World sees an art form

World sees an art form

Rogan paintings, drawn using strands of special pigments, has evoked appreciation in people across the world

Masterful A rogan pattern drawn using strands of paint

The dusty village of Nirona, in the Kutch region of Gujarat, is home to an awesome art that goes by the name rogan. I wouldn’t have known about this 300-year-old art if not for the fact that our prime minister carried two rogan artworks as a gift to the former US president Barack Obama on his 2014 US visit. My interest being piqued, I was waiting for an opportunity to visit Nirona to learn more about it, and when it finally happened, my joy knew no bounds.

‘Rogan’, meaning ‘oil-based’ in Persian, is an intricate form of painting practised by the Khatri family of Nirona, which traces its origins to Sindh, Pakistan.

A friendly lot, the entire family is always willing to give its visitors a demonstration of the art of rogan painting. A time-consuming art form, it involves the making of paints and drawing them on fabrics. Brothers Khatri Abdul Gafoor and Khatri Sumar Daud explain the process involved.


According to them, castor oil is boiled for almost 12-15 hours (till it catches fire) and then cast into cold water so that there is a thick residue. This residue is the sticky elastic paste called rogan. To this sticky paste are added vegetable pigments to get the desired colours, and the paints are then stored in earthen pots. When the artists sit down to paint, they take little amounts of paints on their palms, use a six-inch-long metal rod to stretch some strands out of the malleable paints, and place them on the desired fabric in patterns of their choice.

The best part about this form of painting is that no outlines are drawn, and no figures are traced on the fabric.

The best part about this form of painting is that no outlines are drawn, and no figures are traced on the fabric. They paint patterns that range from animal motifs to trees to characters drawn from history and folk culture. And, not once does the metal rod used for painting comes in contact with the fabric. While the artists hold the metal rod in one hand, they hold the fabric in their other hand, and use their fingers under the fabric to guide the design. Once the design is painted, the fabric is folded to create mirror images.

“Till recently, the art of rogan painting was a closely guarded secret. Women were never taught to paint as we feared they would take the craft to their in-laws’ families and spread the secret. Not anymore. Today, we want more and more people to learn this form of painting,” say the Khatri brothers. “Earlier, rogan paintings on cloth were bought as part of wedding trousseaus, hence only a handful of artists was into rogan painting during the wedding season. When cheaper, machine-made textiles became available, the demand for rogan-painted fabrics came down, forcing many artists to look for alternative sources of income. However, our family, for love of the craft, continued in the same profession,” say the Khatri brothers.

Despite the hardships they faced, they held on to their age-old craft. Things changed for the better after the devastating Gujarat earthquake in 2001, when the infrastructure received a boost and more and more people started visiting the place and discovering the beauty of this art form. “That was when some resourceful people helped our products reach the urban and the online markets,” they add. Another positive development was the members of the Khatri family winning several national and state awards for their art. And, of course, the art form adorning the walls of the White House.

With the world waking up to this rare art, the demand for it has increased beyond the artists’ expectations.  Other than sarees, rogan-painted fabrics are now used to make decorative wall hangings, cushion covers, table covers and file folders, too. Their clientele includes the who’s who of Bollywood, including Amitabh Bachchan and Shabana Azmi, as also most foreign tourists visiting Gujarat.

They also get free stalls in most handicraft exhibitions of repute to showcase their art. “We are a happy lot because we are doing what we like and are being recognised for it,” the Khatri brothers declare.