Casting a Spell / Casting Designs – Dhokra craft of Odisha

Dokra craft – it’s timeless appeal

Travelling to Bhubaneswar for the first time in over a decade, on the way to the hotel from the airport, the signs of progress are unmistakable. Wide, clean roads, clearly demarcated vending areas, free wifi zones and cashless payment everywhere. Yet, paradoxically, as you travel around the city, your eyes are drawn to the tribal artefacts on display everywhere. Dhokra lamps and statues in the airport, dhokra jewellery on display in most handicraft shops and dhokra merchandise given out by the sponsors of the seminar I am attending, including letter openers and pen knives. Spellbound by the fine workmanship of these pieces, I start digging around.

A 4500-year old Metal Casting Technique

Indigenous to the eastern belt of India, especially Tribal Odisha, Dhokra is a traditional non-ferrous metal casting technique whose origin can be traced to the 4500-year old Indus Valley Civilization. The famous dancing girl statuette found in Mohenjo-Daro was made using the lost-wax casting technique. Unbelievable though it may sound, artisans in Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh are still using the 4500 year old Dhokra technique to produce a variety of pieces of art and  jewellery in brass and bell metal which are extremely popular both among tribal folks as well as local and  international tourists.

The metal smiths in India normally use two distinct lost wax casting processes – solid casting and hollow casting. The artisans in South India normally cast jewellery and artefacts through solid casting process, whereas the artisans living in the eastern states opt for hollow casting technique. Hence, the popular Dhokra jewellery and artefacts are casted through the traditional hollow casting process. This requires artisans to mould the metal by using a clay core instead of a solid piece of wax. Metal is poured into channels created with beeswax which gives it the name “hollow casting”.

Variety  of Artefacts and Jewelleries

The hallmark of Dhokra artefacts are the primitive simplicity and traditional folk motifs, immensely popular with art lovers. The jewellery epitomises the rustic charm of the tribal folk. Holidaying in Eastern India, basking in the sun and sand, or enjoying the spiritual delights of the stone carved temples, who can resist the charms of the Dhokra elephants, horses, peacocks, owls, religious images, lamp caskets, and measuring bowl? Or not fall in love with the traditional Dhokra jewellery? Every piece has its origin in  folk art and customs,  inspired by a culture centuries old.

The artisans craft a variety of Dhokra products to cater to demands of both the local people and tourists. The creativity of the artist is inborn, not learnt in any modern institution. From cookware to intricately cast lamps, every product is the result of a process which has  retained its  traditional roots and uniqueness – a mix of the modern and the traditional.

Dhokra jewellery and artefacts prove the ability of Indians to preserve the cultural heritage of their ancestors. At the same time, the huge demand for Dhokra products depicts the never fading charm and appeal of an ancient metal casting technique. So come, experience the magic of this age-old craft, romance the mystic designs and own a piece of history today.

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