Sitting on the floor, he is carefully twisting a thick spool of yellow paint around a metal pin. Stretched out before him is a piece of red cloth, pinned on either side to the legs of his trousers. He dabs the paint on his left palm — it’s a gummy mass and has to be worked into something more malleable. He then brings the tip of the pin a few inches above the cloth, and as it hovers, an elastic strand of color streams onto the surface.
And Voila! Abdul Hamid begins his magic: an intricate pattern grows beneath the swirling pin that never touches the cloth. The floral design looks like needlework.
Hamid then folds the cloth, and just like that, a flawless mirror-image of the pattern appears, and an exquisite piece of Rogan art is born.
“We have practised Rogan for eight generations now,” says Hamid. “The first six generations did not get their due for preserving the art, but now, finally it is widely recognised and we couldn’t be happier.”
Kutch, Gujarat is home to a 300-year-old craft tradition – Rogan, mainly for Ghaghra-cholis, bridal trousseaus, bedsheets, and tablecloths, it now adorns more contemporary items.
Rogan in Persian means oil: the paint made with castor oil. Rogan art originated in Persia some 300 years ago. As it crossed borders, it began fading from the collective memory of its creators.
Today, this art is carried on in the hands of Abdul Gafur’s family in Nirona village. A craft form that has been inherited by the menfolk, Sahil the youngest, representing the eighth generation is to take it forward.
Initially practiced by the entire village, Rogan was on the brink of extinction due to a dearth of opportunities. In 1983, even our young Abdul Gafur Khatri followed the trend and went to Ahmedabad and even Mumbai to find work and make a life.
But Gafur’s attachment to Rogan brought him back and helped him fulfill his promise to his father of taking it international, “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,” adds Khatri.
He is now teaching Rogan to all the women willing to learn in his village in collaboration with a non-profit organization to keep the art alive.
Khatri says it’s the colors and freehand motifs that make Rogan most appealing.
An art form without a blueprint, Rogan, is the technique of painting on fabric, using a thick brightly colored paint-like substance made with castor seed oil. Artisans place a small amount of the paste on their palm, and the paint is carefully molded into patterns using a metal rod at room temperature. The rod, which acts like 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.