Ektaal—Dhokra Art Crafts Village of Chhattisgarh

Ektaal, a crafts village located near Raigarh (state of Chhattisgarh) is a small and very basic village. What makes it special is the fact it is home to many national and state level award-winning artisans. It’s virtually an artisan market, where each family specialises in the craft that has been passed down from generations. Most of the villagers in Ektaal belong to Jhara tribe, which is a sub-tribe of Gonds.

The village, its earthiness, the welcoming smiles, the ease with which they mention tours to Europe and other art fairs, even as the women stand by shyly, is a story in itself. As one takes in their mud-walled huts, it’s difficult to absorb the fact that Ektaal is home to over 45 national and state awardees. There’s Ram Lal Jhara, who received a national award in 1988 and was honoured for his depiction of the Shravan Kumar episode in the Ramayana. Meanwhile, 70-year-old Gobind Ram Jhara learnt the craft at the age of 10, received the national award in 1988, the Shikhar Samman from Madhya Pradesh government in 1984 and has toured Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore to popularise the Dokra tradition.

Mrs. Budhiarin Devi’s latest creation won her the state level award. These expert artisans travel around the country showcasing their art. From time to time they get invited to conduct workshops on their craft in other states. Their craft has in a way become their vehicle to see the world, while providing the world a window into their own culture.

The whole village is engaged in making handmade metal craft popularly known as Dhokra art. They continue to use the age-old technique of Lost Wax method that was used even during the times of Indus Valley Civilization. Designs are made on a clay tablet with threads of bee wax. Wax strands are also made using a small wooden machine using the simple pressing method. Another layer of clay is added to mold after the wax settles. And then the molten metal is put between the two clay layers. The wax burns out and the metal settles in its place. When the clay mold is broken the shining metal acquires the desired shape.

The women are engaged in laying the design part on clay tablets. While men take care of the rest of the activities like making wax stands, putting the clay molds on fire, breaking it, arranging the finished product. Finally, making an effort to sell it.

Most of the designs revolve around tribal deities and folk characters and their stories. They are slowly trying to come up with designs on usable items like cutlery etc.

Adapting the lost wax technique to create metal art, they make anything from traditional lamps to decorative hooks and animal curios in a day to complex figurines that takes months to finish.

The icons capture scenes of every day life as craftsmen draw inspiration from the immediate natural environment—trees, birds, horses, elephants, deer, spring, rituals and village life. No matter what the art form, each item is intricately handcrafted making it an exquisite piece of art.

Despite their humble roots, the craftsmen have traveled to Paris, Rome and London to participate in fairs and exhibitions. It is quite a remarkable achievement how a remote, obscure village has left a stamp on the world map, literally in molten metal.

GETTING THERE

Located in Pussore Tehsil of Raigarh District in Chhattisgarh, Ektal is 18 km from the capital. It is a 30 min drive along the Kelo river to the craft village. With many hotels in the Raigarh city, it is the ideal base to cover Ektal, which has no facilities.

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