Nirona- The Cultural Capital Of Gujarat
Located on the westernmost coast of India, Nirona is 40-km away from Bhuj. This village is home to the world’s finest art and crafts done by artisans for generations and is recognized on the global level. It is situated close to the Great Rann Of Kutch and Bhuj city. The highlight of this village is its art culture and the way livelihood of its people depends on these art forms.
Kutch has always been known for its vibrant culture, handicrafts, and art forms. The region offers some of the most unique textile products, as well as intricately crafted metal works, but Nirona is where art flows in the genes. It’s the main source of livelihood for the people residing here. Be it Rogan Art, Copper Bell Art, or Lacquer Art- Nirona has framed Indian Art in global books.
I happened to witness these arts when I visited Kutch, and Nirona was suggested by a local. Upon reaching the village, you won’t even realize the lanes here have so much hidden. The artworks are done in homes not in workshops, by the families.
‘Castor Oil Art is here’
Resembling the characteristics of embroidery, Rogan Art is done when you paint on fabric using a thick and vibrantly colored castor seed oil because castor is commonly grown in the Kutch region of Gujarat. To know the details of the I went to the Khatri Family’s home- which is one of the only two families that practice this art. They welcome everyone who wishes to learn about this art and give a free demo.
I was amazed to know how the paint is prepared, castor oil is heated for more than 12 hours until it catches fire. It is then mixed with cold water and bright color to give a thick residue called Rogan. A six-inch thick-metal needle is used to paint with a fine thread of Rogan on a piece of cloth. Even the easiest design takes days to complete. They only make ‘Tree of Life’ motifs in different styles and it lasts for hundreds of years. As a matter of fact and pride, our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi gifted a Rogan Art Painting to Obama. This art is believed to date back 400 years.
After learning about Rogan Art, I wanted to witness Copper Bell Art and hence walked to Lohar Haji Saddiq’s shop. I asked for a small demo of making a bell and they demonstrated the main of these tiny bells from scratch. The ease and finesse with which his hammer moved created a musical masterpiece that uses no welding joints but a unique interlocking system was impressive. Preserving it for more than generations, a lot of families in Nirona get their livelihood totally out of this art. They make different types of bells that produce distinct sounds such as chirping birds, Sa Re Ga Ma, and simple chimes. I bought a small souvenir from them.
Interesting fact- Copper Bell art has mainly originated from Sindh, and even today many villages around the border area between India and Pakistan make it.
To familiarize me with the art of Lacquer, I moved to the last lane of the village. Here you will find a group of ladies and kids selling colorful rolling pins, spatulas, toys, and containers. Practiced by a semi-nomadic tribe called Wada, in the Banni area in and around the villages of Nirona and Bhirandiayara, Lacquer art turned out to be yet another distinction.
Obtained from the sap of the Rhus Tree which changes color from white to brown upon exposure to air, Lacquer is a simple reflection of Zigzag patterns creating waves of colors mixing with one another and adorning the simplest of the products like wooden spoons, bread rolling pins, containers, toys, utensils, etc. If the lacquer work starts to lose its sheen, just apply some oil to it and it will look as new.
It’s disappointing that visiting the local villages of Kutchi art isn’t on most people’s travel list when exploring Kutch, but I totally recommend it. The experience of shopping for local art after seeing how it was done with all the effort and dedication put behind it makes it worth visiting and makes the shopping experience to the next level. It moreover helps local people sustain and continue preparing such legacy art forms.
Trivia- I found out that a few online retailers are selling the same sized copper bell that I bought from Nirona, at a whopping 650 Rupees. Whereas the amount I paid in Nirona was only 150 Rupees.
If you’re visiting this region of Gujarat, make sure to halt at Nirona and witness the best of the arts in the state.