Indian family perpetuates dying art of Rogan painting by teaching young girls

A thin thread of paint hangs from a needle as it is slowly guided with skillful turns of the hand into a pattern on a piece of fabric.

The process is repeated several times until a floral design is ready in minutes.

Sumer Khatri shows off the beautiful motif while explaining the intricacies of Rogan’s painting and the struggles his family faces to keep the art alive.

Rogan painting is a traditional fabric painting art practiced only in the Kutch district of Gujarat, India.

The art, originating in Iran, is said to be over 400 years old and takes its name from the Persian word for “oil”, from the main ingredient castor oil in the paint.

After India’s independence in 1947, only four families in three villages in Gujarat practiced this art.

By 1975, the other three families had abandoned him, as he was not earning a decent living, and had turned to other means of support.

Since then, the Khatri family from the village of Nirona is the only family that has kept him alive, despite the difficulties.

Sumer Khatri’s father, Abdul Gafur, affectionately called Gafur Bhai, the head of the Khatri family, is credited with reviving the art for which he was awarded Padma Shri – India’s fourth highest civilian honor – in November 2021.

“Rogan art is a very difficult and time-consuming art form with low returns,” he says The National.

Previously, the practice was used as barter. For weddings, Mr. Khatri’s family made the formal dresses, bedspreads, tablecloths and more using Rogan art. Weddings and festivities were their main source of income.

Initially, Rogan painting was only taught to boys because women were unable to practice this intricate art after marriage.  Photo: Abdul Gafur Khatri

Even when the whole family was involved in producing the art, it still didn’t bring in enough to feed everyone.

“I left school after fourth grade and focused on art to earn more money. My siblings too,” says Gafur Bhai.

Women had to do daily chores and contribute to the family budget, so they were encouraged to do simpler crafts such as bandhej and bandhani (tie and die) which fetched around Rs 2 which was a bargain at home. epoch for past time. .

Over the years, the practice became so rigid that women would naturally devote their time to other art forms.

Two of Mr. Khatri’s nieces also learned this art, but were unable to pursue their passion after their marriage. This discouraged the Khatri family from teaching the art form to other female members.

But word quickly spread that the family only taught the art to male family members.

Many families gave up on the art because it was too much work with small returns.  Photo: Abdul Gafur Khatri

“A lot of times we heard about this allegation that our family was secretive and we don’t show or teach the artistic process,” says Sumer Khatri.

“Things got to such a point that in 2010 an international NGO from Paris, made up of four leaders, landed here.

“They asked us the reason for the secrecy and discrimination in the teaching of Rogan painting.”

Gafur Bhai took the opportunity to refute all the claims.

As he demonstrated and explained the intricacies of the art to the team, officials realized there had been either miscommunication or a deliberate attempt to discredit the family.

After the NGO visit, Gafur Bhai decided that he would give Rogan art lessons to women only.

“We welcome girls to coach them on this art from all communities,” he says.

Abdul Gafur Khatri with his students.  Photo: Abdul Gafur Khatri

Rogan art does not use previously drawn outlines. It is purely imaginary. Hours of dedication and patience are required to produce a single A4 size fabric.

In the lessons, an artist from the Khatri family teaches the girls how to dab the needle in ink, which is a kind of semi-fluid paste, by rolling it and dragging the fine thread of ink to create patterns geometric or floral.

Just this basic initiation into the art takes two to three hours.

Since the opening of the classes in 2010, more than 400 girls have been trained by the Khatri family. The first batch had only 15 girls.

Seeing the complexity of the art, the girls at first hesitated to enroll. The Khatris had to convince them that a family member would be there to guide them.

There is no minimum qualification required for this training but the maximum age is 15 years old.

When asked how he sees the future of art, Gafur Bhai says he wishes he had more students to keep the Rogan alive.

“I sincerely hope that Rogan’s painting gets a heritage tag, which will help preserve and continue the art and also prevent anyone from faking it,” he says.

Updated: July 01, 2022, 6:02 p.m.

About Catharine C. Bean

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