Rogan Art – A journey from the Sindh to White House

Roughly 400 years back an art was introduced to Kutch from Sindh, thanks to the Raos of Kutch who deeply appreciated art. Called ‘Rogan’, the art however declined due to the lack of patronage with the passage of time. Only a few local Ahir and Rabari women would buy bridal skirts filled with Rogan art from the Sindhi Khatris (Kutchi speaking Muslim ancestors of the Khatri families settled in Nirona Village where the Rogan art thrives).

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Rogan means ‘oil based’ in Persian and refers to the thick residue formed when castor oil is heated along with water for over three days. The pastes of yellow, red, white, green, black and orange are kept in earthen pots with water to keep them moist.  After the paste is mixed with these natural colours, the residue is drawn out into a fine ‘thread’ with a wooden stick and applied to the cloth.

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Travel Tips

Nirona Village is located 40 km north of Bhuj City in Gujarat’s Kutch District. To reach the village you have to make a little detour from Bhuj Khavda Highway. The village is a large settlement inhabited by Khatris and other caste groups. Apart from Rogan you will also discover two other craft forms – the bell metal work and lacquer craft. There is no staying facility here. However, you can arrange your stay at Bhuj or some other ethnic resorts near White Rann around Khawda area. Rizwan Khatri can be your local contact at Nirona (91 9601324272)

The painting process is tedious and time consuming and depending upon the nature of design it may take up to a month to finish. First the outline is drawn which is filled and once the pattern is dry, natural colours are added. The process is repeated time and again till the desired effect is not achieved. In the case of symmetric patterns, to reduce the work effort, the fabric is folded from the center to get the impression from the other half. Drying usually takes 2 to 3 days.

Also, Read Here:

Ajrakh – A Journey with Dr. Ismail Mohammad Khatri

There were many Khatri families involved in Rogan art, but except two families most of them have switched to other trades. Abdul Gafoor, a young Khatri also followed suit and went to Ahmedabad and finally Mumbai in search of greener pastures. It was in 1983 that Abdul Gafoor took to Rogan art with renewed vigor and promised his father that he would take it to the international level one day. His promise was fulfilled when his work was presented to US President Barak Obama by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi thanks to a Gujarat Government project that aimed at reviving the art by helping the Khartis of Nirona in 1980s.

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Reza – Journey from the Indus Valley to a Fashion House

‘Tree of Life’ has become a trend in recent years. Influenced by the Persian and Mughal carpet design ‘Tree of Life’ is done over cushion cover, bedspreads, kurtas, curtains, tablecloths, wall hangings, purses and so on.

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During my recent visit to Nirona, I met, Arab Hashim Khatri, Gafoor’s uncle whom I interviewed.

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Most of the online resources, magazines and newspapers have reported about only one Khatri family of six people who have revived and retained the Rogan art. However, I met Rizwan Khatri from another family in the village who is equally well established in the craft. Traditionally Rogan was a man’s stronghold so it was interesting to see that both the families have started training local women to further the craft and its popularity.

 

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Rogan Art in Contemporary Fashion Design – Creations by Rizwan Khatri

 

Author- Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Ajrakh – A Journey with Dr. Ismail Mohammad Khatri

For an archaeologist from South Asia such as me, what could be a more precious discovery than the Priest King of Mohenjo-Daro! Archaeologists have been debating on his role and position in Indus Valley society, but for those who are inclined towards aesthetics and art they are fascinated with his shawl depicting trefoil patterns interspersed with small circles – the fusion of three sun-disks of the gods of earth, water and the sun. That is Ajrakh, South Asia’s oldest textile tradition of block printing.

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5000 years later the tradition still prevails in Sindh and the artisans still use the same methods of production that were used in the days of the Indus Valley civilization to create an ajrakh fabric. Ajrak is derived from the word Azrak, meaning blue in Arabic as blue happens to be one of the principal colours used in Ajrakh printing.

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(Images Source – Jay Shankar)

The Raos of Kutch had invited a group of Sindhi artisans to Kutch for introducing the art in the region. They first settled in a village called Dhamadka near Bhachau, the epicentre of 2001 earthquake.

Travel Tips

Ajrakhpur is a small village at a distance of 10 km from Bhuj on Bhuj – Gandhidham Highway. Bhujodi, the craft village is just 3 km away from Ajrakhpur. The village has been established after the 2001 earthquake. You can meet Dr Ismail Khatri with a prior appointment ( 91 9925169313). He or his son Sufian (91 9427719313) would be happy to show you the entire process of Ajrakh block printing. The best season to visit is in winter (November to February). Bhuj can be your base for accommodation.  

