Chhittar Kaam is the mural tradition from the Kutch region in Gujarat. The craft form was traditionally done using the wild ass or camel dung, which means lippan in Gujarati, and hence its more famous name Lippan Kaam. The mud work, done in bas-relief has been practiced by the various communities in the region. The mud work is done on the bhungas, or the circular mud huts where the locals live. The various communities migrated from the other side of the border in many waves, the latest being after the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.
The major communities which practice Lippan kaam today are the Rebaris, the Harijans and the Mutwas, though there are many more sub-tribes which practice the craft. The Mutwa and Rebari community migrated from the Sindh to Kutch about 400 and 700 years ago respectively. While the Harijan community migrated from the Marwada region in Rajasthan. These communities primarily practice embroidery, pastoralism, livestock and horse rearing. However, all these communities continue the lippan kaam as a local tradition which has aesthetic as well as functional uses. The clay work increases the strength of the bhungas and also act as insulators. The air gaps between the clay keep the houses cool in summers and warm in winters. The aabhla, or the mirrors used in lippan reflect light from the lamps and make the interiors bright even with a single lit diya.
Image Source: Artist Nalemitha
Within the bhungas, lippan kaam is generally done on the kotholo or the large granaries, kotho or the grain containers, sanjiro or the storage for valuables, dhadabla or seats for babies, chula or the hearth, pedlo or the storage platforms, the walls, plinths, shelves, niches and wndows.
The motifs are derived from everyday life with animals such as peacocks, camels, elephants, temples and geometric patterns. Each community has a distinct style of lippan and can be differentiated from the others.
The Rebari community does not pay much attention to the preparation of the clay. Hence their mud work has thick lines and a rough look. The most common motifs are women with pots or women churning buttermilk. Also depicted are the flora and fauna of the region, as well as from imagination or stories. There is an excess use of mirrors by them as the Rebaris believe that mirrors repel the negative energy and act as an evil eye.
The Harijan community has taken the lippan kaam to the world stage. They have promoted the mud work in cities and in the urban establishments, taking them to every home. The most common motifs are inspired by the embroidery patterns and even the geometric motifs of other communities. The most auspicious motif of the Harijan community is ‘women with water pots’.
A characteristic of the Mutwa community lippan kaam is the thin lines and geometrical themes. This is primarily because the community is Islamic and depicting living forms is prohibited. The inspiration for motifs is from the Mutwa embroidery practiced by the same community.
The traditional lippan kaam required annual maintenance, and was passed as an heirloom to the future generations. There has been a shift in the use of materials for lippan kaam.
There has been a shift in the materials used for lippan kaam, although many locals still continue their tradition. Earlier, it used camel or wild ass dung and clay, but later the evolutionists used the husk of bajra as an alternative. Today the artists have shifted to using newspapers to avoid the pungent smell as well as to keep the termites away. The characteristic white colour of the Lippan kaam was earlier made using white clay or white sand from the Kutch. Today however, most artists use synthetic white paint.
There is no literary evidence for the origin of Lippan since it has been subject to continuous change. The process for revival and recognition of lippan began after the massive earthquake of 2001. It is evolving and amalgamating the different styles and contemporary traditions. It is this evolution which has made Lippan the vibrant form it is today. However, the continuation of this tradition is only possible if the future generations continue to practice and propagate the craft of their ancestors.
~ Misha Jaswal