Dhokra is a tribe of metalsmiths of West Bengal. The tribe which are still nomads with few settlements now extends from Jharkhand to West Bengal and Orissa to Chattisgarh Dhokras. A few hundred years ago the Dhokras of Central and Eastern India traveled to southern India as far as Kerla and to north as far as Rajasthan and hence are now found all over India. Their technique of lost wax or cire perdue casting is named after their tribe, hence Dhokra metal casting.
The craft of lost-wax casting is an ancient one in India. The earliest known examples of cire perdue work include the famous bronze ‘dancing girl’ found in Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley. Lost wax casting subsequently spread, whether by communication or parallel invention, to most civilisations. The traditional themes of these cast metal sculptures include images of Hindu Or ‘tribal’ gods and goddesses, bowls, figures of people or deities riding elephants, musicians, horse and rider figures, elephants, cattle, and other figures of people, animals, and birds.
|Dhokra Laxmi Mask|
The Lost Wax or Cire Perdue Technique
The casting of finely detailed metal artefacts by means of the cire perdue, or lost wax, technique is almost as old as settled civilisation. The technique is simple to describe (but difficult to perfect). It involves six stages:
- Core-making: A clay core is made, slightly smaller than the final intended size of the artifact. Clay used is a mix of two-three clays – fine clay near the river beds, Clay from the Termite mound or ‘Ant Hills’ and normal sand. Cow Dung is also used along with rice husk in pre-determined proportions. The core may be hardened by firing or sun-drying.
- Modelling: A detailed wax model is built up around the core, to the thickness of metal desired in the finished object. Wax is derived from natural plant resin extracted from the Sal tree (Shorea robusta) mixed with mustard oil or from Bee-hives.
- Moulding: The wax model is coated with a thin layer of very fine clay, which will form an impression of every detail of the model. When this layer is dry and hard, further layers of clay are added to the mould. One or more pouring channels are provided, through which molten metal can run to fill the mould. This model is then left to dry for 3-4 days.
- De-waxing: The mould is pre-heated to melt the wax, and the molten wax is poured out and can be recovered for re-use. This leaves a cavity which has the exact size, shape and surface contours of the intended artefact.
- Casting: Molten metal is poured into the cavity till the point where you can see the metal on top and there is no more space for more metal and the mould left to cool for the next 5-6 hours.
- Finishing: The metal filled mould is then broken out and a semi-finished artefact is ready. Traces of baked clay are removed and surface blemishes and defects repaired. This artefacts is then depending the need processed with files or amery paper.
Like all the other crafts and craftsmen, there are many variations to the above outline.
Dhokra Products such as Dhokra Artefacts or Curios and Dhokra Jewellery are available on www.theindiacrafthouse.com on the below links:
A detailed video of this craft is available: