Of Mud and Mirror

Art has been the language of life since time immemorial. Be it the ancient cave paintings or the vibrant murals of the contemporary world, decorating our houses through the medium of art never gets old.
The vibrant traditional murals made of lippan and mirror; Image Source- Enderle Travelblog

The vibrant traditional murals made of lippan and mirror; Image Source- Enderle Travelblog

Kutch is known for its scenic sunsets, the monumental Salt March, the Runn Kutch Utsav and much more for the tourists visiting the place in millions every year. But for its lifelong inhabitants, the harsh climate can be punishing. What do they do to combat this?

The answer is simple. The local pastoral communities of Kutch, like the Rabaris, the Harijans and the Mutwas, look up to Lippan Kaam as a means of peaceful community life.

Lippan Art is the traditional mural art mainly attributed to the Rabari community, with no particular source of origin. Despite its unclear history, today, the tradition has become iconic.

Lippan translates to a mixture of camel/ wild ass dung and clay available in the area. The dough is kneaded out of the mix to divide into smaller portions and cylindrical tubes to outline the desired designs on a bas-relief. After setting up the initial framework of the mural, mirrors are embedded in the frame. It takes a few days for the lippan to dry, after which it is painted with white clay or white salt of Kutch for the final look.

The communities live in mud-houses with thatched roofs called bhangas. Adding an extra layer of lippan has its own set of functional advantages that help them survive the severe climate of Kutch. The lippan acts as an insulator keeping the house cool. The mirrors inside the house reflect the light of the diya/lamp, lighting up the whole home at once, which saves their scarce resources.

Historically, lippan kaam was an activity for women. The womenfolk would gather together to prepare the dough while singing and laughing to decorate the insides of their home. The men brought in the clay and cow dung. Over time, the art form has become commercial and a source of income for these communities. Many artists now have the chance to undertake large-scale projects to make murals for the urbanscape.

The motifs of the mural take inspiration from the daily lives of people. From depicting flora and fauna to portraying human figures and simple geometrical patterns, every mural has its unique story and identity.

In the contemporary context, there has been a significant shift in the materials used in the making of lippan to increase the longevity of the murals. Despite its increasing commercialisation, the tradition continues to exist in its purest form in the homes of the Rebaris, Harijans, Mutwas and many more sub-tribes of the region.

Lippan Kaam or Chittar Kaam is a way of life for these communities who have known and imbibed this artform for all their lives, passing it from one generation to the other.

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