When I was taken on a trip to Gujarat, one of the things that I most anticipated seeing was the region’s art and craft forms. I was told that there are over 100 unique indigenous art forms in the Kutch region, with each village having its own speciality. I went to Nirona, a village located 40 kms north of Bhuj known as the Hub of Kutchi craft.
I took a drive on the dusty roads leading to Nirona. It was just like another Indian village – rustic, unpretentious, with narrow lanes leading to a cluster of houses with mud walls, vibrant doors oozing nostalgia taking me back to the lanes of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. But behind these colourful doors were stories of hands crafting magic. Some with nimble fingers and some aged with wrinkles, but all excelling in the art passed on by their forefathers to them over centuries.
Nirona is not just an art village, it is a place that acts as the League of Extraordinary Artisans and their unique art forms. I have shared 3 unique art forms that I got to explore during my time in Kutch.
Copper Bell Art, Nirona Village
The Luhars of Nirona are synonymous with their copper bell art. If the copper bells could speak, they would speak about Mr. Husen Sidik’s craft. From the 65-year-old head of the family, Luhar Husen Sidhik, to his 18-year-old grandson, Faruk, the Luhars are passionately taking the art forward.
Copper Bell art has mainly originated from Sindh, Pakistan and the art migrated with people moving to India few centuries back. This is an art form that is practised even today in many villages around the border area inside India and Pakistan. Preserving it for the last 10 or so generations, many families in Nirona get their livelihood totally out of this art.
The entire process is done by hand with no machines to aid the form of the bell, without any joints. When the main structure of the bell is made, it is devoid of any sounds. The ease and finesse with which the hammer moves to create a musical masterpiece that uses no welding joints but a unique interlocking system was the highlight for me.
Lacquer Art, Nirona Kutch
To add to the burst of colours of Kutch, Lacquer art is where the semi-nomadic tribe called Wada, creates wooden spatulas, ladles and rolling pins in bright poppy colours. Each one is embellished with zigzag designs in bright coloured lacquer. Lacquer is a kind of wax obtained from the sap of Rhus trees and extracted with a stone. This is then mixed with colours and applied to wooden objects to make them attractive. To retain their sheen, groundnut oil is applied to all the objects.
Rogan Art, Nirona
Nirona village is where you can find very unique local art forms in Kutch — one of which even made its way to The White House. Yes, I’m talking about the popular Rogan art. An award-winning art form that was brought over from Iran and has been taken forward, for the past 300 years, by the Khatri family of Nirona. Well, they are the only ones on the planet who are keeping the rare 300-year-old Rogan Art alive.
The word Rogan comes from Persian language meaning ‘oil-based’. The process of making the natural colours used in the art gives it such a name. Castor oil is heated on fire for about 12 hours and then cast into cold water to give a thick residue called the rogan. This is then mixed with stone pigments to lend it different hues. Next, the artisan uses a six-inch metal needle to paint with a fine thread of rogan on cloth. Seeing it live made me realize how delicately the rogan thread has to be led with precision to give shape to one’s imagination.
This rogan painting is used for decorating wall hangings, table-cloth, curtains, sarees and skirt borders. The “Tree of Life” piece is especially famous in Khatri family’s line of work. PM Narendra Modi gifted one exquisite piece of Rogan art to former President of United States of America Barack Obama during his India visit.
Finally my rendezvous with Nirona came to an end with an overwhelming experience of watching these art forms live. This is one trip that I would highly recommend for anyone visiting Gujarat. It is a shame that art travel isn’t a part of many people’s to do list. It is an experience that can alter the way we perceive a place and its culture.
The experience of shopping local art after seeing how it was done with all the effort and dedication put behind it simply makes you respect the art and the artisan and also takes the shopping experience to the next level. Most importantly it supports the local people with their livelihood and motivates them to carry forward such legacy art forms.
This trip was completely curated by Gujarat Tourism Board in association with Incredible India and India Tourism Mumbai.