Rice & shine

Rice & shine

The state of Odisha has a rich range of crafts. One of these is the painstaking paddy craft locally called dhaan murti. It's associated with the adivasis of the Chotanagpur region, particularly the Munda tribe living in and around the hills of Koraput in southern Odisha. There are two elements to this craft. Firstly, it begins its journey as an object of necessity, and secondly, it's created with locally available materials. Over time, a desire to beautify the everyday article emerges and creativity soars as the craftsperson sets about adding more character to the design. Soon, from a basic utilitarian object, it becomes a work of art and thus begins the second leg of its journey. That is when it arrives on shelves with a price tag attached. It gets widely viewed, appreciated, and creates a market for itself.

Paddy is one of the most abundantly available resources throughout the country. It is also a sign of prosperity. Through dhaan murti, obeisance is paid to gods and goddesses - the providers - by crafting idols from that one grain that is most significant in all ways.

Raw beauty

A handful of raw material is all that is required for this form of creativity. Besides the all-important grains of paddy, what's needed are a few bamboo splints and spools of bright-coloured threads. Work begins by looping each grain between two bamboo splints and securing it with a thread. The splints are wire-thin and about a foot long. Once the grains have been tied till the end, the prepared splints are immersed in a vessel of turmeric water to make them supple.

When these soaked splints reach the hands of a master craftsperson, he twists and turns them with dexterity and secures them with a play of coloured threads. Soon, an idol begins taking form. Almost all gods and goddesses are created, with Lord Ganesha, Devi Lakshmi and Saraswati being the most popular. Items required for yagnas  such as the kalash, or pitcher pot, and the magnificent peacock are also crafted.

Odisha is known for its delicate silver filigree. The silver used for it is made by drawing it through a set of small holes in descending order. The process ultimately produces very fine strands of silver wires. The tying of threads in dhaan murti almost resembles the feathery filigree work. It's this neat threadwork which contrasts well with the stubby grains of paddy, providing a fine artistic balance.

Some craftworks make their way to the outside world a little shyly. Dhaan murti is one of these. At this year's fortnight-long Dastkari Haat Samiti Mela at Dilli Haat, which concluded on January 15, Sri Krushna Nayak of Koraput was a happy man. By day five, he had sold most of his statuettes and was busy at work creating more idols. "We sell well in our region but I was not sure how Delhi visitors would respond. I found that people were very curious how a few grains of paddy could be turned into idols. I explained to people why we make the idols. According to us, Lakshmi and Ganesha are worshipped for prosperity, and rice is a symbol of abundance. So, a devi and dev created in rice are ideal for prayers. They felt it was a beautiful thought and creation and bought a lot," he beams.

For a craft to survive, exposure is vital and a well-established platform goes a long way in providing that for a craftsperson. Nayak's dhaan murti sales were a testimony to that.

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