History & Culture

The uniqueness of Dhokra

Artist Purnachanda Pradhan explains Dhokra art to students. . Photo: G. Ramakrishna  

HYDERABAD: Ektal near Raigarh in Chattisgarh is a nondescript village but for the unique Dhokra art emanating from the region. Craftsperson Purnachandra Pradhan, who hails from there, was in Hyderabad to introduce Dhokra art to painting and sculpture students of Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University in Masab Tank. The workshop titled ‘Swayam Shilp’ is an initiative of JSPL Foundation to promote tribal art and crafts of the country.

Speaking in chaste Hindi, Purnachandra Pradhan looks back at the way Dhokra art found a home in Ektal. “Ektal is not a developed village. Thirty years ago, artisans who practiced Dhokra art often travelled through our village and sometimes halt in it. They got support from Bharat Bhavan Kala Sansthan and also from our villagers. Gopaldas, one Gujarati businessman from Delhi, encouraged the craft and that’s how ten families in Ektal discovered Dhokra art and began creating exquisite pieces,” he recalls.

Shift in focus

With his entire family into farming, Purnachandra toiled in the fields till he observed the artistes. And, like fish takes to swimming, he pursued the new endeavour with passion. “ Mera kaam shuru se hi accha tha ho gaya (My work was good from the beginning ),” he smiles. Gopaldas, who he considers as his guru, helped him understand the nuances and develop the skill. “Gopaldas, for whom I worked for four years, once wondered if I had a past life connection with Dhokra. He told me, ‘Pradhan ji, I taught Dhokra to others also. You are a farmer but your work is better than the villagers, who come with an art background. You must have been an artist or a sculptor in your past life. Otherwise, this mastery over Dhokra is not possible,’ he reminisces.

Purnachandra was 34 when he began to learn the art and has been in the field for 26 years now. What was it that attracted to you to the art? “I was mesmerised by Dhokra when I saw it for the first time,” he recalls.

“Since the day I started to learn, I have been doing hard work and creating with the same zeal. I have never given importance to any clients irrespective of their position. Be it a peon, collector or a minister, I charge the same amount and do not increase or decrease the price depending on the customer’s position. I believe that I should take only that amount which is my due. If I become greedy and charge more, it is a debt.”

Purnachandra, who has won different awards, supplies his creations to Delhi from where they are packed off to most tourist destinations. “A new piece is given an antique look so that tourists are attracted,” he smiles. Does it feel sad that the dealers earn a bomb from his creations? “It does not matter. We can’t establish a showroom and do business.”

Talking about the uniqueness of Dhokra art, he says, “No one can copy Dhokra. Every piece is unique as each artisan can create in his special way. With thin hands, legs and a slender body, Dhokra pieces look different. It is tribal art and they showcase it in their own way. The beauty of Dhokra is that the pieces are not perfect,” he explains and adds, “There are only a few people who can do this work, it takes time to create the art piece and that is why the production is less. That’s why not many people know about it. Villagers are also not interested in Dhokra because there is not much demand, but again it’s their fault — if your creations lack quality, the demand will be less.”

With easily available natural materials like husk, honey wax, mitti gobar and brass, Dhokra casting can be started with even Rs. 2500. “It needs planning and skilfulness and one should be sharp during the process. Even a minute’s delay will not yield results,” he adds.

Purnachandra talks about his dream of establishing a museum of his works. “I have kept one piece from each collection that I have created till now; as I want to showcase them at one place,” he smiles, adding that artisans should never be poor. “When artisans are rich, they do not have to create for others. They will create for their soul. If I had money, I would never have sold my art,” he says, a tad sadly.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 1:43:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/purnachandra-pradhan-talks-about-his-transformation-from-being-a-farmer-to-an-artisan-practising-dhokra-art/article7969864.ece

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