Dhokra art of
Bastar (lost wax process)
"…India is virtually the only country in the world today which
stands with one foot
still firmly planted in a handicraft era reaching back over a
time cycle of five millenia…"
- Ruth Reeves.
Dhokra meaning "oldest" is an ancient folk craft. Some say it
originated at the time of the Sumarian Culture in 2000 BC at
the Indus Valley. Indeed many an expert see in it traces of
pre-metal works in bamboo and cane. Today, practised by
artisans who live in the vicinity of the Vindhyas and the
Eastern Ghats, in and around Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and
West Bengal, these crafts continue to represent the culture,
belief and tradition of their remarkable craftsmen and the
place they call home. Called by different names depending on
the region that they move around in, these artisans, be it the
Dhokras, Ghantrars or the Ghoruas have for countless years
created fascinating metalwork using the "Lost wax process (
Cire - perdue )". Their way of life has been a difficult one,
for they represent a section of the community with no land and
no steady income. Leading a nomadic life, their craft has been
the most enduring aspect of their existence. Slight changes
depending on the location notwithstanding, their creations
share a more or less similar birthing process.
Initially fine sand and clay is used to make the basic
mould.The process called core building varies from place to
place only in the type of materials used. Some add goat-dung
others cow-dung or husk etc to the clay, the principal
material. The wax preparation thereafter involves the use of
pure bee-wax. Found in abundance in the jungle terrain where
these craftsmen reside, the bee-wax is melted over an open
fire and strained through a fine cloth into a basin of water.
This ensuing wax is kept absolutely clean and free of
impurities. The wax thread, its thickness depending on the
wish of the workman is then prepared from this.
The thread is then wound around the clay mould until its
entire surface is covered and uniformity is given to the wax
cover. Lastly, the decorative aspects are added.
the third step, entails the adding of wax channels or runners
to the finished wax figure. These at the time of baking in the
furnace act as a freeway for the molten metal.
Next the entire model is covered with a thin layer of fine
clay and this is in turn is followed by a thicker coating of
clay, sand and cow-dung mixture.Only the tips of the wax
channel are left uncovered in this, the Covering the wax
This is followed by Crucible channeling, when clay pipes,
which connect the crucible to the wax channel are created.
Crucible Filling - Keeping in mind the ratio of 1:10 i.e. one
wax for every ten metal,broken and discarded metal scrapes are
placed in the clay crucible.The crucible is then attached to
the model.Thus the model and crucible form a single unit at
the time of firing.
The type of Furnace utilized varies according to the place of
origin of the artisan. In West Bengal this is build above the
ground with bricks, and the fuel is charged from the walls to
the center. The nature of fuel too differs from wood (green &
dry) to charcoal to cow-dung cake and coal etc. Natural drafts
and winnowing fans are used to keep the furnace blazing. The
wax gets burnt in the furnace leaving a free channel for the
metal. The moulds are taken out after the metal has melted and
placed vertically to allow the liquefied metal to flow out of
the crucible into the model. Half an hour after the moulds
have been removed water is sprinkled over them to cool them
further. They are then broken and the cast figures are
The portions that have not come out appropriate are then
retouched (finishing) and the objects are meticulously scoured
at the river with clean sand to give the products a soft
Statues representing Gods and Goddesses, figures of animals,
vases and in these modern times
photo-frames, door handles etc. are all a part of these
craftsmen' portfolio. Belonging to that rare
breed of items that assume the role of artifacts with the
passage of time, the Dhokra crafts have the
potential to become a collector's passion.
However this craft, now shackled by lack of patronage needs to
"orient itself to the changing environment......