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The Magnificent Motifs Of Rogan Painting

Rediscovering Rogan Painting And Its Mystical Motifs

Is there anything more mesmerising than hand-painted fabric? India’s elaborate textile art forms leave us awestruck at their intricate details and exquisite craftsmanship. While Madhubani, Banarasi, and Kalamkari are well-known Indian textile art forms, there are several that remain underappreciated. Rogan painting is one such form of textile art that is four centuries old and is still being practised today in Gujarat by members of the Khatri community.

The medium and techniques used in this ancient art form make it a beautiful form of expression that is distinct from all other Indian styles of painting. Let us uncover the magnificent motifs of Rogan painting by taking a look at its history and themes.

Meaning, Materials, And Methods

Castor oil is extracted from seeds of the Ricinus communis plant
(image source: wikimediacommons.org)

You must have heard of Rogan Josh, a popular Mughal dish. Rogan painting isn’t related to food at all, though! Then why do they share a common prefix? Because in Persian, Rogan means ‘oil-based’.

Castor oil is the main ingredient used to prepare the paint for Rogan painting. The artists extract the oil themselves, but the process is quite tedious and time-consuming. After extracting the oil, the artist mixes it with cold water, turning it into a thick and slimy paste called ‘rogan’. They then mix the prepared rogan with pigments and water to create paint.

A kalam is a thin metal rod or stylus that is used to paint Rogan painting. The Khatris freehand the designs by relying on their expertise and intuition. Each piece is hand painted, and there is no way to automate this process or use tools or stencils. To start, the artist takes some paint in his left hand and holds the kalam in his right hand.

The dense paint reacts to body heat, and the artist mixes it with the kalam until it has the right consistency. He pulls the paint into thin, thread-like structures and deftly manipulates the kalam to create patterns.

Manipulating the kalam to create designs (source: gaatha.org)

The kalam never touches the fabric; the Khatri’s skilled hands work all the magic above its surface. Thus, it takes a lot of dexterity and skill to paint even simple Rogan art patterns and small motifs.

The Intricate Motifs Of Rogan Painting

Persian themes and Middle Eastern imagery heavily inspired Rogan painting. Artists carefully balance floral and geometric motifs to create an intricate and detailed pattern. For symmetrical designs, the Khatri freehands a pattern on the cloth and then folds the cloth in half to create a mirror image. This technique of circular and geometric pattern making is used to create the central motif and popular elements like Jaalis and the Tree Of Life.

Image source: gaatha.org

In Rogan paintings, artists place either place the motifs in the border or all over the painting. Some recurring motifs include Jhad (trees), Vesur (wavy border), Trikhani (three dots), and Phool (flowers). Traditionally, floral motifs were drawn in small sizes. Ghonta (marigold), chaufulla, keyri (mango), popat (parrot), haathi (elephant), and garud (eagle) are some more examples of the popular flora and fauna motifs of Rogan art.

Image source: gaatha.org

Borders are thick and filled with intricate motifs and patterns. The floral borders include motifs like paanferi, single feri (flower with seed pod), phulvel or kangsi (honeycomb pattern), and popat gulvel (parrot and flowers). Human motifs include ‘Mahiyarin’, the depiction of two women wearing chunaris and ghagras and churning curd. In the past, artists used Persian alphabets as calligraphic motifs. Hindu Khatris of Ahmedabad would use a lot of bird motifs and paint large motifs with broad outlines.

Also read: 5 Popular Motifs Seen In Traditional Indian Art Forms

Traditional And Contemporary Themes

Rogan paintings (image source: tripadvisor.in)

Rogan art tapestries would sometimes feature instances of daily village life such as cattle, trees, and birds. Red, white, blue, green, and yellow are the most popular colours. The Khatri often paints on dark-coloured fabric in order to make the bright colours and patterns of the painting stand out. Traditionally, Rogan painting was used to decorate ghagra-cholis, bags, bedsheet and quilt covers, table clothes, etc. The patterns used were simplistic, which slowly developed into more elaborate patterns.

The Tree of Life motif is considered a contemporary addition to the Rogan art repertoire. This motif is extremely popular with national and international audiences and has high customer demand. Abdul Gafar Khatri has been credited with introducing the Tree of Life to Rogan art. While it recently became a part of Rogan painting, it is interesting to note that the motif itself is by no means contemporary.

A Tree of Life Rogan Painting by Abdul Gafar Khatri (image source: art.rtistiq.com)

The earliest recorded use of the Tree of Life in textiles dates back to the Indian Kalamkari ‘Palampores’ dating back to the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Palampores were exquisitely hand-painted bedsheets that were prized trade goods. Europeans used them as tapestries and table covers.

Tree of Life Palampore, mid-late 18th century
(image source: wikimediacommons.org)
Tree of Life Palampore, Coromandel coast, c.1760-80 (image source: nga.gov.au)

Contemporary Rogan art of the Tree of Life is reminiscent of traditional Kalamkari paintings and Palampores, as well as Islamic prayer rugs and Persian architecture.

Recognition and Conservation Of Rogan Painting

The demand for Rogan painting deteriorated after machine-printed fabric was introduced to India. This was because of its high cost of production and how cheap commercially printed clothing was. Rogan painting experienced a revival in the early 21st century as NGOs helped artisans sell their work online and in cities. Many artists also won national awards. Currently, only one family in Nirona practises Rogan painting—the Abdul Gafar Khatri family. Abdul Gafar’s family members have been recipients of 4 National Awards, 3 Merit certificates, and 7 State Awards for their work and contribution to this exquisite art form.

Abdul Gafar Khatri is a celebrated and award-winning artist who has trained over 300 women in Rogan art. The Gafur Khatri family also represents the art form at seminars, conferences, workshops, and exhibitions.

The hand-carved wooden box PM Modi gifted to Japanese PM Fumio Kishida (image source: twitter.com)

Rogan art gained national and international recognition when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted one of Abdul Gafar Khatri’s Tree of Life Rogan artworks to former US President Barack Obama in 2014. In 2022, PM Modi also gifted a hand-carved wooden box with Rogan painting to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and an orange Tree of Life Rogan painting to Queen Margrethe of Denmark.

The Current State Of Rogan Painting

Each inch of a Rogan painting has been carefully painted with nothing but paint and a kalam
(image source: dsource.in)

These events put a spotlight on Rogan art, and the media coverage has been helpful in spreading awareness as well as creating demand for Rogan-painted articles. Along with the efforts of the government, the dedication of the Gafar Khatri family and the increase in demand by the common people have worked in favour of the preservation of Rogan painting.

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By Melissa D’Mello

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