Dhokra: The 4000 Year Journey – Craftezy

Dhokra: The 4000 Year Journey

Indian handicrafts have won accolades around the whole world since the pre-independent era. However, the history of varieties of these handicrafts dates back to more than a thousand years. One such exquisite and rich craft is ‘dhokra’. Dhokra is the art of casting metals using the technique of lost-wax casting. Metals used in the casting are non-ferrous in nature.  This craft is around four thousand years old, coming from the time of the civilisation of Mohenjodaro. The dancing girl of Mohenjodaro is one of the earliest known artifacts that comes in the category of dhokra craft. This craft is in gigantic demand in both the domestic and the global market because of its primitive simplicity and exquisiteness. Dhokra craft primarily comes from the region of West Bengal, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh. Dhokra elephants, peacocks, owls, horses, lambs, religious images, and so on are highly appreciated crafts all around the world. In this article, we will trace out the complete history of this special craft along with discussing its present-day market and demand.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. History of the Dhokra Art
  3. Different Processes of Metal Casting
  4. The symbolism of the Dhokra Art
  5. Different Styles of Dhokra Art
  • Dhokra Art of West Bengal
  • Dhokra Art of Chhattisgarh
  • Dhokra Art of Odisha
  • Dhokra Art of Jharkhand
  1. Current Demand of the Dhokra Art

Overview

Dhokra metal casting is one of the important crafts that comes primarily from the state of West Bengal and Chhattisgarh. The word ‘dhokra’ comes from the tribe of traditional metal-smiths of West Bengal referred to as the Dhokra Damar. The members of this tribe migrated to other states of the country a few hundred years ago. Thus, we can find the existence of this craft in almost all regions of the country. Some of the best-known Dhokra products that are demanded worldwide are horses, peacocks, lamp caskets, and owls. This craft form can also be seen in countries like China, Malaysia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Central America. Let us now go through the two processes involved in its casting.

History of the Dhokra Art

History of the Dhokra Art

The existence of the beautiful dhokra art can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. One of the very famous artefact of the dancing girl comes from the region of Mohenjodaro which was the largest settlement that flourished at around 2500 BCE. This dancing girl is one of the finest examples of the Dhokra art that existed during that time. The references of this craft can also be found in the Mesopotamian Civilisation. Many ancient texts like the Silparatna ( 16th century AD), Manasollasa ( 12th century AD), and so on indicated the presence of the solid wax casting techniques during their respective eras.

Different Processes of Metal Casting

Different Processes of Metal Casting

Dhokra metal casting involves two broad processes namely solid metal casting and hollow metal casting. We can see the prevalence of solid metal casting in the southern part of the country while hollow metal casting is prevalent in the Central and the Eastern region. Hollow casting uses clay core and is a traditional method carried on by the craftspersons while solid casting uses a solid piece of wax in the process of creating a mold.

The first process that is involved in the lost wax hollow casting is the formation of a clay core that resembles the shape of the required cast image. After that, the clay core is covered by a layer of wax. This wax is usually a mixture of natural wax, saras, and nut oil. This mixture is obtained by boiling wax and nut oil together to create a thick paste. The wax is properly shaped and carved with all the intricate details. Then the wax is covered with clay which takes the negative form of the layer of clay and thus becomes a mold for the metal. Ducts are made for the wax to come out when the clay is cooked. Once the wax has been taken out, liquid metal is poured inside the hollow space. This liquid metal usually comprises brass metal scrap as the primary raw material. The liquid metal that is poured in between the hollow space hardens up after some time, after which the outer layer of the clay is chipped off. The finishing is done by polishing the metal icon as desired.

Symbolism of the Dhokra Art

Symbolism of the Dhokra Art

The dhokra art has its roots in ancient culture and traditions. Each icon represents a primitive lifestyle and the beliefs of the people. Every piece of craft has a deep meaning attached to it, which can be social or religious. The icon of an elephant represents masculinity and wisdom, an owl symbolises prosperity and death, while a tortoise symbolises femininity. An interesting thing that needs to be noted is that this art enjoys a prominent position in the Hindu culture because of the religious significance of metal icons. Most of the temples have a metal icon that is worshipped. Thus, this craft has been a part of the lives of many craftsmen of Hindu society. The themes that are popular worldwide even today are exquisite and intricate images of Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Durga and so on.

Different Styles of Dhokra Art

Different Styles of Dhokra Art

Dhokra Art of West Bengal

Bikna village in the district of Bankura is the place where the Dhokra art thrives. The artisans of that region make exquisite figurines and intricate metal castings. The walls of different houses of the Bikna village are beautifully painted and demonstrate the love that the artisans of Bikna have for the craft. The tribe known as the Dhokra Damar are the earliest tribes that are known to have practised the art of metal casting. Artisans of these crafts are popularly known as the ‘Mals’ or the ‘Karmakars’. One of the most famous dhokra works of the region of Bankura is the Bankura Horse. This craft is demanded by customers worldwide. This craft is always produced and sold in pairs and is available in various sizes. 

Dhokra Art of Chhattisgarh

Dhokra metal casting had survived many centuries and changes of dynasties and is practised by different tribes across the country. One such tribe lives in a region of Chhattisgarh called Baster. This region of the state of Chhattisgarh is very rich in terms of iron deposits. A famous tribe called the Madia Gond tribe lives in this region and specialises in the process of extraction of iron from iron ores. This tribe uses iron to create cutting tools for agriculture and knives and arrowheads for hunting.

The Gond tribe follows Buddhism and worships Lord Buddha who is believed to reside in a tree called the saja. They believe this species of tree to be their symbol of strength. When the Gonds discovered the strength of the iron, they started to believe that Lord Buddha was in iron too. They started building cemented platforms under the saja tree and spears, iron tridents, and chains were kept as religious symbols. The ironsmiths of this tribe soon started to experiment with iron to create religious shapes like statues, diyas, Buddha riding a horse, and so on. With the passage of time, the work of these artisans got noticed and their craft started traveling to different parts of the country with tradesmen.

The baster artists take the help of an alloy of brass, zinc, and nickel to create figurines and icons. These artists continue to use old-age techniques of production. However, because of modernisation and the change in demand, they have started producing items like hangers, boxes, door handles, and caskets of different shapes and sizes. The artifacts from the Bastar region have seen record sales in countries like Italy, Britain, France, and the United States of America.

Dhokra Art of Odisha

Kandhamal district of Odisha is also famous for various works of Dhokra. The Dhokra artisans residing in that area are known to make figurines of their deity, Lord Jaggannatha. The statuette is decorated with separate wax strings that are made into decorative embellishments of crown and jewelry. A musical instrument of that area known as the Mahuri also takes the help of Dhokra art in its making. Due to popular demand, artisans of the district of Dhenkanal in Odisha started producing figures of Lord Ganesha, Shiva, Goddess Saraswati, and Goddess Durga. They also make items like soap holders, glasses, symbolic animals associated with various gods and goddesses like owls, tortoises, elephants, peacocks and so on.

Dhokra Art of Jharkhand

The Malhar tribes of the village of Pundi in Jharkhand are known for making containers that have detailed bird and animal motifs on them. Apart from these containers, various other items like small vessels, jewelry, and so on are crafted and produced here with the love and compassion of the artisans. Votive figures and key chains produced in this area are in demand too. 

Current Demand of The Dhokra Art

Current Demand of The Dhokra Art

The government of India along with many non-profit organisations like Peepal Tree are working with the artisans of this craft to promote this wonderful art nationally and internationally. Online handicraft trade platforms like Craftezy are providing a global audience to the artisans with the help of their wonderful platform. Dhokra products like bowls, figurines, lamps, and so on are listed on their sites at a very reasonable rate. The efforts made by these organisations and trade platforms have helped in the rising demand for Dhokra art over time.

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Get the Largest Variety of Handicrafts from Craftezy in a Single Click

Finding authentic and verified handicrafts can be very tough at times. Here is where Craftezy can come to your aid. It is the leading online trade platform that specialises in handicrafts from India. Craftezy works as a boon for the buyers across the globe by providing them a wide range of handicrafts all under one umbrella. Starting from the beautiful Dhokra products to products like paintings, wall hangings, woodworks, jewellery, toys, and so on, Craftezy has every product at its disposal. The trading platform dispenses everything starting from product selection and negotiation to logistics for its buyers. Handicrafts listed on its website are quality-checked and 100% authentic. The platform also provides you with easy and convenient payment options so that you do not face any difficulty while transacting. Along with the buyers, it provides ample opportunities to the suppliers too. Craftezy helps vendors and suppliers to list their products and increase their product visibility across the globe at a very affordable price. You can grow your export business of handicrafts exponentially by taking the help of Craftezy.

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