A vintage art form practiced in the small village of Kutch named Nirona from the past 300 years, was brought to limelight 23 years ago, thanks to a National Award. This national award winner was Mr. Abdul Gafur Khatri, aged 54 years, who practices this ancient art form with his family members. He has managed to keep this traditional art form alive. Other than the National Award bestowed upon him by Late. Atal Bihari Bajpayee, he has also bagged seven state awards. One of his famous artworks was also gifted to the U.S. ex-President, Mr. Barack Obama by our very own Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. The genius himself has confessed to never using tracing paper or references for design, all his designs have been a spur of the moment ones. As of present, his main focus is wall hangings which take a minimum of a week to complete.
Rogan art is inspired by a Persian art form using a paste made from boiling castor oil for 12 hours continuously at a constant temperature. The residue is then mixed with cold water until it thickens. This turns the castor oil into a gooey substance which is called Rogan. This is then further mixed with vegetable dyes which are then used to make designs on fabrics.
A huge part of this craft is dependent on two factors- temperature and weather. In the rainy season, the dye takes a longer duration of time to dry and makes it difficult to be shifted to another fabric. Whereas in winter or summer, it dries up before it can even be transferred. Another major issue is the consistency of the paste correct. It plays a major role in designing too.
A huge amount of patience goes into creating a single design on fabric. These designs are made by taking the gooey substance, Rogan, on the tip of a rod, pin, or stick to create the various designs and patterns on fabric. The painted fabric can then be used to make pillow covers, table cloths, wall hangings, sarees, fodders, stoles, dress materials, and lots of other decorative pieces.
Gafur Bhai, as he is fondly known as, created a beautiful piece and folded the cloth into half, creating a mirror image when opened. It is amazing to look at and seems as if the cloth has been embroidered using a machine. The people take weeks and sometimes months to complete one single piece of cloth with all the details.
Rogan art has graced many ghagra-cholis, bridal trousseaus, and bedsheets and in present times, is being used in contemporary items. But the lack of opportunities led it to an abrupt and almost extinction, while the villages that practiced switched trades. Following this ongoing trend, even Gafur Bhai went to Gujarat and Mumbai for jobs. Their art wasn’t selling. He only returned when the government gave them a project to work on.
Gafur Bhai grew extremely attached to the art form and even promised to take it to an international level, which he eventually did. His dream and promise were fulfilled when his Rogan art was presented to Barack Obama by Narendra Modi on his visit in 2014. Gafur bai is the recipient of the Padma Shri Award (2019), 5 national awards, 8 state awards, 3 National Merit Certificates, and an International Designer Award.
Barack Obama received two paintings as gifts in Rogan art depicting the Tree of Life, in 2014. These two paintings are exquisite and in dual tones of red and green. It is considered a Rogan masterpiece. This brought back the life into this almost extinct art form. Tourists started flooding and so did art admirers and gatherers.
Another such masterpiece was a simple khadi silk saree designed by Gafur Bhai which won him his National Award in 1997. They had wanted to try a collaboration using Khadi as the fabric and Rogan as the art form for a long time now. He experimented on the khadi silk fabric and it worked wonders. It became a masterpiece and bagged him the award.
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2019 by President Kovind for the revival and revitalization of Rogan painting on textiles and having created livelihood opportunities in the remote villages of Kutch, Gujarat.
The pandemic that has befallen us has crushed their peak period of January to April and July to September. The workshops to be held in the village had to be canceled in the face of the pandemic we face. All the raw materials stocked are going waste as they lie unused.
Gafur Bhai 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.”