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Rogan Art of Kutch and its tryst with Hemp

Traditional Indian handicrafts reflect the culture and history of the place they come from.

One such unique art form is Rogan painting.

Rogan is 300 year-old inherited tradition that once flourished in Gujarat’s Kutch region.

Today, only Abdul Gafur’s family practices Rogan. This craft form is preserved by the men-folk since generations. This skill is being practiced by the Abdul Gafur Khatri family since 300 years and now the 8th generation has embarked on its journey with perseverance. 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, Gafur’s family continued the craft.

Thousands of kilometres away at the White House in the US, is a rogan painting symbolising the Tree of Life. It was gifted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to US President Barack Obama during the Indo-US summit in Washington in October 2014. It was made by Khatri, a National Award-winner who, along with six members of his family, are the only remaining practitioners of this art. Almost everyone in the family is a National Award-winner and their beautiful and unique work has a fan following including Amitabh Bachchan, Waheeda Rehman, and Shabana Azmi and of course, Narendra Modi.

Rogan means - “Oil-Based”. Rogan painting is delicate and precisely painted from one’s own imagination in a time-consuming process. It requires not only skill but patience, concentration, a sense of proportion, anaesthetic appreciation and not to mention visual co-ordination. First, the rogan to be prepared by heating castor oil to boiling point over three days, cooling it and then as it thickens, mixing in appropriate amounts of colors. The pastes of yellow, red, white, green, black, and orange are kept in earthen pots with water to keep them moist. A thin rod, flat at both ends, is used to paint.

Initially the fabric to be painted was spread on the floor/ground; then the craftsmen take a lump of colour paste and put on his palm and mixes vigorously with a stylus rod held by another hand. The process of mixing continuously till the rogan coloured paste was stretched to a thread like structure; this paste was then used to paint the fabric with the help of stylus; the fitness of painting based on the stretchability of the coloured rogan paste; the fabric to be painted was folded exactly from the center.

The painting was done only on one side of the folded portion of the fabric. This was then again folded from the center pressed evenly to get an identical impression on the other half portion; then after the fabric was opened to check for getting the mirror image of the design as a whole pattern which is kept to dry under the sunlight for about 6-7 hours. Check the two videos below to see Rogan art in making.

The painting takes quite some time to be done on a small piece of cloth, depending upon the intricacy of the work and the type of cloth. If the work is very intricate, then a square foot piece of cloth could take around a month. The work takes time because first the outlining is done, then the work is filled, then after drying, the colors are added and then the work is done again. Drying generally takes two days. After drying, the rogan painted cloth is used for making sarees, decorative wall hangings, pillow covers, tablecloths, and even file folders. The intricate motifs – geometric flowers, peacocks, the tree of life, etc. – are drawn from the history and folk culture of the Kutch region.

Gafurbhai's youngest son Hamid Abdul Khatri with Sonam Sodha, Himalayan Hemp community representative

While Geometric patterns are perennial favourite, motifs such as ‘The Tree of Life” and Moghul paisleys that find expression in cushion covers, bedsheets, kurtas, curtains, folders, paintings, purses, dress material, and saris have also been experimented. It was his intricate work on a sari, completed over an year that won Khatri the National Award. A wide range of traditional societies are found in the region, famous crafts of this place includes weaving, dyeing, printing, bandhani (tie-dye), embroidery, leatherwork, pottery, woodwork, and metalwork. Times have changed and, in the last few decades, the Khatris have started teaching this art form to other craftspeople, including women.

With cutting edge technology defining the pace and the taste of today’s world, our age-old tribal crafts are finding it difficult to maintain their identity. The traditional art in India is being replaced by the western culture thus, it is necessary to ensure that rogan painting a traditional craft is documented for the younger generation to understand their tradition and culture which reaches to the youth for better appreciation before it is completely extinct.

Today, there is a dire environmental crisis on our hands and the production of hemp fiber is a highly sustainable process. It is a carbon negative crop because it actually absorbs CO2 from the air. It can be produced with half the amount of water and land in comparison to cotton has thrice the tensile strength of cotton. It can also be easily blended with other fibers and doesn't strip the soil of nutrients. On the contrary, hemp returns 60-70 percent of all nutrients back into the soil.

How about looking out for new ideas in fabric for your wardrobe which also saves money and in addition, becomes an eco-friendly alternative. So, how about embracing this rare fabric art with the power to revolutionize the hemp fabric industry. Hemp has seen a renewed interest in recent times and so has rogan, especially amongst foreigners. A combination of the two will certainly become a hit. Well, who doesn’t loves sustainability plus art together?

Sonam Sodha, our Himalayan Hemp community representative visited to Gafur’s family as she already knew about this creative and beautiful art form in kutch region of Gujarat and thought to merge this art form with Hemp fabric. So, she provided them a Hemp shirt which, in turn, the member of Khatri family paints Rogan art on it. You can see the picture below- Rogan art on Hemp shirt which extremely makes it a beautiful piece. The best part is they themselves like our hemp fabric shirt. Gafurbhai's youngest son Hamid Abdul Khatri told Sonam that it was the first time that he paint rogan art on hemp fabric which he absolutely loved it. He loved the way the fabric is soft against the skin. Let us know what do you think about discovering more designs of this art form on your favourite hemp cloth. In this way, we will also support the family which is shouldering this tradition today in preserving this beautiful and rare art form which in addition also helps in the promotion of both Hemp and Rogan. It also has proven to be a bane in the present world where mass-produced garments and fast life are threatening this exquisite art.

We take inspiration from this family to create beautiful statement Hemp fabric garments that you’ll love to wear.

Hemp fabrics are durable, comfortable, yet still extremely stylish eco-fashion. Today it is similar to linen and can be used to make anything that is made out of cotton. The fabric is porous and thus retains colour and is very breathable. Hemp clothing is highly durable and does not lose its shape easily. The fact that it is anti-bacterial and blocks ultraviolet rays doesn't hurt. Turning to hemp clothing is a big step you can take as a conscious consumer and will go a long way in saving our planet's resources.

Let us know what do you think about this beautiful Off-White Hemp shirt with a unique rogan art patch on it.


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