Roghan – rare painted textiles from Kutch

The hand painted craft of roghan is today the rarest of the painted and printed crafts of Kutch and in most danger of becoming extinct. It is practised by one family of Khatris in the village of Nirona in northern Kachchh. Formerly it was produced in Chowbari in Eastern Kutch and the larger cities of Ahmedabad, Baroda and Patan in Gujarat.

The process involves applying a thick paste of boiled castor oil mixed with pigments to create the colour, and applied using an iron rod, or kalam. The name roghan refers to the paste that is used and is the Gujarati term for resin. This gives the pattern a relief effect on the cloth.  Like bandhani, once the pattern has been drawn onto the cloth, the cloth is folded, or pressed against another piece of fabric to create a mirror image of the design. Roghan was traditionally used to decorate skirt lengths, wall hangings and veil cloths. It was a cheaper way of decorating these than embroidery. Indeed the patterns produced in roghan work closely resemble those that would be produced by the mirror-work embroidery traditional to Kutch.

Khatri Sumar Daud, Roghan artisan in Nirona, Kachchh. Photograph: Ruth Clifford

What distinguishes roghan painting from embroidery (because the patterns are similar, at a distance it sometimes hard to tell the difference) is the bright, almost fluorescent colours of the pigments. The vibrancy of the colour was often exaggerated further by adding silver tinsel to the resin when still wet.

While this art was a cheap alternative to embroidery for the local market, it is still too expensive in comparison to mass-produced and screen-printed fabrics. The one family in Nirona still practising roghan produce mainly wall hangings and art pieces for a tourist and collectors’ market. Many design development initiatives have worked to broaden the market for this craft, but so far have had no success due to the long and painstaking process and limited appeal within the contemporary market. However, the Khatris are working towards teaching more communities the craft of roghan, and have broken the traditional gender boundaries by employing women to work on a craft that has always been the reserve men. Hopefully, the more artisans there are working in this craft, the more opportunities for market outlets and increasing the awareness of this ancient and enchanting art.

More information and travel details

I visited the roghan artisans while on a tour with Desert Traditions. The tours are run by Australian Carole Douglas, who has long-standing relationships with many of the artisan communities the tour visits, all of whom have a great deal of trust in Carole. She has also led projects, curated exhibitions and facilitated market outlets for many of the artisans. This makes the visits to artisans friendly and comfortable. There is also a strong focus on being responsible and sensitive to the environment and communities visited.

I also recommend local tour guide Kuldip Ghadvi who runs Kutch Adventures India. Kuldip runs more general tours around Kutch specifically, is from the area so has deep knowledge and experience, as well as good relationships and reputation with the people he visits.

Websites:

http://traditionalroganart.com/?page_id=11

4 Comments

  1. Good Morning Ruth,
    Thank you for introducing me to the hand painted craft of ‘roghan’. I was not aware of this embroidery-like cloth. The example introducing your article is very beautiful…….intricate and rich in its use of pattern. Please do the artists use rods (‘kaolin’), of various sizes and shapes? Also how did ‘roghan’ differentiate its self from block printing as some of the motifs being demonstrated by the artistan in Nirona, are very similar.
    It is extremely sad to think that such a long tradition of cloth printing is
    on the brink of disappearing.
    Many thanks, Greg.
    PS. I enjoyed your earlier post on batik!

    • Thanks for your comment Greg.
      The artisans just use one size of rod to apply the pigment. This is usually metal and about 6 inches long. They dip the pen into the pigment and wrap it around the rod. The pigment has a stringy, gloopy texture and is applied by stretching it and thinning it almost like string to form the pattern.
      The patterns in roghan traditionally are much more similar to embroidery than block printing. However, the artisans have begun to use Moghul and Persian designs similar to those in Rajasthani block printing.
      Hopefully the craft will continue to find markets and more will take on the craft as a profession.
      Ruth

  2. Thanks to share our crafts on net ! The first photograph of Ragan art is about 40 to 60 yrs old as per Mr. Sumarbhai as per his information it is Odhani (Woman’s veil or Headgear) It is painting art paint with paste of Ragan made out of Castor oil by hard process of boiling and later adding colors !

    Kantilal Doobal (Textile Photographer/Tourist Guide,Bhuj )
    Cell Phone No. +91 98 79 055830

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