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Dhokra Metal Casting Craft of Orissa

 

Dhokra or bell metal craft is a tribal craft that combines metallurgical skills with wax technique to create things of distinctive beauty. The same technique had been used by the Mohenjodaro craftsman to cast the bronze figurine of a dancing girl some 4500 years ago. It is thus a very old form of craft that is still practiced in parts of Orissa. Tribal families in villages near Dhenkanal town cast boxes, figures of gods and goddesses, and lamps using the lost wax technique. In the process these tribal family have successfully preserved the ancient Orissa Craft of Dhokra Casting and have taken it to new heights of perfection.

Craftspersons are spread out throughout the state, making various religious and household utensils. The Kansari community of Orissa is expert at making Dhokra cook ware. Such materials have a gold tinted surface and are made from an alloy of copper and brass. It is the use of bee wax that makes it possible for the craftsmen to give shape to various structures. The entire process involves certain steps:

Step 1: Using rather coarse clay the shilpi makes a core vaguely resembling the end product. The clay core is hardened either by drying in the sun or by mildly firing in an oven.Dhokra Craft of Orissa

Step 2: Drawing the bees-wax into stripes and thin wires, the artist wraps them around the clay core to produce a replica that is smooth and expressive. Then they add the decorative features and wax channels. The channels, during baking in the furnace will act as a freeway for the molten metal.

Step 3: The replica is coated with a thin layer of very fine wet clay. This layer is sun dried, and further layers of clay added. The mould is now ready. The artist must now become a metal worker. A clay funnel is added for molten metal to flow inside the mould.

Step 4. The mould is carefully heated so that the wax melts and is lost (hence the name lost-wax technique) leaving behind a cavity.

Step 5. It involves actual casting in a furnace. The cavity is filled with molten metal, and the mould is left to cool.

Step 6. The clay mould is broken and the artifact taken out for cleaning and polishing. A new artifact has been created out of metal scrap. The Dhokra shilpis often work with brass (copper + zinc) or bronze (copper + tin). If the tin content is high, the alloy is called bell metal. Unlike in the case of potters, where traditionally the turning wheel is reserved for men, all parts of Dhokra work can be done by either men or women. Children learn the craft through imitation and instruction.It is entirely through parental guidance that this craft of Orissa is handed over from one generation to other.

 

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