Sarita Brara Soulful designs woven on a canvas of cloth with a metal pin daubed in the magical concoction of castor oil and stone colours. This 300-year-old art form has put Nirona village in Kutch, Gujarat on the world tourist map.
The Khatri family of this village is the only one in the world that continues to dabble in ‘Rogan art’ that perhaps has no parallel. The Khatris have been carrying on with this embroidery-like art, which uses paint instead of thread or needle, for eight generations. But ever since their piece of art was presented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to former US President Barack Obama, the stream of visitors to this village has not ceased.
Tourists make it a point to watch the family engrossed in creating this exceptional art. Till about a month ago, the home of the Khatris was the only outlet to buy this unique piece of art on cloth. Now it is for sale on Amazon.
“Every day 250 to 300 people come to our place, many of them foreigners, where we demonstrate our work,” says Abdul Hamid Khatri as he moves his hand holding a five to six-inch pin magically on a piece of cloth at a Hunar Haat organised in Delhi recently. Depending on the design, a piece may take three days to three months to finish.
His father, Arabasu Khatri, says that his nephew Gafur has breathed life back into this art when it was on the verge of dying. “We don’t know how our ancestors started working on this art, but a time had come in the early 1980s when it became difficult to live off this art and our family members had started looking for other jobs,” says Arabasu. Gafur then took it upon himself to get people interested in the art, which is said to have originated in Persia.
The patterns of Rogan art in the earlier generations were ordinary. “Now the designs are intricate and of finer quality, typically what is appreciated in today’s times,” he explains. Over 300 young women in the village have been trained in Rogan art and 20 to 25 of them work with the family, earning anything between ₹5,000 and ₹16,000. “But being a difficult skill to pick up, most of them are only able to fill in the dots and the dashes with paint and not create designs independently,” says Sumar, master trainer and Gafur’s younger brother.
The family has received national and State awards. Sumar says the painting requires no sketches and is created free hand as patterns enter the artist’s imagination.
The secret recipe of Rogan paint, a mix of the castor oil and organic stone colours, is known only to the Khatri family, reveals Rajesh Mohanlal Bhanushali, husband of sarpanch Laxmi ben from Nirona village. He says the gram panchayat has been given land for the construction of a haat and museum. Apart from Rogan art, the village boasts of the craft of making copper bells and lacquer handicrafts.
“The tourism department needs to create infrastructure for visitors to stay,” says Bhanushali. “Right now there is no proper place or even a restaurant. Once these facilities are created, villagers can earn more from tourist visits.”
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi