Dokra Art – unique by process!

Ethnic to the eastern belt of India, particularly Tribal Odisha, Dokra artwork is a traditional non-ferrous metal casting modus operandi, whose origin could be traced back to the 4000-year old Indus Valley Civilization. The legendary dancing girl sculpture found in Mohenjo-Daro was prepared using the lost-wax casting technique. However implausible it may sound, artisans in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal are still using this 4000-year-old Dokra art technique to yield a variety of pieces of jewellery and art in bell metal and brass which are tremendously prevalent both amongst tribal folks as well as indigenous and transnational tourists.

Named after the tribe ‘DOKRA DAMAR’, this art is indigenous to the Bankura region in West Bengal.

Explore the collection of Dokra Art home decor products on Hasthkala Curators.

The method of making handicrafts is using the lost-wax casting technique. This sort of metal casting has been utilized in India for over 40 centuries and remains in constant usage. There are two main procedures of lost wax casting – hollow casting and solid casting. While the latter is predominant within the southern India, the previous one is more common in Central and Eastern India. Solid casting does not entail the usage of a clay core, but in its place, it uses a solid piece of wax to supply the mould. The hollow casting, however, may be a more traditional and standard method and makes the employment of the clay core.
The primary task within the lost wax hollow casting method is that the development of a clay core, that  coarsely takesthe form of the ultimate cast image. Following this, the clay core is enclosed by a layer of wax fabricated from nut oil, resin from Damara tree orientalis, and pure beeswax. The wax is later shaped and carved and all its minute details of decorations and styles are added. Later on, it is covered with multiple layers of clay, which takes the negative style of the wax on the inner side, thus acting as a mould for the metal which will be later poured inside it. After this step, it is substituted by the molten metal, frequently making the usage of brass scrap as the basic raw material. The liquid metal poured inside hardens between the core and also the inner mould surface. The metal fills inside the mould and takes the identical shape as that of the wax. Then, the outer layer of clay is hewed off and therefore the metal icon is polished and finished as per requirements.

The process of making Dokra is eye-catching in terms of the naturally occurring materials that are used. The primary mould is made using fine sand and natural clay. Wax threads are wound around the clay mould until its entire surface is covered uniformly. Following this, intricate and minute details imparting finesse are added. The clay mould is then cooked on a heating system where the wax generally comes out from the ducts of the sewer. The entire process happens to be very tedious, hence the pricing of these artefacts are on higher end of the spectrum.

Symbolism of Dokra:

Dokra tends to represent and illustrate a primitive lifestyle and belief system of the tribal. It can be traced back to the age of hunting, which is primarily why figures of turtles, owls and horses are commonly seen in this style of tribal art. The horse is the symbol of motion, the elephant illustrates and symbolizes masculinity and wisdom, the owl illustrates death and prosperity and the turtle imparts femininity. In the popular and well-known Hindu mythology, these symbols and creatures have stories and epics behind them. It is imagined and said, that the world rests on four mighty elephants and they stand on the shell of a tortoise. This tortoise, is a considered to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, that carries the entire world on his back, holding up land as well as water. Each piece or constituent part of Dokra art has quite a unique identity. The tribes at first used this specific art form to make idols of deities, but over a long period of time, as spiritual and religious erosion took place, they started making more forms that represented worldly objects and entities that served more as artefacts as compared to objects of devotion.

Different styles of the art form:

  • The Bikna village in West Bengal is a thriving and prospering hub where dokra art is practised. The intricately and gorgeously painted houses in the village, throw light on the community’s inborn artistic inclination and knack. Offerings are made to an open-air altar by crafting intricate and handmade dokra metal castings and terracotta figures. These figurines are subtle representations of various occasions and festivities associated with the community.
  • Bastar, a district in Southern Chhattisgarh is famous for bell metal or brass figurines created by the Ghadwa tribe. Legend has it that the ruler of Bastar was once given a dokra necklace by a craftsman as a gift to his wife. The ruler was then drawn to the intricate and innovative art form and thus began its popularisation. 
  • The Malhore tribal community of Jharkhand is popular for crafting dokra containers with detailed bird and animal motifs on the containers. Along with miniature figurines, tiny vessels and jewellery, idols or Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga are also crafted by the tribal. Votive figures and contemporary key chains are in demand as well. Along with jewellery, idols of deities and miniature figurines, deities riding horses and elephants are also depicted by Dokra artists in this region.

Revival of Dokra:

Many non-profit organisations and various state governments have made attempts to promote this unique art form nationally as well as internationally. Objects made out of metal casting such as caskets, bowls, lamps and figurines have been in great demand in the markets owing to the simplicity, intricacy and enchanting folk themes. 

Off late, along with ritualistic idols and animal figurines, items such as doorknobs, kitchenware and even statutes of famous personalities are well known today. Due to its rustic and humble simplistic roots, it has been popularised massively. Many artisans have drawn inspiration from this art form and are adapting unique ways to incorporate this form of art in various endeavours. The creations of dokra artisans are in great demand in domestic in addition as foreign markets due to its nascent simplicity, captivating folk motifs and powerful form. The highly popular pieces include Dokra peacocks, horses, human figures, owls, idols of gods, measuring bowls, and lamp caskets.

Despite attempts being made to revive this craft, the artisans are still struggling to make a solid mark and keeping this art alive. The biggest threat turns out to be poverty. The lack of guidance to sustain in the current market has led to the artisans quitting this occupation and resorting to other ways to earn their daily bread.

Keep watching this space for products with Dokra art. Subscribe to our news letter for latest updates.

Checkout 15 most famous Indian art forms.

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