Situated in the Deccan, biogeographically Chhattisgarh, encompassing an area of 1,35,194 sq. kms, 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 25.54 million (Census 2011). Prominent tribal groups include Hill and Bison Horn Marias and Muria Gonds, Dhruvaas, Bhatras, and Halbas. However, the process of amalgamation with the adjoining areas now sees the immigration of merchants.
The authentic handicrafts, like any other element of culture, run through generations. All available natural resources are utilised to their optimum potential, honed and perfected over generations. Two prominent sculpture techniques have been briefly introduced here.
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 is then coiled into shape. The same technique was translated into metal only much later, with forest dwellers being dependent on natural products 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.
ENDNOTE: 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