A Kutch family that has kept alive the Rogan art form now hopes to benefit from tourist attention.
One watches in anticipation as Abdul Gafoor Khatri, 42, takes a lump of yellow coloured paste to the point of his steel pencil and starts painting on a piece ofcloth .
A beautiful flower emerges on the cloth after half an hour and one is awestruck at the precision of the free-hand art work despite the fact that neither tracing paper nor any measuring devices were used.
This is Rogan art and Khatri’s extended family, which includes his three sons and uncle Aarab Hasan Khatri, is now the only one practising this age-old art that was once quite common in Kutch. In fact, the Rogan free-hand textile painting was once the pride of Kutch-the land of colourful art and culture. Now the only place where it survives is Nironha village near Bhuj where the Khatris live.
There was a time when women in Kutch used to wear rich Rogan art-painted odhnis and saris. The Khatri family today works mostly on wall hangings, though Abdul Gafoor received a National Textile Art Award for a Rogan art sari from former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee.
Says Mike Vaghela of the Garha Safari Lodge near Bhuj who has been promoting the Khatris: “Foreigners fall speechless on seeing the Khatri familymake beautiful creations using this technique. In fact, their work is a major attraction for foreign tourists.”
The Persian name Rogan might sugggest that this art form has its origins in Iran, but there are no historical records to suggest that. The Khatris have been practising Rogan art for generations. Natural stone colour is used in this art.
The colour is boiled in castor oil for two days in phases till it turns into a thick gooey paste. The artist takes this paste in lumps on his palm and then uses a steel pencil as a brush to paint oncloth .
The fact that the Khatris are the only ones practising this art might soon turn into a blessing for them because the tourism potential of Kutch is on the rise. Abdul Gafoor says, “We are looking forward to Kutch’s fast expansion as a tourist destination. That will change our fortunes.”
Floral motifs, animals and oriental architectural designs are the artist’s favourite. A wall piece can take up to three months to finish. A Rogan art wall hanging can fetch anything between Rs 8,000 and Rs 12,000, even more in some cases. A famous work of the Khatris, “Tree of Life”, was sold for Rs 18,000.
Clearly, with the expanding tourism opportunities in Kutch, the Khatris are a valued lot. Thanks to the art they have kept alive.