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    A textile painting tradition from Kutch, Gujarat which where coloured paint is laid down on the cloth to resemble embroidery using a long stylus, rogan means “oil-based painting” in Persian. According to a local legend, it is believed that it came to India from Syria with the Afridis who migrated to the region through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has been historically concentrated in the north-western region of South Asia, in the cities of Peshawar and Lahore where the craft came to be practised by the Pathan population of the region. The technique, developed in these cities using linseed oil, was replaced with castor oil in Kutch, which was easier to cultivate in its arid climate. It attained popularity as “Peshawar Lac Cloth” and “Afridi Lac Cloth” and was produced commercially in Peshawar. The tradition’s continuity has been traced to the Khatri community as well as Muslims, who predominantly practise the craft to this date. Before it became diminished, its centres of production were located in Baroda, Patan, Chowbari and Khavada in Kutch as well as Nasik, Maharashtra.

    Rogan painting follows a long and arduous process to make the paste with which the painting is done. The tools and equipment for paintings – including the stirrer, aluminium or clay container, iron rod and vessels, stone grinder but also the seeds for castor oil and the colours – were either made by hand or obtained from the local market. The seeds of the castor plant are the basic raw materials that are pounded by hand and boiled for over twelve hours to release its oil and thicken it. When thrown into cold water, it gains a gelatinous paste-like consistency which creates the rogan. To maintain its consistency, the paste is immersed in water to prevent drying and mixed with powdered lime to prevent it from getting runny. It is then coloured with various dyes, usually using trisulphide of arsenic for yellow, red lead oxide for red, white lead or barium sulphate for while and indigo for blue, although now, increasingly, synthetic dyes are used. Mica flakes and gold and silver leaf are occasionally pressed over painted fabric for tinsel work. The primary tool is a six-inch-long metal stylus with a pointed tip. The artists, through their estimation, dole out around a teaspoon of rogan on their palm and make it pliable through the stylus so that it can be stretched into thread-like form and laid down on the fabric.

    The design is usually drawn freehand and during painting, the stylus does not touch the surface of the cloth, remaining above it. Over the years the craftspersons have developed symmetrical designs that are created by folding half the cloth over the painted half of the design or filling solid patches with parallel lines laid one after the other. Once the rogan thread is laid on the fabric, it is pressed into it with a moistened fingertip. This causes it to sink and adhere to the fabric material such that when it dries, it hardens and is transfer-proof. Once finished, it is kept out in the sun to dry for 6–7 hours. Motifs, most commonly birds and floral, are either limited to borders or spread all over the fabric.

    Unlike many textile painting traditions, Rogan does not face immediate competition from its factory-made or mass-produced iterations. However, because of its precise specialisation and limited knowledge, it risks extinction. Traditionally practised to decorate the items of bridal trousseau such as ghaghras (long skirts), odhanis (veil) and quilt covers, the tradition is now sustained by the production of decorative craft items and artworks. In India the craft’s practice is now limited to two families in Nirona, Kutch and three families in Viramgam, Wadhwan and Ahmedabad.The prominent Khatri family from the village of Nirona, headed by Abdul Gafoor Khatri, has practised it for three hundred years. Eight members of his family have produced award-winning wall-hangings, pillow covers, table cloths and sarees that showcase a confluence of Persian miniatures with local folk culture. They are also active in the promotion and education of the craft. In 1997, Abdul Gafoor Khatri was awarded the title of Master Craftsman for Rogan by the government of India. Formerly restricted to only male members of the family, over three decades ago the Khatris began teaching the craft to craftspeople outside the family, including women. The Khatris also lead artist demonstrations for visiting tourists, while simultaneously maintaining a selective exhibition profile.


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