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Dr. Ismail Mohammad Khatri, the man behind the successful revival of Ajrakh printing using natural dyes, told us about the context of their arrival in Kutch while introducing the art and the significance of blue colour.

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The indiscriminate cultivation of Indigo in Bihar and Bengal affected its production in Kutch. In 1840s, organic colours were introduced in Europe – indigo for blue and alizarin for red. These were produced in industries on a large scale replacing the organic colours and lowering the cost of fabric. Eventually the Kutchi farmers forgot the knowledge of organic dye production and instead used the cheaper but hazardous European synthetic colours.

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Patan’s Patola – A Weaver’s Perspective

Dr. Khatri explains how the revival took place with changing time and people’s change in taste and occupations.

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Ajrakh printing is a long process involving different stages of printing and washing the fabric over many times with various natural dyes and mordants such as herda, lime, alizarin, indigo, tamarind paste and even camel dung.

Also, Read Here:

Reza – Journey from the Indus Valley to a Fashion House

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An ajrakh fabric is usually about 2.5 to 3 m in length. The printing on the fabric is done by hand with hand carved wooden blocks of various designs. A number of wooden blocks depicting different designs are used to print repetitive patterns, the characteristic feature of ajrakh. These blocks are made by synchronizing the patterns perfectly. Making these perfect blocks is indeed a huge challenge.

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Ajrak print is done within a grid, the repetitive patterns creating a web-like design. Borders are then added employing specific designs. These borders are aligned both vertically and horizontally and frame the centre, separating one ajrakh.

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Once the printing is done, it is left for dyeing. The process is repeated time and again with different kinds of dyes to eventually achieve the final desired pattern. It is a very labour intensive and time consuming process taking upto two weeks to create a single piece with an eye-catching print.

Also, Read Here:

Rogan Art – A journey from the Sindh to White House

In this entire process the role of water is critical. There are 30 steps through which an ajrakh fabric passes and each step involves washing. The water influences not just the character of the fabric but also its colour and shade.

Dr. Ismail Mohammed Khatri is an institution as far as Ajrakh printing is concerned. He traces the origin of his community to a village called Santreja in Sindh. In the 16th century during the reign of Rao Bharmal I, JindaJiva, his ancestor was the first artisan to settle in Dhamadka in Kutch. In the video, Dr. Khatri traces his journey from being an humble ajrakh artisan to a PhD on the subject.

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From Dhamdka to Ajrakhpur – A New Beginning after 2001 Earthquake

The river adjacent to Dhamadka village provided regular and easy supply of good quality water for ajrakh printing work. But after 1991, the river started drying up resulting in the lowering of water level in tanks and wells of the area.  The 2001 earthquake destroyed the village itself forcing Dr. Ismail Khatri and others to migrate to a new place. How did it happen – watch the video to know what challenges were faced in the settling of the village of Ajrakhpur.

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Author –  Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Mandvi’s Sea Trade – A Pilot’s Story

Imagine Indian Subcontinent, what if there were no coasts! Geographically speaking, the oceans bring in moisture and that get converted into monsoon rains every year sustaining billions of human and wildlife and thus making India as world’s densest region. Likewise historically speaking, the oceans brought in revenue, resources and ideas.

The Mughals might have chosen the land route to arrive at India, but the key attraction was the prosperity that came through sea. The Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British were all allured to India’s coast and established factories. The high sea that surrounds the Indian peninsula has been part of Indian Ocean network for millennia. Our navigators braved the high sea and ventured into the west coast of Arabia in the west and in the east to as far as Java, Sumatra and Borneo.

Gujarat, especially the Gulf of Coast had played critical role in the Indian Ocean trade owing to its strategic location as a maritime outlet to Arab and the western world.

Today the coast of Gulf of Kutch serves as a magnet in the economic landscape of India, thanks to the well-established Kandla and Mundra ports and their surrounding special economic zones. But this prosperity is not new. Historically till 19th century its ports such as Mundra, Mandvi, Jakhau, Koteshwar and Lakhpat played vital role in region’s economy.

From these ports the Kutchi seamen ventured into the deep sea sailing as far as Mozambique, Arab, Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean coast using the navigational skill. The ships, called kutia in Kutchi language are traditionally built sharing similarity with Arab Dhow boats.

Today a handful of kutia boats are made in Mandvi, the chief among all the historical forts of the gulf and are also mechanized. These are made for Arab clients as the local people have opted out the seafaring craft. There are also a few captains left having experience and skills of using non-mechanized crafts. One of them is the 85 year old Shivji Buda Fotidi. Here we present his story through an interview.