In India, Dhokara craftsmen are concentrated in the tribal belts of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. Traditionally, the market for Dhokara products was largely local. Metal workers would display their goods in the local village markets and fairs. They were restricted to the materials of their immediate physical surroundings and the process of Dhokara also matched their nomadic lifestyle – they had no fixed workshop, nor any heavy, large tools. They used wax, resin and firewood from the forests, clay from the river bed and made the firing oven in a hole dug in the ground.
Today, the craft of Dhokara is struggling. Firstly, some of its practitioners have come to perceive their own work as being `primitive.' This is often fuelled by the fact that although their craft is laborious, often they are not able to sell their products for an equitable price. Living as most of them do, in poverty-stricken rural areas, these craftsmen often do not have easy access to large urban markets. The presence of cheaper imitations cast in permanent casts has further added to their woes.
Did You Know?
- Here's a tip to recognise true Dhokara Metalwork -- on close inspection, one should be able to discern thin strands of metal, coiled to create its form. On human or animal figures, the facial features, adornments etc look as though they have been separately moulded and fixed.
The first stage of Dhokara casting is the crafting of the clay inner core, always in a size slightly smaller than the size desired. The process of preparing this clay differs from region to region: some use soft clay with dung, some use clay mixed with sand, while others use fine rice husk mixed with clay.
The inner core is then dried thoroughly in the sun. In the monsoons, it may be dried over very low heat. Another layer of clay is applied and similarly dried.beeswax which is the best for finer work (in fact, for smaller and finer pieces, they don't use the clay core, but work directly with the wax, using balls or rods and flattening them out to model the desired shape). In Orissa, craftsmen use a mixture of Bee's wax and rosen (a secretion obtained by slashing the bark of pine family trees) mixture. Molten wax is pushed through a sieve to make thin strands. These are usually made in quantities and are hung from a horizontal bamboo pole. Their thickness varies according to the kind of motifs.
These strands are then wrapped around the clay core. Details of the figure are worked out, and tiny loops and curves are made using the fingernails as the main tool. The motifs vary from group to group.
Then, very smooth textured clay is prepared, mixed with water and sieved to extract impurities like stone chips. The wax model is completely covered with this clay, so that it takes the shape of the object to the minutest details. A small pellet of wax is fixed at one point on the wax work and is left uncovered. This finally becomes the channel through which the molten wax flows out.
The mould is then covered with coarser clay mixed with rice husk, keeping a funnel shape around the wax pellet which is left uncovered.
This is dried in the sun and then fired in a pit furnace. The mould is put in, and taken out when the wax has melted inside it. The craftsman then drains the wax (which can be reused).
Then bits and pieces of brass are inserted into the funnel of the mould, and its mouth covered with thick clay. The furnace is fired to a higher temperature so the brass melts and flows into the space vacated by the wax.
When the mould is cooled by sprinkling water upon it, the clay covering is broken. The brass casting is removed, cleaned and buffed for some extra shine.
The metal used by the Dhokara Kamars is usually from old utensils collected from the villages, heated and broken into smaller pieces. A general rule of thumb is that the weight of metal needed to cast a certain piece is approximately ten times the weight of the wax used to form the piece to be cast.
The Gharua or Dhokara Kamars of West Bengal are the traditional metal craftsmen of West Bengal. They are related to the Situlias of Orissa and the Malhars of Bihar. They mostly inhabit the areas of Bankura, Burdwan, Midnapore and Purulia, in the vicinity of the Chhota Nagpur area of Jharkhand.
In modern India, Dhokara craftsmen have reached a wider market, thanks to the efforts of various urban-based marketing organizations. This has lead to a degree of financial prosperity, and has changed their way of living. They are no longer nomadic and have settled into small colonies. They also do not work entirely on their own, receiving many inputs from designers and buyers from outside the country.
Today, the biggest problem that Dhokara craftsmen face is how to sustain their cultural identity – a problem shared by most traditional craftsmen around the world. Contrary to the common belief that Dhokara is a primitive and hence a low-tech craft -- in reality, it is a highly technical craft and requires a lot of experience and a high level of skill. Perfecting this craft is the work of a lifetime under close guidance from senior members of the family at the learning stage. Thus, it is a family craft. Several families live in modules and work together, sharing all their facilities and resources and the craft process is entwined with the daily routine.