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Tuesday, Sep 14, 2004

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Fading art of rogan painting

Latha Venkatraman

FINE ART: The family of rogan painting artist Arabbhai Khatri (in picture) is the only one not to give the brush-off to the traditional craft, which involves painting intricate designs on fabric with a thin metal rod. — Shashi Ashiwal

Mumbai , Sept. 13

ROGAN painting, a traditional form of painting, could well be on its last leg. There is only one family in Nirona, a village 20 km from Bhuj in Gujarat, that is involved in the craft.

There are all of four persons well-versed in this form of painting, says Arabbhai Khatri, who was in the city to participate in Paramparik Karigar, an exhibition of traditional art and painting.

Rogan involves painting with a thin metal rod, which is dipped into paint made by boiling castor oil over three days with earth colours from stones. Most of the designs are geometrical in shape in varying colours. "We usually do this work only on cotton or silk because these fabrics are appreciated," says Khatri.

A one-foot square piece of cloth takes at least two-three days of work, and the time spent could vary depending on the intricacy of the design. "It's a lot of hard work, that's why people around did not take up this art," he says.

Apart from him, his three nephews, Abdul Gafoor, Jumabhai and Sumerbhai, have been trained in this form of art. Abdul Gafoor received the National Award in 1990 for his rogan work on a saree. "He worked on the saree for almost a year," says Khatri.

The art, according to him, must be at least 450-500 years old, though there is no historical evidence. "It came from Persia. There were artisans in Pakistan, too, but today only our family members continue to practise it," says Khatri.

There is a lot of interest in this form of painting from foreign visitors. "Most of the enquiries for our work come during the months from October to February. We have a large number of foreign and Indian tourists visiting our village to buy or look at the work," he says.

According to him, the last couple of seasons have not been too good in terms of business.

Khatri believes that rogan painting has undergone several changes over the years. "Earlier, we worked on black or red cloth, primarily for tablecloth. Now we have extended our work to other colours and diversified to other uses — cushion cover, wall pieces, scarves, stoles and sarees," says Khatri. The last seven generations of Khatri's family have been involved in this artwork. He hopes his son would one day take over from him or his nephews.

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