The ancient and rare craft of Rogan art comes from Persia. Rogan in Persian means "oil-based". The motifs used in Rogan art, such as geometric flowers, peacocks, and the tree of life, evoke a once-sublime culture and its understanding of beauty.
In the sleepy hamlet of Nirona in the Kutch district in India, there lives a family who has kept this art form alive while others had decided to abandon it. The Khatri family has held steadfast to this intriguing craft for over three centuries, preventing it from becoming yet another vanishing art.
Mysterious incongruent spheres of vibrant natural colors mixed with castor oil adorn the small bowls within a larger bowl. Sumar Khatri, a soft-spoken craftsman of remarkable humility, takes a rod resembling an oversized blunt needle and dips it into the yellow pod. What follows are a series of enchanting maneuvers instrinic to Rogan art. Nimbly, he twirl-wraps the color around one end of the rod. Against the base palm of his right hand, as if it was an easel, he mixes the color to achieve a perfect consistency. Sumar then gently stretches out a vibrant yellow strand from his "easel" with the rod, creating that perfect fine "thread" to transform it into an exquisite flower.
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Air weaving: Our common understanding of weaving involves a needle and color thread that pierce through fabric to generate imagery. Rogan defies this logic: the rod "pre-manipulates" the strand of color in the air to create intended motifs before it hits the fabric; the fingers under the fabric help shape the final form into the fabric. In this sense, there is a dialogue between the two hands.
It is only when one witnesses the time, agility, and the utmost control required to draw a simple flower, that one begins to understand the virtuosity behind highly intricate pieces such as the tree of life. It is a calling for those with Buddha's patience, willing to embark on the long road of practice to perfect beauty. "No drawings, no planning. It comes from the heart, to head, to hands."
If it takes patience and training to create a simple flower, it takes virtuosity to create the complex tree of life.
Nirona is a village located in the Kutch district of Gujarat, India. This is where the Khatri family and their ancestors have lived all their lives. Abdulgafur Khatri was the 1997 and 2013 recipient of the prestigious National Master Craftsperson Awards. His younger brother Sumar was its 2003 recipient.