Mud and Mirror Painting, Kutch

  • It gives background, history of lipan kaam, materials and process and design of lipan kaam. Lots of pictures of mud homes in Kutch.

If you travel to Kutch, you will come across the odd bhunga (mud house) with walls beautifully-decorated in mostly circular mirror-work. This is Lipan Kaam.

 

If you travel through Kutch (and for the love of art and natural untamed beauty you must), you will most definitely be tempted to stop time and again at different villages and towns to admire the arts and crafts of this part of Gujarat.

 

As you make your way through the vast stretches of the Indian side of the world’s greatest salt desert (the Great Rann of Kutch), you will come across the odd bhunga (mud house) with walls beautifully-decorated in mostly circular mirror-work. This is Lipan Kaam. Bhungas did not get destroyed during the 2001 Kutch Earthquake.

Lipan Kaam, village about 45 kms from Bhuj.

 

Background

Lippan or mud-washing, using materials locally available in the region like mixture of clay and camel dung. Mud houses are cold in summer and warm in winter. Air gaps in mud helps to remain cold in summers and warm in winter.

 

Saw similar style homes in a village near Jodhpur too. Prajapati told me that tin sheet roof and concrete structures get hot in the summers whilst traditional homes were cool then. The reverse works in the winters. 

House in village near Jodhpur. 

 

Though the work is limited mainly to the interior walls, it can be found on the outer walls as well. These scintillating murals bring life, gaiety, and beauty to generally harsh life of people of Kutch.

 Kutch-Interior of a village home, see mirror work on left side.

 

Mud and Mirror Work is mainly done by the women of the Rabari community.

 

The women are so experienced in this art form that they usually don’t draw or trace a pattern before beginning work. Rabari is the pastoral community of Kutch, living in the outskirts of its villages. They dwell in a few clusters of communal or family houses known as Bhungas which are designed and built to take care of their practical needs in the harsh climate of Kutch.

 

This art form has a hoary past as no records are available to trace its origin. Various communities in Kutch do mud-washing in their own distinct style.

 

Artisans of the Muslim community practicing this art form stick to graphic and eye-catching geometric patterns of lippan kaam, as depicting the human or animal form is considered deeply un-Islamic.

 

Mud mirror work gathered attention of the modern world for its intricate pattern and aesthetic perfection and has made a full transition from its unknown modest stature to the mainstream art world, decorating the walls of urban homes.

 

History of Lipan Kaam

Mud and mirror work is known as Lipan Kaam. It is a traditional mural craft of Kutch. It is also called as Chittar Kaam. The origins of Lipan Kaam are unknown.

 

Various communities in Kutch do mud-relief work and have their own distinct style of Lipan Kaam. This makes it even harder to trace the roots of Lipan Kaam.

 

Literal Definition:

In Gujarati language, Lipan = mud-washing and Kaam = work

 

Production Cluster

Lipan is from Kutch district: Ludiya, Gorewali, Banni, Baniari.

 

Kutch, the home of Lipan Kaam

Most communities in Kutch live in circular mud houses known as Bhungas. They have thatched roofs. These dwellings have evolved over the years to take on the harsh climatic conditions of Kutch. Generally speaking, Bhungas are made of clay alone or bamboo chips plastered with lipan, a mixture of clay and dung. The roofs are wood-based and thatched.

Typical circular mud house.

 

Areas of the bhunga where you’ll typically find Lipan Kaam

Kotholo - Large storage granaries

Sanjiro - Large storage for valuables and clothes

Kothi - Cylindrical grains storage

Dhadablo - Seat for babies

Utroni - Clay stand

Chula - Portable hearth

Paniyara - Clay platforms

Pedlo - Platforms on which the storage bins are placed

Decoration on Walls, Alcoves, Plinths, Shelves, Windows

 

Lipan Kaam – the materials and the process

The dung used is that of a camel or wild ass and acts as a binding agent as it is rich in fibres. The clay used is mud which has been passed through a sieve to obtain fine particles that mix more easily.

 

Equal proportion of dung and clay are mixed and kneaded to form the dough used for lipan kaam. (In conversations with those who practice lipan kaam, some have mentioned the use of husk of Bajri i.e. millet as an alternative to the dung. While the dung attracts termites, the husk does not.)

 

Watch (7 minute video) how an old lady makes lipan come to life and talks about life in the land of lipan kaam. This is seven or so minutes of beautifully handmade in India.

