Im unable to keep up with the spinning of the electric wheel. An exquisite statue is held at the helm to rough out the edges.
The sound of metal against the wheel, was similar to a heavy metal song being played on loop.
All buffed and polished the statue is given finishing touches. A cloth is used to remove traces of mud and dirt. There is an ‘aha moment’ as the completed figurine is placed in front of me. It glistens like gold, a perfect creation from the hands of man.
Dhokra or bell metal art is a heritage of 4000 years and continues to survive within the tribal folds of India. Proof of existence of this art is also found in the remains of the Mohenjadaro and Harrappa ruins.
The early creations were not only for the sake of art, but also for domestic use like making kitchen utensils. Dhokra evolved into an art form later, where the focus moved to artistic creations. There is a huge demand for these pieces by art aficionados around the world.
During my visit to Bastar in Chattisgarh, I had the opportunity to visit a Dhokra artist’s workshop in Kondagaon.
There are several places in Kondagaon and Jagadalpur where you can see a demo of how these creations are made. In addition, Dhokra is also sold during the weekly tribal bazaars around Bastar.
So, what is the art of Dhokra?
The process starts with creating a clay mould. River clay, hay and cow dung is mixed to make the mould.
Beeswax or resin from the trees is rolled into thick strings. These are wrapped and smoothed around the clay mould. Intricate carving and designing are done over the pliable wax. This is where the artist creates magic. The mould is left to dry.
Clay is again poured over the wax mould. Ducts are made in order to drain the wax when this mould is heated. The wax drains away and what remains is the hollow clay mould which has taken the shape from the wax on the inside of the mould.
Scrap brass ware is melted, poured into this mould and left to cool. The clay mould is broken to reveal the finished piece. An exquisite, gleaming, and unique piece of art entirely made by hand is ready.
Dhokra is a sustainable art, as it follows the traditional methods of using clay and scrap brass metal.
The pieces that are usually created are kitchen utensils, jewellery, animals like horses and cows, birds, man and woman and daily life sculptures.
Artists are also encouraged to create modern designs that will appeal to all genres.
Kondagaon and Jagadalpur are located in the state of Chhattisgarh. Both towns are accessible by road. The nearest airport is Raipur.
Make a prior appointment with the workshop, so they are prepared to show you a demo.
Kondagaon workshops are closed on Sundays, so arrange for your visit on other days.
Encourage the local artisans by buying one of their creations. Dhokra art makes for a great souvenir and gift.
It is recommended that you visit the Jhitku-Mitki showrooms when in Kondagaon or Raipur as they have the authentic arts and crafts of Bastar.
Contact unexploredbastar.com for such experiences.
I thank my friends and hosts – Sajani and her family, Sangeeta and Tamel who hosted my stay in Kondagoan and introduced me to their life and culture.