How Dhokra Craftspeople Are Preserving India's 4000-Year-Old Lost-Wax Casting Heritage

Dhokra is an embodiment of tradition, creativity, and cultural heritage.
Dhokra is an embodiment of tradition, creativity, and cultural heritage. L: Jaidev Baghel, Sunita Nair R: Pinterest

From the moment I set my eyes on the intricately designed Dhokra statues, a sense of familiarity and warmth came over me. It was as if these ancient pieces of art carried a piece of my past, a memory from childhood when these brassworks occupied the corners of my home. Back then, I knew little about their origins, history, or even their name. Nonetheless, there was an innate connection that made them feel like a part of my life.

Perhaps many share this sentiment, for Dhokra, or Dokra, transcends generations, evoking a sense of belonging that defies time. The art of Dhokra, characterised by non-ferrous metal casting using the lost-wax casting technique, has roots dating back over 4,000 years in India. It's a technique that has endured through millennia, linking us to ancient civilizations that shaped our world.

Dhokra is an embodiment of tradition, creativity, and cultural heritage.
Preserving Tradition: Meet The Artisans Of Vilachery Pottery Village

One of the earliest instances of 'lost-wax casting' can be traced to the famous statue of the dancing girl of Mohenjo-Daro. This artefact revealed not only the advanced metal knowledge of the Indus Valley Civilization but also the importance of art and dance in their culture. Crafted using the same lost-wax casting technique as Dhokra, the dancing girl shows the craftsmanship of that era.

Dancing Girl is a prehistoric bronze sculpture made in lost-wax casting.
Dancing Girl is a prehistoric bronze sculpture made in lost-wax casting. wikipedia

The Dhokra Damar tribes, who reside in West Bengal and Odisha, are the torchbearers of this traditional craftsmanship. Their expertise in lost wax casting lends its name to the technique itself. Over the centuries, the Dhokras journeyed across India, spreading their artistry from Kerala to Rajasthan, leaving their mark on our artistic landscape.

This intricate craft, once practised by civilizations as diverse as ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and China, is now synonymous with the nomadic Dhokra tribe. Their legacy extends across modern-day Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and parts of Andhra Pradesh.

Craftsmen rely on materials sourced from their surroundings – wax, resin, firewood, riverbed clay, and makeshift firing ovens. The artisans, once limited to crafting gods and goddesses, now craft lighter, affordable pieces that retain the essence of lost-wax casting. This evolution showcases the fusion of tradition and modernity, an art form that resonates with new generations worldwide.

This art form gives life to figurines of horses, drummers, tribal deities, and plaques, all crafted from brass scrap. Special to Dhokra, is the use of clay to fill the core of objects, setting it apart from other metal crafts.

What truly elevates Dhokra's allure is the hands that shape it. Their method involves annealing, where extracted metal is melted at high temperatures before being poured into molds. Dhokra's journey from primitive to modern times is marked by transformation. From wax molds, the technique evolved to employ metallic ores like bronze and brass. Even the decorations, once created with beehive wax, now include candle and paraffin wax. The artistry behind mold preparation and string making endures, though some modern tools assist today's artisans.

Despite its popularity among foreign tourists, the intricate Dhokra craft faces a decline. Escalating costs of raw materials render the figurines expensive, and dwindling demand discourages artisans. Additionally, limited knowledge and technology hamper the craft's progress.

Nonetheless, Dhokra's art perseveres through the passage of time. Craftsmen meticulously pass down their skills from one generation to the next, preserving their legacy with each unique creation. The artefacts serve as reminder themselves, that Dhokra is an embodiment of tradition, creativity, and cultural heritage. 

Related Stories

No stories found.