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.
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.