Dokra – a fascinating and primeval art form
Dokra handicrafts have always fascinated me. I had always wondered how these exquisite pieces of handicrafts are made. The exquisite carvings and the intricate designs in the metals not only make them look like a collector’s item but also shows the artistry and handwork of the artisans who make this unique pieces of art.
Dokra is known to many, but for all those who are wondering what I am speaking about, Dokra is an ancient form of craft involving non-ferrous casting using the lost-wax casting also known as ‘Cire Perdue’. In fact, it is the earliest method of non-ferrous metal casting known to civilization. The technique is primitive and can be traced back to as early as the Indus Valley Civilization. The Dokra craft is highly esteemed in all parts of the world for its primeval simplicity and its amazingly intricate motifs. Moreover, the figures have a rustic and antique finish that makes them more appealing.
An interesting history about Dokra:
There is an interesting history about Dokra. It is said that almost three thousand years ago, a craftsman had gifted a Dokra necklace to the King of Bastar, now in Chhattisgarh for the queen. The King was so enthralled seeing the craftsmanship that he honored the craftsman with the title of “Ghadwa”. The word “Ghadwa” has been derived from the word “Ghalna” meaning melting and working with wax.
A few hundred years ago, the makers of Dokra from the central and the eastern parts of the country had travelled to as far as Andhra Pradesh in the south and Rajasthan in the North spreading the art form. Now almost most parts of India practice this form of art with the main areas being Bastar in Chhatisgarh, Bardhhaman, Bankura and Medinipur districts of West Bengal, Chittabori of Andhra Pradesh, Puri, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Khurda district in Orissa and tribal communities in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh.
Dokra – the process
The process of making a Dokra item is itself and elaborate process and requires much precision and concentration on the part of the crafter. The artist first makes a clay core modeled in the shape of the craft which he desires to make. Next, the clay core is covered with a layer of wax and tar or resin wood gum or tar. The outer layer is shaped and required designs are carved in with bee-wax and lac. It is this part which requires the concentration of the crafter. The finer the designs, the better the product becomes.
Next, it is again covered with clay to form a mould for pouring in the metal. A hole is made in the mould. Drain ducts are left for the wax which melts when the clay is baked. The liquid metal poured in hardens between the core and the inner surface of the mould. The moulded product is then baked. The metal fills in the mould and takes the shape of the wax. The hole that was made is to be closed with hot earth.
The liquid metal poured in hardens between the core and the inner surface of the mould. The moulded product is then baked. The metal fills in the mould and takes the shape of the wax. The hole that was made is to be closed with hot earth. The mould is then left to cool. The outer layer is then chipped off. Any extra part of metals on the figurine is also removed. The metal figure is then polished and given a lustrous finish. The unique part of this process is that a mould can be used for only one figurine.
Dokra is one of the jewels of our country as well as our state. The craft may be sold at high rates all over the world, but its makers often are not getting their due. Recently, with the initiative of West Bengal Government, the crafts of Bengal have started getting a lifeline, but they are a far way from getting their actual recognition. We at Tale of 2 Backpackers are trying to bring forth these lesser known beauties of Bengal.