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Dhokra – An Ancient Craft

Dhokra or Dokra is an ancient craft tradition of eastern states of West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. The dhokra objects are made using centuries old non-ferrous metal casting process using lost wax technique,which is one of the earliest and most advanced manual metal casting known to human civilization. 
Its roots can be traced back to 4500 years to the ancient city of Mohen-jo-daro in Indus valley civilization.The famous dancing girl of Mohen-jo-daro that was found during excavation at that site, is a piece of art that intrigues the world even today.
The dhokra objects d’art have a very simple, primitive and rustic appeal that is very hard to ignore.  The objectsare very eye catching in spite of their simplicity. There may not be any expressions on the Dhokra objects but each piece is as if ready to narrate their umpteen stories behind them.
The craft is practiced normally by tribal communities like Gahdwa adivasis in Bastar region of Chattisgarh or Damar tribes in Orissa. They make objects of daily use, jewellery, religious idols and tribal deities, scenes
depicting their faiths and stories from their daily lives. The dhokra is not only an art piece, rather channel to pass on the rich tribal heritage and traditions to the generations and the world around. Behind the superb cast metal images of the tribal deities lies a rich world of myth and legend.
The Bastar tribals believe that their ancestors were animals, birds, fish and beasts. The entire world was water and their tribal deities placed the seeds of life in form of dadebuorka (male) and kuosi (female). From these arose ten loukis that coverted to various animals and two to Badadev and Badi Matadevi. They toiled hard for millions of years to change the fish and other animals to humans. A lot of images made by them are fish, birds, elephants and other animals which is a connect to their past beliefs. The amazing tribal hum figurines inside the animal shapes also probably depicts their belief system.
The Process of Dhokra Craft
The making of Dhokra involves the complex knowledge of metal casting and artistry of an artisan to produce beautiful shapes out of it. It needs immense skill and precision to produce dhokra objects through a very demanding and painstaking crafting process. Each dhokra object is unique in itself as the clay mould has to be broken to retrieve the object out of the mould. Hence each piece is worked on individually. There are no copies or cast dies to be reused to produce the same item again. The process has to be repeated for each object and that is the unique part of this craft. The dhokra making is a 16 step process that includes following steps-
  • Model and the First Layer - a clay core is modeled with black soil from the fields kneaded with rice husk into the shape of the object to be made. It is left to dry in the sun.
  • After the model has dried, it is again covered with second layer of sticky riverside soil mixed with other things to give it smoothness and strength and left in the sun to dry.
  • Once it is dry, the model is carefully shaped with metal files to give it the exact shape, filling all the fallen dried soil with wet soil and is again dried.
  • The model is then rubbed with the green sem leaf paste crushed with palms to prevent soil sticking to metal.
  • Preparing the beeswax that is to be used to ornament the surface of the model.
  • Making beeswax strings and shapes that are required for surface ornamentation.
  • Making of designs with beeswax strings and plain wax to cover the surface completely. Channel is also attached to pour the metal.
  • In a 3-step process, the decorated model is again covered with three layers of clay serially after drying the previous layer completely. The three layers applied are different and each have a role to play.
  • The brass metal usually collected from scrap is heated separately to bring it to molten state. This is done simultaneously with the firing of the clay model
  • The clay is carefully put in the furnace built in the ground for firing
  • Just when the clay model in the furnace is at the right temperature, the molten metal is poured inside the clay core through the channel.
  • The wax melts and the molten brass metal fills in the place of wax designs inside the clay core.
  • It is then left to be cooled and once the metal cools and solidifies, the clay mould is carefully broken to retrieve the object inside.
  • The object is then cleaned with wire brush and polished with sandpaper to give it a shine.

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Posted In Handicrafts   Indian Art and Craft