OFFBEAT

The League Of Extraordinary Artisans In Nirona, Kutch

Saba Shaikh

Last updated: Apr 3, 2017

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It is a well-known fact that Kutch is the Mecca of the vibrant Gujarati handicrafts. But it was only after coming to the region in person did I discover that the art we get to see from Gujarat in the cities is just the tip of the iceberg! Take a drive along the dusty road to the humble village of Nirona, about 45 minutes from Bhuj, and you will know what I mean. Here’s presenting three unique crafts and their artisans in Nirona, Kutch

#1 The Khatri Family
 

artisan-in-nirona-designs
Carrying the Rogan Art legacy forward!

 

The Khatri family of Nirona has earned some very prestigious laurels. Sample this: 5 National Awards and 6 State Awards. For what, you wonder? Well, they are the only ones on the planet who are keeping the rare 300-year-old Rogan Art alive.

Brothers Khatri Abdul Gafoor Daud and Khatri Sumar Daud along with five other artists, including a woman, carry the Rogan legacy forward. The duo, you will realize, are well-versed in English and have many international buyers. Their creation, The Tree Of Life, is recognized the world over. Narendra Modi, Amitabh Bachchan, Asha Parekh, Waheeda Rahman, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Yusuf Pathan, Shabana Azmi and Shekhar Kapoor are among a few of their famous clientele.

What is Rogan Art? The word Rogan comes from Persian and means ‘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 in to 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 stick to paint with a fine thread of rogan on cloth. Seeing it live made us realize how delicately the rogan thread has to be led with precision to give shape to one’s imagination.

You can either call the Khatri brothers in advance at +919998788855, +919825753955 to make an appointment or walk in just like us. They welcome all!

#2 The Luhars
 

copper-bell
Yes, it's a copper bell.

 

The Luhars in Nirona have been preserving the craft of making copper bells over seven generations. 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. Faruk who is pursuing his college education is keen on giving a new spin to the art. As a result, you can see some heart shaped wind chimes, a xylophone made of bells and even a few fauna inspired bell pieces.

We are told that the art form originally comes from Sindh and some sister villages in Pakistan too make similar bells but with carvings on the surface. They make the Morchaang too, an indigenous musical instrument that we couldn’t resist buying.

How Do You Make A Copper Bell? Luhar Husen Sidhik, who met us with gentle exuberance, offered to make a bell from scratch right in front of our eyes. The ease and finesse with which his hammer moved to create a musical masterpiece that uses no welding joints but a unique interlocking system had us impressed.

After the thin copper strips are converted in to a bell, it is dipped in a paste of mud and water, then dusted with a copper, brass, zinc and borax power and then packed in to a kiln. The result is a shining antique golden bell that is fitted with a stick and given some more hammering to create a soothing ringing sound.

Get in touch with the Luhars at +919426467925 and they will personally come to escort you to their workshop, and even offer you lunch.

#3 Bhachai Bhai And Family

 

Bhachai Bhai, a village elder was waiting for us outside the Luhars’ shop to take us to his house after we were done admiring the copper work. In his Gujarati and broken Hindi, he told us how his family is working day in and day out in less than modest livelihood to keep an uncommon form of Lacquer art alive. We were soon met by his son, Lal ji who was sitting by his tools working on a wooden belan or rolling pin lending it artistic vibrance. He showed us raw lacquer in various colours that is passed with great skill on the wooden object of focus in beautiful waves.

What’s The Lacquer Story? Bhaaveek, the more outspoken son, told us how he has been invited to exhibitions to Delhi quite often. The work they do is mainly focused on household items like jewellery boxes and kitchen utensils and has known to last more than 30-35 years. If the lacquer work starts to lose its sheen, just apply some oil on it, he says.

The women too leave their mark on the art by providing the base of colour making and then helping sell the items. Dressed in beautiful ethnic outfits, they eagerly open a dusty suitcase. Out come hundreds of wooden spatulas, knife handles and belans for us to pick from.

They did not have a contact number to share but you don’t have to worry for you too may get the wonderful company of Bhachai Bhai from the luhar ki dukaan and hear some interesting tales.

Finally my rendezvous with Nirona came to an end. I was overwhelmed to say the least having seen the determination with which each of these artists I encountered keep their individual art alive. Yes, there are hardships and the government middlemen do ignore them but they carry on with a smile on their face and passion in their heart!

(Pictures courtesy Tariq Khan)

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