Making of a masterpiece
Dhokra is one of the most ancient crafts known to man and dates back to the time of Mohenjodaro civilization. This non-ferrous metal casting using the lost-wax hollow casting technique is particularly famous in Odisha. Its intrinsic simplicity and varied utilization has made dhokra a much-loved craft in India and many countries across the world.
Stage 1 – The Dhokra process begins by developing a clay core, along the lines of the actual finished product. Clay is mixed with chopped jute and/or rice husk and the product is crafted skillfully. This is then placed under the sun to dry. In some parts of Odisha, Plaster of Paris is used instead of clay, to ensure uniformity of size and shape.
Stage 2 – The clay core is then coated with a second layer of fine, wet clay. Fine clay is produced by grinding the available clay with a stone. It is then sieved through a cotton cloth to filter out the larger sand particles. Water is added to make a syrupy consistency and this clay mixture is plastered on to the initial clay mould. The figure is laid out under the sun to dry.
Stage 3 – The next step is to convert bees wax to the form of both noodles/strands and sheets. Wax strands are made by extrusion. The extruder and the wax are first heated lightly. The wax is kneaded by hand and pushed inside the extruder. There are sieves with different sizes of holes to make thicker or thinner strands. Wooden handles are used to increase leverage on the extruder. The whole thing is held between stomach and the pelvis, and the craftsperson uses great force to push the wax through. The strands are cooled with water and are ready to use.
Sheets of wax are prepared by beating wax against a wooden plank with a wooden tool. Mustard oil or water is used as a coating to prevent sticking.
Stage 4 - The fourth stage is to cover the clay core with wax. Wax sheets are used for making solid objects while wax strands are used for making lighter and fine objects with ‘jaali’ work. Experiments in design are made at this stage by dipping the core in melted wax, pouring wax, using strands in an abstract way, using sheets that are cut in an abstract way, etc.
Whatever in made at this stage will be exactly replicated in brass after the casting. The wax has to be spread evenly over the whole object, so that when molten brass flows through, there are no gaps to stop it. A blow torch can also be used to set the wax nicely.
Stage 5 - Now the pure Bees Wax mould is ready to take a clay coating for the third time. This is the most delicate stage in the process. Coarser clay is used to cover the whole mould again. A hole is left at the top to allow molten metal to enter into the capsule to replace the wax. A cup shape is made at the top to hold the brass. This is left in the sun for a few hours, until it is completely dry.
Stage 6 - Broken brass pieces are weighed and put into the cup in the mould and sealed with another cup of clay. The craftsman knows approximately how much brass a particular piece will need. Too little or too much brass will spoil the entire design. Scrap brass or rejected brass items and extra bits from previous castings are also used.
Stage 7 - Now the clay capsule is put into a furnace (Bhati). The furnace is usually a pit dug on the ground with bricks and stone. Here the heat is raised to melt the brass. This normally takes about two hours. The craftsman knows when the brass melts by the color of the flames, which turn greenish. This is learnt through the experience of many years. At the right time, the clay mould is taken out of the furnace and is turned upside down. The mould is shaken a little to allow the brass to flow through the mould. It is then left to cool.
Stage 8 - After cooling, the clay is broken to reveal the DHOKRA object inside. This is cleaned, first with pliers, hammers and chisels, and then buffed with a wire brush and cotton brush. Voila! The magnificently crafted dhokra object is all yours now.