The art of a cart

Craft Culture

The art of a cart

In the distant past, a bullock cart was the proud possession of its owner, in the same way as the owner of a car today. It was the chief mode of transport. Like today’s car, the bullock cart came in a variety of models and often decked up for special occasions.

However, despite all these years, bullock carts have refused to die in the collective consciousness of people — at least among those with an artistic bent of mind. It has now metamorphosed into a canvas for artists.

Just as children love to play with toy cars, children of ancient civilisations and medieval times loved to play with toy carts. This is evident from a clay bullock cart found at Mohenjo-Daro from the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. Some of the village sites at an early stage contained tiny carts with clay wheels. There were even tiny clay pots carried in the carts. A charming copper model of a cart found at Harappa resembles the ekka of the present day with a canopy.

In medieval times, reference is made to toy carts in Mricchakatika (The Little Clay Cart), a Sanskrit play written by Shudraka around 2nd century BC. In the play, Charudatta makes Vasantasena his mistress and she eventually meets his young son. During the encounter, the boy is distressed because he has recently enjoyed playing with a friend’s toy cart of solid gold and no longer wants his own clay cart that his nurse has made for him. Taking pity on him in his sadness, Vasantasena fills his little clay cart with her own jewellery, heaping his humble toy with a mound of gold.

Making of wooden bullock carts, with good quality junglewood, was a great artisanal tradition in many parts of the country. For instance, in Karnataka’s Ganjam area, near Srirangapattana, artisans were engaged in the making and repair of bullock carts for generations. The Ganjam cart was known for its durability and excellent craftmanship.

Today, with lack of demand, this has become a dying craft. Yet, it is alive in a different form. Though no longer in use, bullock carts have been restored and displayed as novelty. Some of the carts used in ceremonies are ornately carved.

Wheels of carts are used as garden decor and give a rustic touch in public places and resorts. Bullock yoke, the wooden beam used between a pair of bullocks, and the ironwork attached to it, are also collected as items for display. As a form of home decor, there are scaled-down models and miniature bullock carts in wood, ceramic and metal in dhokra tribal art. There are framable photographs, taken in the early days of photography, and lithographs of bullock carts.

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