A group of students were huddled together under one of the sheds at the National Crafts Museum recently, getting their hands dirty in the mud. It was no less than a treasure hunt for Delhi College of Art and Triveni Kala Sangam pupils who were learning Dokra art or bell-metal craft from Purnachanda Pradha, awarded the best artisan by the Ministry of Rural Development in 2009, for his mastery in this tribal art form.
Dokra art, an ancient method of making metal artefacts is supposed to be 4,000 to 5,000 years old and is usually associated with tribal population living in Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa. The complicated, manifold process requires right participation and measurement at every stage of the making, something Pradha has been effortlessly doing for the past 25 years.
“I was basically a farmer’s son. But one day, I just took to this process and made some decorative items. People were impressed by the outcome, as it is a difficult craft to master and I managed to get it right in one go,” recollects Pradha who lives in Chhattisgarh.
Pradha, along with his son, was in the capital for a week-long workshop ‘SwayamShilp’, organised by Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) Foundation to provide artists from the tribal hinterland of the country a platform to preserve and propagate their art forms.
“Exposure to different art forms is extremely important if one wants to grow as an artist,” says Shashi Tripathi, one of the participants. “I am not making something
grand, but I am learning something new.”
According to Vipeksha Gupta, an artist and a participant, getting to interact with the artists directly for tribal art is very rare. “You can get in touch with modern and contemporary artists, but to meet the tribal artist and learn from him directly is a good experience,” Gupta tells Metrolife.
Most of the tribal art forms derive inspiration from local folklores and tales, and so is the case with Dokra art, motifs of which are inspired by indigenous folk culture. However, the making process is multi-layered and uses natural materials to give it a shape.
According to Pradha, the most authentic and organic way of making these artefacts begins with using termite mounds, easily available in forests and open space, mixing it with rice husk and kneading it like a dough.
“Use this dough to make a mould of any shape and then use pure bee wax to give it limbs and decorate it your way, while leaving a duct at the bottom of the object. Coat it properly with two layers – first with clay and then with red clay,” says Pradha. “Proper drying process should be followed after each process,” he adds.
The mould is then cooked over a furnace where the wax melts and drains out from the opening. After this, molten metal (mainly brass and bronze) is poured inside the duct of the mould. It is allowed to settle for some time and the cast is then broken, giving way to an elegant figurine.
“The process takes a lot of time, so we make them in bulk,” says Pradha, adding
the most important thing is that none of the designs can be copied.
“It is impossible to replicate the design because of the multi-layered process,” he says.