. In 1983, a young Abdul Gafur Khatri followed the trend and went to Ahmedabad and even Mumbai to find work and make a life. He says, “At that time, there were no tourists visiting Gujarat and our art was not selling. It was only later that the government gave us a project that started helping us and my grandfather and father asked me to return to the village.”

Gafur became so attached to Rogan that he promised his father to take it to the international level, which he did eventually. “I fulfilled my promise when Rogan art was presented to Barack Obama, the then President of the United States, by Narendra Modi during his visit to the US in 2014,” says Abdul Gafur Khatri, the recipient of Padma Shri Award (2019), five National Awards, eight State awards, three National Merit certificates and an International Designer award.

“We have been practicing 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,” adds Khatri. He is now teaching Rogan to all the women willing to learn in his village in collaboration with a non-profit organisation to keep the art alive.

Khatri believes it’s the colours and freehand motifs that make it most appealing. “All the Rogan crafts are made without khaka (which means layout or blueprint). It’s basically a huge canvas and a metal rod with colourful paint.” Rogan, he informs, is the technique of painting on fabric, using a thick brightly coloured paint-like substance made with castor seed oil. Artisans place a small amount of the paste into their palm, and the paint is carefully moulded into patterns using a metal rod at room temperature. The rod, which acts as a paintbrush, never comes in contact with the fabric. Later, artisans fold the fabric, creating a mirror image and with it, a design symmetry, he explains.

Designer Vanshika Gupta, who runs her eponymous label and visited Kutch for a week, says: “I visited Abdul Gafur Khatri Bhai to learn the craft. During the documentation, I realised that the crafting process, the paint they make, the techniques and chemicals they add to the colour to make it sticky, is only known by this family and no one else. You can see so many examples in their home. They are very generous people and humble, they patiently teach you to work on it.”

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She adds, “The amazing part is that when you complete your design and press it upon a plain cloth, folding for about five minutes, you will find that both fabrics have the same design. Rogan is a mirror art; the paint is sticky and transfers to the other cloth.”

On how the art can become a part of fashion, Gupta explains, “There are many ways in which we can incorporate the Rogan craft in our collection. For eg, a black skirt with multi-colour bold Rogan lines as polygons, along with a floral ‘jaal’ in metallic foil or a holographic design.” But she warns, “Despite so many cultural nuances, the craft is slowly dying. It has yet to appeal to a contemporary audience.”

What are the problems faced by craftspersons

Much of the craft depends on two factors — temperature and weather. If it is the rainy season, the dyes take time to dry and it becomes difficult to transfer onto the fabric. In winter or summer, the design may dry before it can be shifted to another fabric. Another issue is getting the density of the paste as this can affect the entire design.

Moreover, as the pandemic unfolded, it has destroyed their peak season, which includes the tourist season from January to April and again from July to September. The craft workshops and tourism to Nirona village had to be cancelled. The raw materials, which had been sourced for this crucial period, are also lying unused.

Designer Gautam Gupta who loves Rogan feels the craft has evolved, though it needs more support in terms of motifs and colours. “The Rogan craft is one of the most unique hand-painted styles in India. It also has a different effect when paired with other textures. The intricacy and colour make it perfect for value additions. Seeing the changes in preferences of millennials and the global audience, artists too realise the need to be innovative. Anyone using Rogan painting in their design process will make their own motifs, colour combinations and textures,” he says.

“As a designer you want to present something out-of-the-box to your clients and such crafts give you exactly that. Clients also value handmade traditions.”

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