Iron Craft of Chattisgarh

Iron Craft of Chattisgarh

An interesting variation of a form of iron-smithy that was used originally to make agricultural implements, iron artefacts are created by the lohars or iron-smiths (loha = iron) in the state of Chattisgarh. (Chattisgarh was earlier a part of the large central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.) This craft is practised in and around the villages in Chattisgarh, with about 10 per cent of the relevant village(s) concentrating on iron craft items as a source of livelihood, while the rest combine agriculture and iron-smithy, including the making of iron implements for agricultural use. Kondagaon is an important centre, as are other villages like Bastar Sodi, Netam, Poyam, Markam, Marai, Nevra, Halami, Baghel, Mamdavi and Kormi.

The lohars traditionally made farming and agricultural implements, lamps, and other household objects. They themselves relate a particular myth - part of their oral memory and tradition - pertaining to the development of their craft. The myth holds that though these iron-smiths had furnaces for smelting iron, they lacked tools and had to pull the iron pieces out of the fire with their bare hands. Thus, they lost their hands everyday, and even though they regained them the next day, they wished to devise a means to prevent this ordeal. They applied to their god who advised them to observe all that was around them for a solution; the hidden clue was finally discovered by the youngest member of the community who saw in the crossed forelegs of a sleeping dog the potential for a tong-like instrument. Thus was created the sandsi (a pair of tongs) which allowed the lohars to extract objects from the furnace without losing their hands.

While the traditional implements and utilitarian items are generally made to be used and sold within the area where they are crafted, the modern repertoire includes a host of decorative artefacts, most of them inspired by the natural world. Brij Lal Viswakarma states that the profusion of decorative iron items that are made for sale and export outside of the area - from animal and bird figures to human shapes and compositions meant as wall hangings - began to be made 30-40 years (or two generations) ago. The lohars often made bird, animal and human shapes from the leftover scrap iron without any particular purpose except experimentation: Brij Lal Viswakarma, who learnt iron-smithy work from his father states that about half a decade ago, a government minister is supposed to have seen some of these experimental pieces, and realised their potential as a craft activity and as an additional source of income for the lohars and secured official encouragement for this craft work.

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