The intricately embroidered textiles that often dazzle the eye are quickly etched in the vision when one thinks of the arid stretch of Western India. These textiles which form the bridal trousseau and also for decoration of the household during auspicious days can take at least a quarter of a woman’s lifetime with her family and beloved aunts lending a guiding and helping hand. In most cases, the materials required for creating these textiles such as floss silk threads, zari (metal threads), mirrors, silk and a specific dyed cotton or silk would be accumulated over the years from their savings, making them some of the priceless objects that they would carry in to their new home. Therefore, for the everyday use clothing and textiles a search for an equally fabulous alternative that is merciful to the pocket and also faster to create, gave rise to “Rogani kaam”. This is how the ubiquitous popats (parrots) and the paniharins (water-pot bearing women) found in the textiles of the Ahir community come alive in the colourful prints of rogan. The art of rogan, has been practiced for nearly three hundred years and today survives in the hands of only two Khatri families; Khatri Abdul Gaffar Doud and Khatri Siddik Hasan, both living in the same village of Nirona, in Kachchh. In Persian, the word ‘rogan’ means oil, and through this link it is believed the craft came from Iran to Kachchh in India.
Rogan work is a technique of surface embellishment like printing that can be rightfully placed under the umbrella of hand-painted textiles. It starts by boiling castor seed oil (grown locally in the Kachchh region) for several hours to form a fluid with high viscosity called rogan. Powdered pigments are then added to this thick residue to obtain various colours required for the design. This coloured sticky paste, rogan, is now applied with the help of a metal stylus called kalam to draw motifs on to the surface of a textile. There is no tracing or drawing involved, hence, the dexterity and imagination of the artisan plays a vital role in executing a perfect design, in a way that the brief and creative idea in the mind of the artisan, spontaneously translates into the motifs on the cloth. The design drawn on one surface is then folded and pressed carefully, to transfer the design to the other, almost like a mirror image. This helps in shortening the time required for production. Mostly preferred to be done free hand in the traditional way with the help of a kalam, rogan can also be done by using metal-faced blocks, to print a fabric.[i] The thick paste which would otherwise clog the wooden blocks is avoided by using metal-faced blocks which can be cleaned easily without eroding the carved surface of the blocks. Like many other crafts that involve dyeing and printing, the fumes formed during the preparation of the paste can be sometimes hazardous to the artisan’s health.[ii]
Earlier, it was used for creating textiles such as dharaniyo/ochar (wall hanging), toran (door valence), chaniyo (skirt length) and so on for various local cattle herding communities who commissioned them. These traditional articles were produced strictly in the format dictated by the respective communities. Unfortunately, for a researcher, very few examples are available for study and the reason behind the paucity or absence of rogan in various museums and private collection could be because of the inherent qualities of the work itself which makes it difficult to survive. The sticky nature of the print becomes extremely difficult to store and maintain especially when it is kept in the reserve with other pieces. There is always a fear or possibility of damaging the others during certain months if the temperature is not controlled. Today, a new motif, “Tree of Life” has become immensely popular[iii], almost making it the sole identity of the work. Tree of life in wall hangings and similar articles are making way to urban homes as fine art, bought through exhibitions around the world. This could be the next lease of life for this gracefully ageing art-form.
[i] John Gillow and Nicholas Barnard. Indian Textiles. (New Delhi: Om Books International, 2008), 91.
[ii] Aditi Ranjan and M P Ranjan, eds., Crafts of India: Handmade in India. (New Delhi: Council of Handicraft Development Corporation, COHANDS, 2007), 413.
[iii] The popularity of this motif and the awareness of the craft started gaining momentum after Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, gifted a rogan wall-hanging to US President Barack Obama during his visit to USA back in 2014.
Fozdar, Aditi Shukla, ed. A Glimpse into the Textile Traditions of Gujarat: From the collection at The House of MG. Ahmedabad: The House of MG, 2015.