Crafting Anecdotes

By: Staff Reporter and Prasad
Nestled amidst the mountain ranges of Mekal, Sihava and Ramgiri and watered by numerous rivers - Mahanadi, Shivnath, Indravati, Hasdo and Kharun – Chhattisgarh owns an ancient cultural heritage that begins from the Stone Age.
Livelihoods

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Evidence of the ancient people of Chhattisgarh has been found in the hills of Raigarh, Singhanpur, Kabra, Basnajhar, Boslada and Ongana Mountains of ‘Chitwandongri’ in Rajnandgaon District. The stone equipments made and used by ancient people have been found on the coasts of Mahanadi, Mand, Kanhar, Manihari and Kelo rivers. The rock paintings of Singhanpur and Kabra Mountains now inspire contemporary painters who emulate the style of our ancient artists. Known as Dakshin Kausal, references of Chhattisgarh is replete in the Ramayana – Lord Rama is documented to have entered Dandkaranya from the northeast of Kausal to spend part of his exile here. Historical records of Samudragupta Prayag eulogy present a vivid description of Kausal. From the 6th century to mid 12th century Sarbhpurnima, Somvanshi, Panduvanshi, Kalchuri and Nagwanshi rulers dominated the region. In fact various documents, copper plaques, coins and archeological findings apprise researchers about the cultural heritage and political development of the time. The region was also under the regime of Marathas from 1732 to 1818 and was later brought under the Nagpur presidency by the British.

Situated in the Deccan, biogeographically Chhattisgarh, encompassing an area of 1,35,194 sqkms, is endowed with a natural diversity that is unparalleled in its affluence and variety. The diverse ethnicity of the people of Chhattisgarh creates a festive revelry that is unique to this State. The total population of the State is 20.83 million (Census 2001), which constitutes 2.03 per cent of the country’s population. 79.93 per cent of the population is rural with a population density of 154 persons per km2. Scheduled Tribes account for 31.8 per cent of the total population and the total livestock population is 13.5 million (Livestock Census 2003). Prominent tribal groups include Hill and Bison Horn Marias and MuriaGonds, Dhruvaas, Bhatras, and Halbas. However the process of amalgamation with the adjoining areas now sees the immigration of merchants. In addition, communities of Telegu speaking people from Andhra have also made their home here.

Nothing is more distinctive of the Chhattisgarhi people than their love for music, dance and liquor. The harvest of new crop is rejoiced with the Nawakhai festival where the goddess earth is worshipped in thanks giving and partaking of the new crop is sanctioned. The tribal society is governed by profession based caste system where the Ghadwas are blacksmiths, Mahar or Gandas – weavers, Chamars – leather workers, Kallar and Sundis – distillers, Rawats – cowherds, each providing a key service in maintaining the fine balance of the tribal society. All festivals and fairs reverberate with the beats of the tudbudi and dhapra drums, melody of muhri or flute and strains of the sitara, the string instruments. Merriment and feasts abound as men and women join in dance all through the day with sulfi or mahua – the favourite inebriant, being offered to all. Ubiquitous brew sellers, dot roads with their sparkling steel handi offering potent sulfi, extracted from the fishtail palm, along with flower brew mohua.

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While its soils yield forests of wood and its depths hold rich ores of metal, yet the pliant clay moulded into three dimensional forms provided the requisite urge to enact the symbiosis of man and environment. Terracotta pottery are typically attributed with meaning deeper than expressed through their physical form, a tradition extended to all handicrafts created by the Chhattisgarh tribal people. Ritualistic offerings in form of animal figures of elephants, horses, bulls, and clay masks constitute an integral part of terracotta craft.

Considering its nascent status, Chhattisgarh has made marked progress in enhancing tourism by showcasing its rich culture. The art and craft of Chhattisgarh besides contributing a primary share to the State exchequer has also risen to fame through the dexterity of its artisans. Wood carvings, bell metal handicraft, terracotta figurines, tribal jewellery, paintings, and clay pieces are some of the specialities from the State. The authentic handicrafts, like any other element of culture, runs through generations. The vibrancy in each depiction is an outcome of its ageless past combined with contemporary influences. Since the survival for the ethnic population is dependent on the unfathomable ways of the ecosystem, their environment’s exuberance, with all its subtleties has left an indelible mark on their imagination. All available natural resources are utilised to their optimum potential, honed and perfected over generations. Almost all objects of daily use surpass their original function and are transformed into objects of great aesthetic value. As a result, what has evolved is an indigenous technology that is simple in concept but sophisticated in practice. Nowhere is this more clearly reflected than in the construction of their houses. The fences erected around the house are built with bamboo sticks. Pigsties and hencoops are similarly constructed. The houses themselves are made of mud, wood, bamboos and thatch, all materials secured from their immediate environment, and skillfully utilised. The Chhattisgarhi tribals also use cowrie shells, interlaced with mirrors and fabric to create interesting objects equipped to serve modern homes. The toran – decorative door hangings, place mats, boxes, potholders, hammocks, bags and towels and several useful artifacts, woven with ivory sisal fibres obtained from swaying marsh reeds of Bastar are sourced for sale.

