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High art in simple Bastar

Travel is a about destinations and all destinations have 'must-view' sites. A picturesque hill side or a placid lake is perhaps great photo-op as much as it fills the senses with the pure thrill of a perfect view.

travel Updated: Feb 23, 2012 17:36 IST

Travel is a about destinations and all destinations have 'must-view' sites. A picturesque hill side or a placid lake is perhaps great photo-op as much as it fills the senses with the pure thrill of a perfect view. But more than the sights and the sounds, it is the sheer beauty of a man-made object encompassing within it the imagination of generations and the richness of a culture that truly takes the breath away. It's a startling discovery, the real prize of the journey.


High art has drawing rooms and museums as its back drop. But tribal art of Chhatisgarh state needs no curators. It spills from thatched courtyards tucked away in dense jungles of the Bastar region of Chhatisgarh as small day-to-day use utensils and ornaments into the larger than life images that define human existence and its relation to the cosmos. It's an amazing sweep, rich in imagery and precision as well as the extant of the canvas.

Traditionally, curators have classed tribal creative outpourings as "crafts". But to turn a earthen lamp used every day to light up the home into a piece of great aesthetic value is certainly more than a craft--its art, simple in concept but sophisticated in the flourish of its execution.

The most distinguished and shockingly original is the art of dokra. It is bell metal casting technique which has evolved over the centuries and has been perfected to the last precision point. The metal-artists of the Bastar region are called ghadwas and are largely concentrated in Kondagaon and Jagdalpur towns - about four hours drive from state capital, Raipur. Interestingly, the word ghadwa means shaping and creating and over hundreds and thousands of monsoons, the ghadwa has been shaping and creating forms that add a fourth dimension to the aesthetics of humankind.

The process of casting beauties in bell metal is a tribute to native intelligence and creativity. Bell metal comprises 80 per cent copper and 20 per cent tin and is shaped using the cire perdu or the lost wax process. The process begins with preparing in clay the replica of the object to be cast. When the clay dries, fine threads of wax are tightly wound around it and further refinement is carried out using beewax. Once the model is ready it is coated with a thin layer of fine clay. It is then baked leaving a narrow vent for the wax to flow out of the model. The space created between the core and the thin clay layer is filled with molten metal and allowed to solidify. The outer layer of the clay is broken and the metal image is taken out and polished.

The seemingly simple technique requires great amount of precision and skill, specially when intricate patterns have to be woven into the artifact. The ghadwas, till date, have not incorporated any modern implements into their art form and their coiled thread technique is unique to them--it is not found anywhere else in the world.

The dusty landscape has another gem up its sleeve - iron craft or loha shilp which is mainly concentrated in Kondagaon, Gunagaon and Umargaon areas of Bastar. The ironsmiths or lohars simply beat into shape recycled scrap iron while it is being heated up in a dhukna-sar or furnace. The implements used are simple--hammer and thongs, forceps and chisel, but solid wrought iron shapes capture motion as perfectly as a video on a pause mode.

The detailing in objects and the fluidity of their frozen motion makes this art form stand out in the crowded art bazaar. Interestingly, irrespective of the size of the artifact, no joints of any kind appear in the product. It's a ceaseless, creaseless liquid flow encased in solid black wrought iron.

And from cold iron to the rich warmth of the wall paintings in Sarguja villages, the tribal way of life is a every day celebration of art in its childlike innocence and its eternal curiosity.

Ashwini is a Lucknow-based media professional who culls out travel experiences while on mundane assignments