Stroll across the white sands of the Rann of Kutch and you will notice the landscape dotted with small, thatched huts with shimmering art on their mud walls. The Kutch region in Gujarat is home to a variety of art and crafts, and one of the unique traditions here is the technique of decorating the walls of homes with mud and mirror work. While these circular mud huts are known as bhungas, the mud art is called Lippan Kaam or Chhittar Kaam.
The word ‘Lippan’ means ‘clay’ or ‘dung’ in local Gujarati, and the word ‘kaam’ denotes ‘work’. Lippan Kaam is essentially mud-relief work that incorporates mirrors. It is used to embellish the interior and exterior walls of the circular adobes that these communities live in.
The origin of Lippan Kaam is lost in the pages of history but the art has evolved across many years, with local communities making a concerted effort to keep this wonderful and vibrant tradition alive.
Lippan is practiced mainly by the Rabari, Kumbhar, Marwada Harijan and Mutwa communities but most Lippan artisans today trace their origins to the Kumbhar community. Traditionally earthen pot-makers from Sindh, the Kumbhars transferred their expertise in working with mud and clay to a much larger canvas, like the exterior and interior walls of their homes, and traditional boxes, at some point in time.
Like the Kumbhars, the Mutwa community of Kutch too migrated to India from Sindh about 400 years ago. They are known for their unique embroidery called ‘Mutwa embroidery’, but their main livelihood is rearing livestock and horses. The Marwada Harijan community migrated to Kutch from the Marwada region in South-Western Rajasthan, which includes modern-day Jodhpur city. The Rabari community too practices Lippan. They are nomadic pastoralists who moved to Kutch from Sindh 700-800 years ago. It is mostly the women of these communities who practice this special art.
How It’s Done
Traditionally, Lippan Kaam uses a dough prepared from animal dung and mud or clay bought from the Rann of Kutch and the lakes in the Kutch region. Dung and clay are mixed in equal proportions, and a dough is prepared. Mud or clay has a natural tendency to adhere to the walls of mud houses. Earlier, husk of bajri or millet was used as an alternative to dung, to keep termites away.
Once the dough is ready, the flat surface of the ‘artwork’, traditionally a wall, is moistened so that mud in relief form sticks to it. First, a border is created, which acts like a frame, inside which decorative motifs are created. This border is called ‘kaam’ or ‘kaamtane’. The surface is divided into horizontal and vertical lines.
The dough is then rolled into cylindrical strips of varying thicknesses and used to make precise patterns on the surface. Earlier, large mirrors were shattered using stones and these small shards were arranged aesthetically to form repetitive designs. Relief work with a mixture of mud and dung was then made around it. After the artwork dries, it is coated with white clay or white sand from the Rann. Lippan takes days to dry and make, as every step is executed by hand.
Nowadays, mirrors of various shapes are used in the motifs. They are called ‘aabhla’. Circular, triangular and diamond-shaped mirrors are commonly used. Also, wooden boards made of MDF (medium-density fibreboard) are now used as surfaces for Lippan Kaam, which makes the art portable. The mixture too has undergone a sea change. Instead of animal dung, the dough is made of chalk powder, sawdust and mud along with glue. The process is easier, the work lightweight, less prone to breakage and also odour-free. The shift to modern materials has helped the artwork last longer. It is more durable and requires little or no maintenance, unlike the art executed via the traditional process.
While Lippan Kaam is traditionally white, today it is made in beautiful colour combinations. Shades of red, yellow, green and blue are used in the patterns and designs. Using waterproof, washable colours further enhances its appeal and application in modern homes.
Motifs From Everyday Life
While the craft is used mainly to embellish the walls of mud houses, you can also find Lippan Kaam in specific parts of the houses, such as on kotholos – large storage granaries, sanjiros – large storage areas for valuables and clothes, pitara – a chest, kothi – silos for grain storage, chula – hearth, paniyara – clay platforms, and also in alcoves, plinths, shelves and on window frames.
The use of mirrors in this art form produces an astonishing, glittering effect, where a simple lamp can light up a very large space.
The motifs and designs used in Lippan Kaam are inspired by everyday life. There are peacocks, camels, elephants, mango trees, temples, women churning buttermilk, women carrying water, and depictions of other daily activities.
– Lippan art also uses repetitive geometric motifs, which reflects the simplicity of the tradition.
Locally, some of the motifs are called: panihari - woman carrying a pot; gowal – shepherd; mor – peacock; popat – parrot; surya – sun; gajja – elephants.
These Lippan motifs are also used in other crafts in the Kutch, like Mutwa and Rabari embroidery.
The Art Today
Lippan art was initially created to liven up the homes of communities living in bleak and harsh environments. These circular, mud-built homes or bhungas are so sturdy that they withstood the massive earthquake that struck Gujarat in 2001. It was only after the earthquake, during the crafts revival movements in the Kutch, that artisans began getting recognition for their Lippan Kaam.
The launching of the Rann Utsav in 2005 and the consequent boost in tourism gave livelihoods and Lippan artisans a fillip. Now the lively appeal of the craft and its sparkle are taking it further afield. Brands have sprung up and NGOs like Dastakari Haat Samiti are helping to empower the artisans through exhibitions held annually.
Lippan artisans are also accepting commissions for custom-made interiors and installations in residential spaces and hotels. Workshops Lippan art are being conducted online as well as in the homes of artisans.
Digital ventures like Peepul Tree are playing their part too, and helping artisans reach a wider audience and markets. Our artisan, Abhukar Kasam Mara, along with his daughter Iram Mara and their family bring to you some stunning pieces of Lippan Kaam, painted in joyful colour combinations, through Peepul Tree. These pieces are inspired by the elaborate work inside the bhungas and are made with traditional geometric motifs. They come in interesting sizes.
Truly, Lippan represents the vibrant culture and tradition of the Kutch, and carries forward a legacy passed across generations.