With the aim of training the younger generations of Ojha community in the traditional Dhokra art form, one of the earliest known methods of non-ferrous metal casting, a team at the Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad (IIT-H), conducted a design intervention workshop.

Led by professor Deepak John Mathew of the institute’s department of Design, the workshop was held for Ojha Gonds of Adilabad as a part of an ongoing project, “Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Telangana” supported by Science and Heritage Research Initiative Programme, Design Innovation Centre, and Institutional Innovation Centre.

Traditionally, Dhokra artifacts were majorly created for ritualistic purposes of the Raj Gonds. The workshop aimed at retaining and sustaining the traditional craft practices of the Ojhas and to provide them opportunities to generate livelihood from their ancestral occupation of Dhokra craft-making. It also focussed on community building, peer learning, skill development, and training. Thus, the master craftsman was chosen from Ojha community itself.

Digital repository

One more aspect of the workshop was to create a digital repository of all the artifacts created at the workshop by using photogrammetry and 3D digital printing, which would be useful for researchers for further studies as well as for patrons from all over the world to get insights in the cultural heritage of the Raj Gonds as well as associated communities and their traditional practices. The digital museum would be an extension of the workshop to preserve the traditional artifacts with non-destructive methods where the original artifacts will remain with the community and 3D printed artifacts will fulfil the knowledge-sharing purpose on the cultural heritage of Telangana on a global level, where the museum can be visited virtually from anywhere in the world.

“We define IIT-H as inventing and innovating in technology for humanity. [We are aiming at] Preserving Dhokra using the design concept and encouraging future generations to sustain it. IIT-H also has a Rural Development Centre to uplift rural livelihood with the aid of technology,” said institute director B.S. Murty.

The aim was to revive the traditional “Whojari Kala” (art of Ojha community) and encourage younger generations of the Ojha families to adopt the traditional occupation by providing design intervention through the workshop. “It will also facilitate the creation of products that can fulfil the market’s needs. Thus, our traditional crafts can provide sustainable livelihood to the community,” said master craftsman Uika Inderjeet.

Speaking about the project, a PhD scholar from the department of Design, Krishna Trivedi said: “Raj Gonds are one of the oldest indigenous communities of India. The Ojha Gonds are associated with the Raj Gonds by providing Dhokra artifacts for ritualistic, utilitarian and decorative needs of the community, which is gradually declining due to the lack of the patronage. With the adaptation of industrial goods, thus, systematic documentation, preservation, and safeguarding of the Ojha’s Dhokra craft practices is a crucial need at present.”

“The documentation of the traditional process of the metallurgy followed by the Ojhas of Adilabad district is unique and differs from the Dhokra crafts process followed in West Bengal, Bastar, and Odisha. The ancestral practices of the Ojhas are an intangible cultural heritage itself. The workshop gave insights into the detailed process followed in creating the Dhokra artifacts,” said Naquash V, another Ph.D. scholar.