This rare craft is practiced by a lone Muslim family in India, the Khatris, who call the sleepy hamlet of Nirona in Gujarat’s Kutch district their home. This family of traditional artists has steadfastly kept this intriguing craft alive for over three centuries, protecting it from vanishing into the folds of history.
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, gifted a couple of exquisite handcrafted Rogan paintings to the US president, Barack Obama, during his visit to the US in 2014.
Rogan printing involves using a thick bright paste to paint on plain cloth. The paste is prepared by boiling the oil of safflower, castor or linseed and pouring it into water.
This paste is mixed with chalk, colored pigment, and a binding agent to form a thick dye. The painting on the cloth is done using a stick, a rod or a metal block. Yellow, blue and red are the most frequently used colors.
To prepare the paint, castor oil is heated in a vessel and continuously stirred for more than 12 hours till it catches fire. The paint-maker takes extreme care to ensure it doesn’t get burnt.‘The residue is then mixed with cold water until it thickens into a sticky elastic paste called rogan.
Delicate and precisely painted, Rogan paintings are often created from the artist’s own imagination. The artists, who prefer sitting on the floor while working, place a small amount of the paint paste on their palms. Next, they use oversized blunt needles or rods to gently stretch some strands, which they place on the fabric in elaborate patterns. The artists’ fingers under the fabric help the paint spread and shape the design. As the design are mostly created towards one edge of the fabric, the cloth is then folded to create a mirror image on the other side.
An extraordinary aspect of this technique is that during the entire process of the gummy paint being carefully twisted into motifs, the blunt needle never comes into contact with the cloth.