I have travelled through India many times but I have only recently perceived the beauty of tribal art: the Adivasis, the first inhabitants in Sanskrit, do not let themselves be met so easily.
They live far from the usual tourist places: in the center of India in the states of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jarkhand or in the North-East quarter: Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Nagaland, Manipur... You have to want to know them, to travel a lot of kilometers and not to rely on the tourist guides.
This is how I was able to discover this Dokhra art in all tranquility, alone. The Adivasis are very welcoming (like most tribal peoples and Indian people). Their door is always open, they always have time to chat, to show you their work, their family or simply to share the moment.
The Adivasis practice many arts: the painting which is, nowadays, more and more recognized at the international level, especially that of the Gonds, the Wharlis, but also weaving (ceremonial clothes, stoles...), masks, jewels, wood carvings (totem, funerary stele...), dances, tattoos...
The Dokra art concerns, specifically, the craft of brass statues.
The term Dokhra originally refers to a nomadic ethnic group of craftsmen from Bastar. Dhokra art is practiced by different communities such as Situlias, Ghantaras, Thataries, Ghasis, Bathudis... who spread all over India after migrating from the state of Chattisgarh.
This art has not changed for thousands of years (over 4000 years).
A deep connection with nature
The sacred is an integral part of tribal life: traditionally, artists do not consider themselves as such, they are "simply" one of the actors of the ritual: thus, among the Bihls, a mural painting is made during a wedding ceremony; it is ephemeral and the author does not sign its realization.
The Adivasis are animists while having often integrated Hindu deities into their cosmogony. Danteshwari ("issue" of Sati), who according to the legend saved the king of Bastar in the 14th century, is thus honored by all the tribes and more especially, every year during the festival of Dussehra.
The animist peoples do not feel any separation between them and nature: any living being but also the stones, the wind... is inhabited by the spirits. They cannot therefore conceive of exploiting or destroying nature: they take what they need to live and do not miss the opportunity to celebrate this link that unites them to their essence.
Thus I am amazed by their capacity to express the impulse of life in their artistic expression: it is a question of honoring the sacredness and the beauty which surround us, which are at the same time indissociable and interdependent.
Of course the divine is expressed through totems, frescoes, dedicated statues but it is enough to look at the portrait of a woman, a musician, a dancer... to feel life in its pure state.
The statues representing animals are also very present whether they are domestic or wild: deer, turtle, elephant, buffalo and bull, fish, lion/tiger, horses, monkey but also birds such as the peacock, the owl .... Animals are part of everyday life but above all they embody certain divine qualities: thus the horse evokes the notions of freedom, movement, desire while the peacock expresses beauty.....
Scenes of everyday life such as a woman returning from the river with a jar or fishes, another cutting an eggplant (Brinjal) or grinding or winnowing grain, washing clothes ... a lumberjack returning from the forest with an ax on his shoulder, an archery shooter or a swinging couple bring us into contact with a simple reality, without frills, directly with the essential. Daily life is magnified
. It is the expression of the sacred in everyday life.
The notions of fertility and abundance are paramount. The spring and harvest festivals invite to call and honor prosperity but it is also the case when women are represented with their children.
There is no separation between the sacred and the everyday: of course there are specific times to venerate the divinities (festivals, ceremonies, weddings...) but it is rather a question of living in harmony with the manifestation of the divine in the most trivial gestures.
Dokra Art: A great freedom of expression
A great number of animist deities (Jetku and Mikti...) are also realized and contribute to make us discover the richness of their culture and its great diversity.
Music, practiced especially during ceremonies and rituals, is of primary importance and is reflected in the numerous statues of musicians playing flutes and trumpets, drums or cymbals, and the deities playing celestial music are not left out!
The particular style of the Dokhras and their freedom of expression allows us to discover Hindu sacred art in a new light: Ganesh, Shiva, Lakshmi or Krishna, Hanuman... as well as Buddha appear to us in a different light: while keeping their traditional form, they take on a tribal aspect.
There is always a great dignity in these works: we can be touched directly, the forms are worked with delicacy but in an instinctive way, sometimes in a simple way without superfluous details: the artist goes to the essential. The wonder is close. One feels that this art transmits a very old experience with a great spontaneity, a great freshness of expression.
The method of manufacture has remained traditional until today: the technique used for the manufacture of brass statues is still that of lost wax. All the steps of the process are done by hand with rudimentary equipment.
It is fascinating to watch Dokra artists work: this technique requires a great deal of knowledge (which is passed down from generation to generation), skill and dexterity. It takes years to master this art, and it is practiced by both men and women!
The Dokhras show a great inventiveness: before the Dokhras produced many utilitarian objects; today the Dokhra art is more and more recognized for its artistic value thanks to the support of certain personalities and the Indian state.
To bring this tribal art Dokra in its interior, it is to discover another culture, an original know-how, old but always quite alive: it is to take part in the perpetuation of a traditional art, family, using noble materials, it is contributed to the survival of a traditional way of life in communion with nature.
But it is also for everyone a way to enjoy every day, at any time the expression of beauty and sacredness !