About this blog: Dokra is a unique and primeval art form found in parts of West Bengal, Odisha, Chhatisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. In this blog, we will share about Dokra – the handicraft and also about Dariyapur, Barddhaman, where these handicrafts are made in West Bengal. Dariyapur, Barddhaman is a lovely village and you can visit the place over a weekend from Kolkata.
Dokra handicrafts have always fascinated me. I had always wondered how these elegant pieces of handicrafts are made. The exquisite carvings and the intricate designs in the metals not only make them look like a collector’s item but also show the artistry and handwork of the artisans who make this unique pieces of art.
Dokra is known to many, but for all those who are wondering what I am speaking about, Dokra is an ancient form of craft involving non-ferrous casting using the lost-wax casting also known as ‘Cire Perdue’. In fact, it is the earliest method of non-ferrous metal casting known to civilization. The technique is primitive and can be traced back to as early as the Indus Valley Civilization. The Dokra craft is highly esteemed in all parts of the world for its primeval simplicity and its amazingly intricate motifs. Moreover, the figures have a rustic and antique finish that makes them more appealing.
Dokra – An interesting history
There is an interesting story about Dokra. It is said that almost three thousand years ago, a craftsman had gifted a Dokra necklace to the King of Bastar, now in Chhattisgarh for the queen. The King was so enthralled seeing the craftsmanship that he honored the craftsman with the title of “Ghadwa”. The word “Ghadwa” has been derived from the word “Ghalna” meaning melting and working with wax.
A few hundred years ago, the makers of Dokra from the central and the eastern parts of the country had travelled to as far as Andhra Pradesh in the south and Rajasthan in the North spreading the art form. Now almost most parts of India practice this form of art with the main areas being Bastar in Chhatisgarh, Bardhhaman, Bankura and Medinipur districts of West Bengal, Chittabori of Andhra Pradesh, Puri, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Khurda districts in Odisha and tribal communities in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh.
Dokra – the process
The making of a Dokra item in itself an elaborate process and requires much precision and concentration on the part of the crafter. The artist first makes a clay core modeled in the shape of the craft which he desires to make. Next, the clay core is covered with a layer of beeswax, nut oil or resin wood gum or tar. The outer wax layer is shaped and carved with intricate designs. It is this part which requires the concentration of the crafter. The finer the designs, the better the product becomes.
Next, a layer of clay is smeared over the wax layer covering the gaps in between the intricate carvings to form a mould or cast. A hole is then made in the mould through which the liquid metal or alloy can be poured in. Drain ducts are left for the wax which melts when the clay is baked. The liquid metal or alloy poured in hardens between the core and the inner surface of the mould.
The object is then slowly heated over a hearth. The heat melts the wax. The finer gaps left by the melting wax are then filled by the molten metal alloy. The hole that was made is to be closed with hot earth.
The liquid metal poured in hardens between the core and the inner surface of the mould. The object is then left to cool. Once cooled, the outer clay layer is then chipped off revealing the final shape of the artifact. Any extra part of metals on the figurine is also removed. The metal figure is then polished and given a lustrous finish. The unique part of this process is that a cast can be used for only one figurine. The entire process is quite time consuming and can take a couple of months to finish a single product. Obviously, the complex the artifact, the more time is required.
Dokra is one of the most beautiful and exquisite handicrafts of both West Bengal as well as India. The craft may be sold at high rates all over the world, but its makers often are not getting their due. Recently, with the initiative of West Bengal Government, the crafts of Bengal have started getting a lifeline, but it is still a long way from getting their actual recognition.
Dariyapur Bardhhaman – the Dokra village of West Bengal
In West Bengal, Dokra handicraft is made in Bikna village in Bankura and at Dariyapur in Barddhaman. We had the opportunity to visit Dariyapur located near Guskara in the Barddhaman district. Dariyapur is a small village having around 30 families of artisans practicing the dokra craft. At Dariyapur, almost everyone is a craftsman. We met a little boy who proudly showed us a small dokra figurine that he made, obviously with the help of his father.
We had visited Dariyapur when the village was hosting the Dokra handicraft Fair with the help of West Bengal Tourism Department.
