Craft uninterrupted

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Dhokra in settingA substantial part of Odisha falls within India's central tribal belt. Due to the coming together of peoples far removed from the development that has engulfed India over the past decades, and a land rich in mineral resources, the craft of Dhokra has persisted for over 4000 years. One of the earliest known examples of Metal casting using the lost-wax technique (cire per due) is the Bronze figurine of a dancing girl, excavated in the 19th century in Mohenjo Daro, present day Pakistan. To witness the same process by artisans today was an experience with no comparison. While searching for Dhokra artefacts for RoadsWellTraveled's Kalinga collection, we travelled to the Dhenkanal district where the Sithulia community has long been practicing this craft. Traveling through rural India isn't always easy. Addresses barely exist and Google Maps hasn't yet discovered many villages (as if they don't exist). And so disconnected is rural India from urban India that our guides and drivers rarely have heard of villages, let alone have directions to them, when we announce our next destination. So was the story of our visit to the villages around Dhenkanal. However, what never fails is rolling down the car windows at every intersection, and relying on others' knowledge of the area. People in India are helpful. :)

On approaching the village, the car needed to halt at a point since the track ahead was not meant for vehicular traffic. I am extremely romantic about villages and life in villages and small towns (might Malgudi Days have something to do with it?). Walking into the village, I took precisely 2 seconds to start imagining it as an ideal setting for innumerable childhoods spent climbing trees, and lives that have escaped the intrusion of televisions, refrigerators and computers. Was it this simplicity that allowed this village and its people to perpetuate a craft for so long?

On the way to Dhenkanal, Odisha

A village of Dhokra crafsmen in the Dhenkanal district of Odisha, India

Sithulia village in Odisha's Dhenkanal district.

We found a Dhokra family in every second home on the village's arterial road. Little clay figures drying in the sun were the tell-tale signs of the magic that was taking place in small thatched spaces inside. Ever welcoming, the artisans showed us their work and took some time out to talk to us, regaling us with stories from their lives. We learnt that Dhokra has been a grounding force for some, keeping them out of alcoholism or unemployment, to which many from the village have succumbed. While being devoted to the art, it is oftentimes hard to make ends meet. The conditions they live in are tough and with little value attached to the art, their bread-winner, it is difficult to encourage their children into the craft.

Video - Dhokra in the making

Oblivious to the camera, two Sithulia children at home on a summer afternoon. Dhenkanal distruct in Odisha, India.

A village of Dhokra crafsmen in the Dhenkanal district of Odisha, India

A Dhokra craftsman in Odisha, India

A Dhokra craftsman in Odisha, India

A Dhokra craftswoman in Odisha, India

A Dhokra craftsman in Odisha, India

RoadsWellTraveled can only hope that these artisans and their children can be our companions on our long and everlasting journey. Explore RoadsWellTraveled’s Dhokra collection here.