Dying Handicrafts of India: Into the World of Colorful Textile Art Rogan
Rogan, a 300-year-old artisan tradition that once flourished in the Kutch region of Gujarat, now rests in the hands of Abdul Gafur’s family in the village of Nirona. A handcrafted form that has been passed down from men, Sahil is the youngest, representing the eighth generation to take him forward. Initially, Rogan mainly adorned ghaghra-cholis, bridal trousseaux, sheets and tablecloths, he now adorns more contemporary objects.
The lack of opportunities brought him to the brink of extinction, entire villages that practiced it turned to other professions. In 1983, a young Abdul Gafur Khatri followed the trend and traveled to Ahmedabad and even Mumbai to find work and make a living. He said, âAt that time, there were no tourists visiting Gujarat and our art was not selling. It was only later that the government gave us a project that started to help us and my grandfather and father asked me to return to the village.
Gafur got so attached to Rogan that he promised his father to take him internationally, which he ultimately did. “I kept my promise when the Rogan art was presented to Barack Obama, then President of the United States, by Narendra Modi during his visit to the United States in 2014,” said Abdul Gafur Khatri, recipient of the Padma Shri Award (2019), five national awards, eight state awards, three national certificates of merit and one international designer award.
âWe have been practicing Rogan for 46 years. If we don’t, no one else will and the art will be lost forever. I never dreamed of doing anything else. It is our responsibility to advance our centuries-old tradition, to make changes and improve designs as much as possible, âadds Khatri. He now teaches Rogan to all women willing to learn in his village working with a non-profit organization to keep the art alive.
Khatri thinks it’s the freehand colors and patterns that make him most attractive. âAll Rogan crafts are made without a kaka (which means layout or plan). It is basically a huge canvas and a metal rod with colorful paint. Rogan informs- t he, is the technique of painting on fabric, using a thick, brightly colored paint-like substance made from castor seed oil. Craftsmen place a small amount of paste in their palms and the paint is carefully molded into patterns using a metal rod at room temperature. The rod, which acts like a paintbrush, never comes in contact with the fabric. Later, artisans bend the fabric, creating a mirror image and with it, a symmetry of design, he explains.
Designer Vanshika Gupta, who runs her eponymous brand and visited Kutch for a week, says: âI visited Abdul Gafur Khatri Bhai to learn the trade. During the documentation I realized that the manufacturing process, the paint they make, the techniques and chemicals they add to the color to make it sticky, is only known to this family and from no one else. You can see so many examples in their house. They are very generous and humble people, they patiently teach you how to work there.
She adds: âWhat’s amazing is that when you finish your design and press it onto a solid fabric, folding it for about five minutes, you will find that both fabrics have the same design. Rogan is an art of the mirror; the paint is sticky and transfers to the other fabric.
On how art can become a part of fashion, Gupta explains, âThere are many ways to incorporate Rogan craftsmanship into our collection. For example, a black skirt with bold multicolored Rogan lines in the form of polygons, with a metallic foil floral “jaal” or a holographic pattern. But she warns: âDespite so many cultural nuances, crafts are slowly dying. It has not yet won over a contemporary audience.
What are the problems encountered by artisans
Much of the craft depends on two factors: temperature and weather. If it is the rainy season, the dyes take a long time to dry and it becomes difficult to transfer to the fabric. In winter or summer, the pattern may dry out before it can be moved to another fabric. Another problem is getting the density of the paste as this can affect the whole design.
Additionally, as the pandemic unfolded, it destroyed their peak season, which includes the tourist season from January to April and again from July to September. The craft workshops and tourism in the village of Nirona had to be canceled. The raw materials, which had been sourced for this crucial period, are also unused.
Rogan-loving designer Gautam Gupta believes the craft has evolved, although it needs more support in terms of patterns and colors. âRogan crafts are one of the most unique hand painted styles in India. It also has a different effect when paired with other textures. The complexity and color make it perfect for value additions. Seeing the changing preferences of millennials and global audiences, artists too realize the need to be innovative. Anyone who uses Rogan paint in their design process will create their own patterns, color combinations and textures, âhe says.
âAs a designer you want to present something ready made to your customers and this type of craft offers you just that. Customers also appreciate the craft traditions.