Dariyapur – the quintessential Bengal village
Dariyapur village is really beautiful. Walking slowly beside the vast stretches of paddy fields, we were thrilled to see so much greenery. It is not something that we see often in Kolkata. The green was soothing and all our tiredness vanished breathing the fresh air of the village. At one side of the road were the green vistas – the crop gently dancing in the mild breeze. The other side of the road had orchards and village dwellings.
If not for the Dokra fair, Dariyapur in itself is a beautiful place to spend some relaxing time amidst the nature.
The villagers of Dariyapur are mainly involved with the production of Dokra handicrafts since generations. The villagers say that their ancestors originally arrived from Odisha and finally settled in the village.
Dariyapur Dokra Fair
The Dariyapur Dokra fair is arranged by Dariyapur Dokra Artisans’ Cooperative Industrial Society Limited. The Dokra fair was a grand affair for the villagers. They had displayed all their items for the visitors to see. The villagers were all of the Karmakar castes and their craftsmanship is indeed notable.
We were very warmly welcomed by one such family, Mangal Karmakar who took us to his house and displayed their craft to us. There were such beautiful artifacts with intricate and vivid designs. All the members of the family are involved in making the craft. Mangalda’s son also helped him in making these pieces of art. He was quite young, barely 12 years of age, but the articles that he made were simply beautiful.
They showed us around the village. As we went around, we were simply stunned to see the well-crafted and elegant handicrafts made by these villagers. We were simply mesmerized seeing the beautiful handicrafts. There were small figurines, dokra jewelleries as well as large and complicated Dokra figurines.
The village had a kiln where they heat and bake the moulds. There was an old kiln which is open and there is a newer one which is closed and less polluting. The villagers are now using the new kiln as it emits lesser smoke.
The villagers were all a friendly lot. They greeted us with such warmth and happiness that you will feel that you are not away from home. It was the last day of the fair and a community lunch was arranged for all the villagers. There was chaos all around and amidst this chaos and confusion, the youngsters of the village were arranging for the lunch. They even invited us for lunch with them.
The dokra artisans had been in oblivion for long. The cost of production of these crafts is not only time consuming, but also quite expensive because of the raw materials used for making them. Quite natutrally, the prices of the finished products are also kept high. But often, they are forced to see at low prices.
“It takes three days to make a single product”, said one of the craftsmen. “We cannot use any machinery, everything by our own hands.”
Also, a single mould is used for a single product only. Overall, turning the brass into this exquisite piece of artwork requires a lot of sweat and work besides skill and concentration.
Even after facing all the constraints, the artisans of Dariyapur continued this livelihood for generations. Although many of them have now turned to other means of livelihood, Dokra remains their first love. Their love for the craft and their persistence to continue with this age old craft makes them special. They are the upholders of a dying legacy as well as the cultural heritage of West Bengal.
These days, the artisans are getting recognized because of the efforts of some organization and the government. These organizations are now helping these villagers to contact the sellers directly without the intervention of middlemen. This way they can have better margins. With their help, these products have been displayed all over India now. The vvillagers now have formed a cooperative society that helps in these endeavours. But there is still a long way to go.
We spent a wonderful day at an equally wonderful place. Dariyapur is a great place to visit if you want a slice of village life and want to see the craftsmen at work. There is also a community centre that provides accommodation at very low cost. Around 6-8 people can be accommodated at that place.
How to reach Dariyapur?
The nearest railway station to Dariyapur is Guskara. If you are coming from Kolkata, you can take any local train from Howrah or Sealdah Station towards Guskara. You will get a number of trains from both Howrah and Sealdah. Dariyapur is 4 km from Guskara railway station and you will get local buses and autos from the station.
By road, Dariyapur is about 3.5 to 4 hours’ drive from Kolkata.
What is the best time to visit to visit Dariyapur?
You can visit Dariyapur any time during the year. An annual fair is held usually during September. If you want to see the craftsmen at work, then avoid visiting during the time of the fair. For seeing the products on display, visit the fair.
Remember, Dariyapur is located in Barddhaman district of West Bengal. During summer, the weather is quite hot and humid. Winter season will be a better time to visit Dariyapur.
Is there any place to stay at Dariyapur?
Yes, there are places to stay at Dariyapur. The community Folk Art Centre provides basic lodging and amenities for stay. It can accommodate up to 6-8 people. There are a few lodges at Guskara as well. For more accommodation options, you can also consider Bardhhaman town. Guskara is only 35 km from Barddhaman and can be easily reached by train or bus.
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