An Introduction to Rajasthan’s Lippan Art
As society changes, so do its values and perceptions of art. Art is a reflection of the socio-political state of a region and the mentality of its people. During war, we seek peace, and during boredom, we seek excitement. Art trends change like the tides, and what is popular today may be infamous tomorrow. Some art, however, can be timeless; it ceases to be a fad and becomes a movement.
And amidst a harsh life, we turn to things of beauty. Aesthetic perfection is like balm to a tired soul. It is often when times are difficult that we look forward to the finer things in life. This is how, from the trepidious life in Kutch, Gujarat, arose an intricate form of art- a way for people to add beauty to their lives.
Lippan Art, also known as Chittar Kaam or Lippan Kaam, is a traditional mural craft originating from the vibrant region of Kutch in Gujarat, India. The name “Lippan” is derived from the Gujarati words “lipan,” meaning mud or dung, and “kaam,” which translates to work. This art form has a rich history and has become a symbol of Rajasthan’s cultural heritage.
The Unknown Origin Of Lippan Art
The art form has a vague past, with no documented records of its origin. Historically, the process of making Lippan art involved using materials like wild donkey or camel dung, which are both locally referred to as lippan. The art form is practiced by various communities, including the Rabaris, the Harijans, the Mutwas, and many other communities that migrated to Kutch from different regions. They practise Lippan art as a local tradition, in spite of their different customs and cultural backgrounds.
The Rabari community plays a pivotal role in keeping this tradition alive. This pastoral community of Kutch lives in the outskirts of villages, in communal houses called Bhungas. The women of this community are especially skilled in Lippan painting. They create intricate mud and mirror murals without the need for preliminary sketches. They use Lippan artwork to decorate the interior walls as well as the exterior ones.
Different communities in Kutch practise the art form in their distinctive styles. For instance, Muslim artisans focus on bold and geometric patterns in Lippan Kaam, avoiding depictions of human or animal forms due to religious restrictions.
In the past, many rural communities practised art forms with utilitarian purposes.The wet fresco Arayash technique of Jaipur would not only decorate plain surfaces but also insulate them. In a similar way, Lippan art not only serves an aesthetic purpose but also acts as insulation for the circular mud huts (bhungas) that locals inhabit. The air gaps between the clay contribute to keeping the houses cool in summer and warm in winter.
The aabhlas (mirrors) used in Lippan kaam reflect light and make the interiors bright even with minimal lighting. Even the light of a single lamp was sufficient to illuminate an entire house, as it was reflected many times in the mirrorwork of Lippan kaam.
The Traditional Process
First, the artisan would create a rough sketch of the Lippan pattern and use animal dung to affix mirrors of different shapes and sizes to its surface. The finished pieces would usually be white due to the marshland sand that was used in the past. That is why traditional Lippan art is always white. Nowadays, however, the use of synthetic colours has made colourful Lippan kaam very popular.
The Contemporary Process
The contemporary process of making Lippan art is very different from what it must have once been. For starters, instead of creating the art directly on walls, artists prefer to create it on a solid surface like an MDF board. This allows them to display the design, change its placement, and remove it easily. An MDF (medium-density fibre) board can withstand heat and humidity and is also more stable than wood. The artist draws the designs on the MDF board and uses a mix of synthetic glue and ceramic powder to make a soft dough. They use the dough to fill up the design, line work, and create relief.
After the dough dries, the artist can paint it in any colour they desire. They add mirror tiles to certain areas to create a pattern. These finished Lippan art pieces are used as showpieces and hung in residential interiors and hotel spaces. They are still hand-made by artisans. The dung that was used in earlier times has now been replaced with clay or ceramic. This makes the finished piece more durable while avoiding the foul smell of dung.
Its Rising Popularity In Contemporary Times
Lippan art gained prominence during the Rann Utsav, a cultural festival that commenced in 2005. This event caused an influx of tourists and drew attention to the Lippan paintings adorning the mud walls of thatched houses in the Rann of Kutch. This festival not only increased tourism but also provided a significant boost to the livelihoods of Lippan artists. Today, Lippan artisans accept commissions for custom-made interiors and installations in residential and hotel spaces, showcasing the versatility and adaptability of this traditional craft. The Rann Utsav 2023 commenced from 10th November and while last till 25th February.
The Lippan art form has made a seamless transition from its humble beginnings to the mainstream art world. This stunning art form, once a decoration meant solely for rural homes, is now widely in demand for its unique style as a centrepiece in modern homes. Lippan artists often accept commissions for custom installations and interior decorations. Lippan art stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Kutch, blending tradition with functionality. This timeless craft not only adorns walls but also tells a story of resilience and creativity, making it an important part of India’s artistic and cultural heritage.
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By Melissa D’Mello