Lalbazar in Kolkata is turning into a hub for 5,000 years old Dhokra metal craft 

With a significant number of artists retreating and rusticating at Lalbazar, a small heritage village in Kolkata, it has become a place to learn traditional  lost-wax metal casting art as master craftsmen impart design lessons to students in workshops organised by  Kolkata’s Chalchitra Academy.

Nestled in the thick grove  with a sparse population, Lalbazaar was hitherto a nondescript village. Today it has become a centre for Dhokra, a metalcraft popular in Bengal and Jharkhand on account of skilled artists returning to the place and practising the ancient art. Bikna in Bankura and Dariyapur in Bardhaman are majorly the places famous in West Bengal for dokra work. 

But if you notice carefully, the quality of their products is deteriorating. There is a lot of polishing and colouring, something that is not done in dokra. We are trying to keep things original,” said Mrinal Mandal, an alumnus of the Government Arts College who chanced upon Lalbazar, sitting on West Bengal’s border with Jharkhand, in 2018, while trying to document folk art.

Curating a Dokra workshop, organised by Kolkata’s Chalchitra Academy, Mrinal Mandal, an alumnus of the Government Arts College mentions,” if one  notices carefully, the quality of their products is deteriorating. There is a lot of polishing and colouring, something that is not done in dokra. We are trying to keep things original.” 

He brought in six artisans from Bikna, including two master craftsmen — Amar Karmakar and Mahadeb Karmakar to teach the technique  in the workshop.

“My greatest satisfaction is that at Khwaabgram, we are practising this ancient craft in its original form, without any painting or polishing. We are reviving the original tribal motifs,” Mr. Mandal added

Being a demanding and intricate art, Making dhokra artefact  is a difficult process. Each figurine takes about a month to make. There are many processes involved, for which seven to eight varieties of clay is required, apart from other raw materials. 

What works in our favour is that the raw materials, including the metal, are easily available here [in Lalbazar], hence the workshop will continue year  on and production too will continue. The craftsmen have already created about 300 pieces of art so far, which have gone to shops in Kolkata and also abroad. Once the villagers pick up the art, they will substantially add to their income,” he said.

He also began teaching them art. Today, many of them also earn a decent income by selling paintings and handicrafts to tourists. Students learning the crafts are enjoying the workshop and hope to master the skill some day and make money selling dhokra work.

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