The Kallam Anji Reddy Arts (KARA) festival, in memory of industrialist K Anji Reddy, is being organised at Saptaparni in Banjara Hills till 8th November. Other than the contemporary paintings, visitors can see on display tribal musical instruments, palm leaf manuscripts and Dokra metal crafts from the Telangana region.
Organiser of the exhibition, Prof Jayadhir Tirumala Rao, has been collecting tribal musical instruments for the last 45 years. “The tribal musical instruments of Telangana region are a part of the social structure, and are used by tribal musicians in their day-to-day rituals or festivals,” says the professor.
Prof Rao adds that while the representative palm leaf manuscripts have Mahabharata, astronomy, poetry and details of medicinal properties inscribed on them, the pottery and bone collection in the exhibition have Brahmi Lipi with the origin of the Telugu script. He tells us that most of the Dokra works on display were made during the lockdown time to support the artisans. “It’s a very difficult situation and the younger generation of artisans is taking up odd jobs such as running autos and helpers or falling in the trap of middlemen and moving away from this work as there is hardly any market for them outside. This craft is dying before our eyes,” adds Prof Rao.
The professor also points out that very few families belonging to the ‘Ojha’ community — who have, since time immemorial, been making brass articles mainly for the Raj Gond community — continue this craft as a profession. We spoke to the craftsmen from the Telangana region to understand the present situation.
Bhujanga Rao Madaavi from Jodeghat Village in Asifabad District shares that he has learnt this art from his forefathers. “We make day-to-day items like ghodka and items for weddings, such as katiyar, measuring kanta, utensils, deities, bowls, lamps, folk motifs, cow bells and necklaces, temple bells, prayer lamps, animals and birds. Once a piece is made the ‘clay mould’ that is used to make it is broken. Therefore, every piece is unique and this process requires us to sweat out for weeks,” explains Bhujanga Rao. Another craftsman, Indrajit Uyka from Belsari Rampur Village of Adilabad District, echoes Prof Rao sentiments as he tells us that there is not much income in this work though he understands the importance of this craft, which he believes is really a way of serving and connecting the society we are a part of. “I continue to do Dokra metal craft more as a passion and to uphold the rich heritage that has been handed over to us from generations,” he explains.
Indrajit also adds that they get suggestions to create new designs as a part of training programmes by the Government Handicrafts institutions and National Institute of Fashion Technology. “But it’s the traditional design items that move fast in the market,” he adds.
In addition to a lack of profits in the profession, there is a problem of procuring raw materials. For instance, beeswax supply has dwindled because we have to use a mix of tar and candle wax, which brings us to the working conditions. “It is very bad as casting of brass is done at high temperatures,” Indrajit tells us.
As regards spreading the art among craftspeople, Indrajit points out that the craft can be learnt only by spending time with the craftsman. “Short-term workshops cannot help spread it. Most of the workers who help us are nomadic in nature with very little means of livelihood. Unless long term efforts are put in by the Government and the corporate sectors, this craft may not survive for long,” he warns as we conclude.