Rogan Printing of Gujarat: Recreating History

In 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US White House, he gave President Barack Obama two Gujarati rare paintings including a tree of life. These paintings reflected the rich legacy of Gujarat, a state which has given birth to a leader like Mr Modi. These rare paintings were none other than Rogan Paintings. 

One of the most popular genres of art in Gujarat, Rogan printing is practised in the Kutch District. This is an art of cloth printing paint made from boiled oil and vegetable dyes is laid down on fabric using either a metal block (printing) or a stylus (painting). 
In the last couple of decades, this art form has seen a resurgence.

The term Rogan originates from Persian, (meaning varnish or oil). The process of applying this oil-based paint to fabric began among the Khatris, a Mulsim community who came to India from Sindh, Pakistan.

Initially it was practiced in many locations in the Kutch area. The painted fabric was mainly bought by women of the lower castes who wanted to decorate clothing and bed coverings for their weddings.

It was seasonal art as 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. 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.

However, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there grew a renewed interest in Rogan painting. A number of factors are responsible for this resurgence. First improved infrastructure after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, generated a new interest among the artisans to practice this art form.

Also local cooperatives and non-profit groups have been helping local artisans, including rogan artists, to increase their market by selling in urban settings and online.

Many members of the Khatri family have won state and national awards for their art, thus increasing the prestige of their work. 
In Nirona, the Khatris have begun producing more contemporary products to appeal to tourists, such as bags, cushion covers, table cloths, wall hangings, and pillow covers. The tree of life continues to be a major motif.

The number of tourists to their workshop has 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. 
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.

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