Rogan painting, is an art of cloth printing practiced in the Kutch District of Gujarat, India. In this craft, paint made from boiled oil and vegetable dyes is laid down on fabric using either a metal block (printing) or a stylus (painting). The craft nearly died out in the late 20th century, with rogan painting being practiced by only two families in the same village.
The word rogan comes from Persian, meaning varnish or oil, a term adopted under the Mughal Empire. The process of applying this oil-based paint to fabric began among the Muslim Khatris, a community in Kutch. Although the name, rogan (and some of the traditional designs) suggests an origin in Iran, there are no reliable historic records to prove this.
Rogan painting was initially practiced in several locations in the Kutch region. The painted fabric was mostly purchased by women of the lower castes who wanted to decorate clothing and bed coverings for their weddings. Therefore, it was a seasonal art, with most of the work taking place during the several months when most weddings take place. During the rest of the year, the artisans would switch to other forms of work, such as agriculture.
With the rise of cheaper, machine-made textiles in the late 20th century, rogan-painted products became relatively more expensive, and many artists turned to other occupations. Ultimately, only one family, the Khatris of Nirona, Gujarat, continued the craft.
Resurgence of the art
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, several factors came together to bring about a renewed interest in rogan art, especially painting. First, after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, when much of the region was devastated, the water and electricity infrastructure was improved, new roads were built, and the number of flights into the region was increased, all of which led to an increase in tourism. Second, local cooperatives and non-profit groups helped local artisans, including rogan artists, to increase their market by selling in urban settings and online. Third, many members of the Khatri family won state and national awards for their art, thus increasing the prestige of their work. Finally, in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the U.S. White House, and gave President Obama two rogan paintings including a tree of life. They were painted by Abdul Gafur Khatri, a national award winner.
In Nirona, the Khatris introduced more contemporary products to appeal to tourists, such as bags, cushion covers, table cloths, wall hangings, and pillow covers. The tree of life continued to be a major motif. The number of tourists to the Khatri workshop increased steadily in the 2010s to as many as 400 people per day, causing traffic jams in the village. In an attempt to keep up with increased demand, in 2010 the Khatris began to train women for the first time. Previously, it was feared that women would spread the secrets of the craft when they married out of the family. In 2015, twenty women were working with the family in Nirona.
Process of rogan printing
Rogan paint is produced by boiling castor oil for about two days and then adding vegetable pigments and a binding agent; the resulting paint is thick and shiny. The cloth that is painted or printed on is usually a dark color, which makes the intense colors stand out.
In rogan printing, the pattern is applied using metal blocks with patterns carved into them. In rogan painting, elaborate designs are produced freehand, by trailing thread-like strands of paint off of a stylus. Frequently, half of a design is painted, then the cloth is folded in half, transferring a mirror image to the other half of the fabric. The designs include floral motifs, animals, and local folk art.