 

Small portions of the dough are taken and shaped into cylinders of varying thickness by rolling between the palms or on the floor. This is then pasted on to the moist surface i.e. the wall or wooden panel on which the decorative artwork is to be done. Each artwork usually starts by using the dough to first create lines that define the boundary of the artwork. Motifs are then created in bas-relief (sculpture in which the figures project slightly from the background) mostly freehand by memory by using palms and fingers pinching and shaping the mud mixture.

 

The motifs are inspired from the rich and famous embroidery patterns and once the walls are done they look stunning with mirrors embedded in the mud work, much like the embroideries itself. The mirrors used are called aabhla and come in various shapes - round, diamond & triangular.

 

After the clay dries off in about 4-5 days, a layer of white clay is painted over the artwork. The white comes from the sand of this marshland that is rich in salt content. Though the authenticity of Lipan Kaam lies in a completed piece that is all white or in shades of neutrals; bright colors like red and green are sometimes painted on the dried clay work.

 

More than just a pretty face

Lipan Kaam is not only for decorative purposes. It also has a function integral to the lives of the people of the region.

 

Lipan kaam on the outer surface of the homes acts as an insulator by reflecting heat. This helps keep the interior of the home cool. The beauty of the handiwork is enhanced by its utility even more. Inside the home, the inner walls are adorned with decorative mud-mirror work.

 

These mirrors are there for a very good reason. A single lamp proves enough to light up a considerable part of the home, thanks to the light reflected from the glittering mirror-work.

 

Speaking of pretty faces, lipan work evolves as the women work together, singing songs, and teasing one and another, while the men perform the task of digging the clay and carrying it from its source to the worksite or storage hut. This sense of community and fun adds so much to the art. It is one of the finest examples of improvised creativity that works on multiple levels.

 

Designs on Lipan Kaam

Lipan Kaam is usually seen in the graceful forms of peacocks, camels, elephants, elegant water bearing women, joyous women churning buttermilk, symbolic temples, mango trees, and other examples of life in the Kutch.

 

The lipan on the walls, partitions, doorways, lintels, niches, and the floors of the bhunga sport elaborate bas relief decorations that consist of okli-textures created by the impressions of fingers and palms-and sculpted forms that are inlaid with mirrors.

Painting on wall inside home, Meghwal community.

 

Mud relief work is done by different communities in Kachchh, and they have their own distinct styles.

 

Kachchhi Rabari Mud Relief Work 

Kachchhi Rabari is the biggest sub-tribe of Rabari community and their work is most excellent in its art form. Today it is on the verge of extinction as the younger generation is not interested in doing this art work. Rabari work is characterized by thick lines and less care is taken to prepare the cow dung and clay mixture. Hence it turns out to be very rough and rustic in look.

 

Walls of house and items like storage chest, quilt-stand and grain-box are embellished with this art. Elephant, camel, peacock, parrot, scorpion, woman with water pots on her head, women churning butter milk, trees, flowering vines, hills, and temples are common motifs to be used with lots of mirrors in round, square, triangle shapes.

 

The Rabaris believe that mirrors repel the negative effects of the evil eye and so they use them in mud relief work and embroidery.

 

Harijan Mud Relief Work

Marvada Harijan of Banni area in the Great Rann of Kutch had played a vital role to popularize this art and had made efforts to establish this art in metro cities, as part of interior decoration on walls of drawing rooms and five stars Hotels. This art has been used to decorate stages for musical programmes and also to garnish song-settings in Hindi films.

 

Hamlets of Banni area are full of this art, in every house one can see walls that are embellished with mud-relief work.

Most of the designs and motifs are derived from their own embroidery and stitching designs, geometrical forms, pheasants; a woman with water pots is most auspicious sign for this community.

 

Mutwa Mud-Relief-Work 

Being Islamic by religion Mutwa community’s mud-work has the essence of their recurring motifs. Women of this community are well known for their tiny embroidery stitches. But mud-relief-work is done by men only. 

 

Mutwa mud-relief-work is done with thin lines and geometrical Islamic forms, replica of their own ornaments and non-living forms. The motifs are carefully chosen in their work as Islam does not permit them drawing of living beings as motifs.

Painting Muslim home, although construction is modern.

 

Going places with Lipan Kaam

The craftsmen are now teaching students to adapt the design on a piece of plywood.

 

The earlier dried camel/donkey dung base is pungent-smelling. The introduction of a new base material is helping lipan kaam spread across geographies. In fact, the art now finds a pride of place in modern homes/workspaces in the form of wall decor.

 

Author is a Mumbai based artist.  All pictures by Sanjeev Nayyar. 

 

Also see albums

1. Mud homes Kutch

2. Salt Desert Kutch

3. Craft Villages of Kutch

4. Pictures and write up very good

 

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