DHOKRA: The bell metal craft is practised extensively in the areas of Lalitpur, Raigarh, Sarguja and most importantly in Bastar. Dhokra essentially refers to the casting of bell metal or brass using the ‘lost-wax’ technique. In Chhattisgarh, it is the Ghadwa community that is associated with this craft. Interestingly, in local etymology, Ghadwa means ‘to shape’. A variety of products are created by the Ghadwas for local use such as effigies of local deities, vessels and jewellery. The traditional lost wax technique is simple and ideal for use in tribal settings. The craftsman begins by winding a slim thread of wax over the contours of a clay core. It is then thickly coated with fine clay obtained from termite hills, and baked on drying, leaving a narrow vent to melt away the wax. The vacuum created between the core and the clay layer is filled with molten metal, which is then allowed to cool down and solidify. The outer clay mould is cracked open, revealing the beauty of the final sculpture. Simple as this whole process seems, it requires great precision and skill. The metal must be able to flow uniformly and freely through the narrow spaces, and replace the wax without forming any bubbles or gaps. Cow dung, paddy husk and red soil are also used in the manufacture of Dhokra artifacts. Of all the raw materials used by the Ghadwas, the most important is beeswax. Besides the essential contouring, wax wires and pieces are also used for decorations required for finishing the artifacts. It is used because of its extraordinarily high plastic content and pliability, generating a rudimentary but powerful stimulus for the intricate design of the artisans. Examples of lost wax casting (also known as ‘cire Perdue’) are found across the globe, but the coiled thread technique is unique to Bastar. The traditional baskets provide a clue to the origin of this craft. The basket makers would wind grass around a rope, which was then coiled into shape. The same technique was translated into metal only much later, with forest dwellers being dependent on natural product long before they began to use metal. Metal anklets with basket weave motifs, and beautiful containers reminiscent of wicker baskets also point towards such a transition.

LOHA SHILPA : The dark raw forms of the metal artifacts and figurines of Chhattisgarh, appear as a reflection of its own people. Both share a coarseness that is underlined by quiet elegance and dignity. The raw material used for this craft is predominantly recycled scrap iron, with the rich ore mines of Cherangdungri occasionally acting as the supply source. The method of production is simple, yet effective. Metal is made pliable by beating it in furnaces and then shaping it carefully into a basic form. Mastery over the craft is evident in the fact that no joints appear in the products. On completion, a coating of varnish is applied to enhance its lustre.

TERRACOTTA: The art of sculpting clay is the point of genesis of Chhattisgarh’s artistic expressions. The expertise and skills required for producing the terracotta artifacts have been handed down from one generation to another of the Kumhara community. The Kumharas source the raw material from the Indravati River. The upper river soils are used to create the clay forms by using rudimentary tools – potters wheel and wooden spatula. Many hours in a gentle slow fire imparts strength and stability to the creations. They are finally coated with the deep river soils that lend a dark sienna tone to the elegant figures. Potters create matkas, pots, handiyas, bowls and lamps. Examples of immense sophistication and ingenuity of indigenous technology are the water carrier or surahi, and the wick lamp. Contemporary forms like pen holders, lamps, and paperweights are also created, in keeping with modern day requirements.

KASHTA SHILPA: Bastar’s extensive forests offer a gamut of fine trees – sheshum, rosewood and teak traditionally thrive in the region. Initially, the tribals used the forests to source wood for basic firewood and shelter needs. Over time they learnt to use wood for carving and refined forms of carpentry, precipitating in the emergence of a community of people skilled in this craft, the Badais. These crafts people then diversified into two groups – one making agricultural instruments and others crafting decorative and totemic pillars. Simple tools made of wood or bamboo are used – kaas is employed to remove the bark of the trees and scrape the wood surface. When carving, scraping and shaping has to be done, the poh chisel and the smaller salapoh are used. One of the places where the badais skill can be seen is the ghotul. The youth dormitories of the Muria once stored dancing stilts, carved wooden head gear or kutual, and large drums used during the dances. Even today, the boys gift intricately carved wooden combs to the girls as a token of their affection. Reflecting the mood at the ghotul, are doors and pillars carved with elaborate images of amorous couples indulging in merry making. Motifs such as combs, sun and moon, floral and geometric designs also appear alongside. Beautiful wooden ceilings, doors and lintels using varied species of wood are commonly used in the homes of the region. The craftsmen also make pipes, masks and sculptures using fragrant varieties of wood.

OTHER CRAFTS: Bamboo products and baskets are an essential part of tribal life. Bamboo is used for constructing houses, making bows and arrows, handles for agricultural tools besides other utilitarian products. The Bansods of Chhattisgarh make more than two hundred different varieties of bamboo articles including a large assortment of baskets. The Kamar tribes of Raipur are adept at making baskets and other items like fish and bird traps, mats and other objects from bamboo.

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END NOTE: The vastness of the area, the myriad tribes and their subtly varying cultural practices, the near impenetrability of unending stretches of deep forest, and the multiplicity of ancient ruins present a kaleidoscope of civilisations, offering a peek into pristine cultures that date back thousands of years. Bastar, in retrospect, is a veritable montage. A Shilpgram has been recently established by the Chhattisgarh Government to preserve and promote the tribal art and handicrafts of the area.

Chhattisgarh Tourism Board, Paryatan Bhawan, G.E. Road, Raipur – 492 006, Chhattisgarh, India, Tel: +91-771-4066 415, Fax: +91-771-4066 425, Email: contactus@chhattisgarhtourism.net, Web: www.chhattisgarhtourism.net

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