07 December 2021 13:09:16 IST

How IIT is helping an ancient art survive

The artefacts, produced by Ojha Gonds, were mainly created for the ritualistic purposes of the Raj Gonds.

IIT Hyderabad is creating a digital museum of Gond artefacts to understand their culture and handicrafts.

Scores of art forms, traditions and handicrafts go extinct or lose vigour. It may be because of lack of patronage or because the number of people well-versed with those skills dwindling. As they fade away, they leave no trace for future generations. Timely interventions would have saved some art forms from dying and handicrafts disappearing.

In an interesting experiment, the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad (IITH) has just begun an interaction with an Adivasi community to understand their festivals, music and handicrafts to see if it can help preserve their culture. The design department of the institute has recently conducted a five-day workshop for the last of the few surviving craftsmen in the Dhokra crafts of Ojha Gonds of Adilabad.

Understanding Ojha

“The idea is to document the festivals, music and the famed Dhokra metal handicraft for posterity,” said Prof Deepak John Mathew, Head of the Department at IITH. “During the workshop, we have given them the material required and watched them work. We could see a lot of deterioration and loss of skills. The main reason being they are working less on the craft,” he said. “Perhaps, they would have found it less lucrative. Though there is a good demand for the Dhokra metal handicraft, the artisans are not getting good returns,” Mathew points out.

“They are selling the products cost to cost. This is driving them to other professions,” he says. The project, Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Telangana, is being supported by Science and Heritage Research Initiative Programme, Design Innovation Centre, and Institutional Innovation Centre IIT Hyderabad. Traditionally, the artefacts, produced by Ojha Gonds, were mainly created for the ritualistic purposes of the Raj Gonds. A good chunk of the handicrafts produced become part of the rituals. The intrinsic value of the artwork adds colour to the festivals and rituals of Raj Gonds.

While these additions are intangible, there are some other handicraft products that are quite handy in economic activities. For one, some of the products are used in farming. Though the State Government supports Gond festivals such as Nagoba Jaatara, a lot more is required to help the art forms survive and transcend to the next generations.

Thousands of Adivasis from Telangana, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh take part in the 10-day festival. As part of the documentation programme, the IITH team has decided to build a digital repository of all the artefacts created in the workshop. The team is using photogrammetry and 3D digital printing to create the repository. “It will help the researchers as a ready-reckoner. It will also help handicraft lovers from all over the world to understand the cultural heritage of the Raj Gonds,” he says.

Design lovers can get a peek of this centuries old handicraft tradition, without having to travel to its place of origin. Mathew says there is not much research after 1980s in this area. “There had been some research work before that. But we saw no further research thereafter. We thought we should do something about it,” he says.

Second workshop

Now that the team had gained some knowledge of the craft, it is planning to organise a second workshop to work with them to fine-tune the designs. “In the first workshop, we let them do what they do. In the second, we will see how and where we can intervene with regard to designs,” he says. “It is going to be a win-win situation. As our design students learn designing skills, they will help the craftsmen to improvise on their designs,” Mathew says.

He, however, says that it will take a few months more till the uncertainties around the Covid-19 pandemic are settled. The beauty of the Ojha craft is that the products are both tangible and intangible. Some of the products are indivisible from the rituals and festivals of the Raj Gonds. Master Craftsman Uika Inderjeet feels that the interaction with the IIT’s Design Department would help create products that can address the needs of the market, providing sustainable livelihood to the community.

 

Krishna Trivedi, PhD Scholar, Department of Design, said that the Ojha Gonds provide the Raj Gonds with Dhokra artefacts for their rituals. Besides, some of the products are utilitarian in nature. Some of them are used for decoration too. Naquash V, the other PhD scholar working in a similar area, felt that the traditional metallurgy processes used by the Ojhas are unique.

“They are way different from the Dhokra crafts processes that are in vogue in West Bengal, Bastar and Orrisa,” he said. Mathew says this can be replicated in other States as well to document, restore and revive the ancient art forms.