It was the last day of my stay in Orissa. In all the 6 days I spent there, I barely managed to get a few hours sleep everyday. I had already covered the Rath Yatra (enjoying all the madness around it), visited loads of artisans ans covered some very interesting crafts. Managed a sunrise at Konark, took a quick tour of the temple, shopped and then I was left with one single thing to do- visit the Dhokra artisans at Dhenkanal.
A beautiful 2 hour drive from Bhubaneswar, crossing the Mahanadi river and a tiger sanctuary I was on my way to Dhenkanal. I had looked up a bit on the location, but it is almost impossible to find details of an artisan village online. Nevertheless, what works is a picture of the craft, an approximate location, stop-overs at chai (tea) shops and a lot of smiles and questions.
Village folk, Orissa
After a few detours (inevitable on Indian roads as there are hardly any sign boards), I reached the village nestled amidst lush mountains and freshly washed earth. I found myself on a street with dirt roads, puddles and the usual village life humming around. The first person I met was working on Dhokra and my joy knew no bounds when I saw that. It has been a while since I’ve been doing this, but there is this pleasure of exploring something and the joy of finding that which I am looking for is the same everytime!
Dushashan Behera, Dhokra artisan
I was taken to the village elder, Dushashanji Behera. He was in his sixties, agile, strong and very genial in his manner. The whole settlement were descendants of artisans who had migrated from Bastar(a Dhokra settlement in Chhatisgarh), about hundred years ago. I explained briefly about CraftCanvas and I was suddenly surrounded by loads of curious onlookers. My father-in-law had accompanied me (for the first time ever!) on this expedition. Being a professor in rural marketing, he saw this as a case study for his next lecture!
I couldn’t get my eyes off those beautiful works of art, carelessly strewn around. The tigers, peacocks, tortoises, fishes, deers and the elephants in various forms kept tugging at me to buy them. After feasting my eyes enough, I urged Dushashanji to explain the process. The fact that I was shooting a video was an added bonus for him.
Elephant clay model
He quickly made a rough clay model in the shape of an elephant (with a cute trunk).
Wax threaded, WIP
On this he would string around threads of bee wax, also adding details like the eyes, ears and a few embellishments with it.
Wax model to final piece
The picture above shows that the wax structure (one in black) is an exact replica of the final metal structure.
Applying final layer
On top of the wax structure, wet mud is rubbed all over. This takes the impression of the wax model.
Before going into the kiln
Now the whole structure is heated, the wax melts forming an hollow with the image impression. Molten metal is poured into this hollow, which takes the shape of the wax model. Traditionally, wood was used as the fuel and a device made of goat skin was used to fan the kiln. Nowadays, coal and an electric fan have replaced these methods.
Rejections after the firing process
The structure is cooled, the outside mud covering is cleaned, the inside terracotta (clay fuses into terracotta) is broken to reveal the metal structure. Since they don’t have a controlled environment in the kiln, there are a lot of damages. Interestingly, they attribute this to ‘God work’ and accept the damages as a way of life!
Out of the kiln
This is how it looks before polishing.
Polishing the Dhokra figures
This is then polished to a fine golden colour.
About 15 artisans remain in this settlement. They live in pitiable conditions in mud houses, bereft of any material comforts. About 40 families have left for jobs in the mining sector that pay them Rs.130 per day. Dushashan proudly claims that he is a Rastrapathi (President) award winner. The recognition somehow has not been translated into rewards. Nowadays he travels to a lot of exhibitions to sell his craft. He wishes that he didn’t have to go and would love to focus on his craft. Nevertheless, the smiles on their faces and their abundant hospitality overshadowed their problems.
You can buy their wonderful pieces online here.
Dahi vada dum aloo
This one was for the road. Dahi Vada Dum aloo is the traditional street food available in Orissa. Doted all along the highway are roadside stalls that sell this. Made with fried lentil balls, curd and potatoes, this spicy treat is just perfect for the rainy weather.
Work well done, I did deserve this!
P.S: Please click here for more pictures of Orissa- Rath Yatra in Puri, people and crafts