As we 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.
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.
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.)
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.