Lac-coated dolls of Eastern India

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Lac-coated dolls, Nabarangpur, Odisha. Courtesy: Sushmit.

In many parts of India, dolls in the form of bride and groom or king and queen (Raja-Rani), are popular and also used during specific festivals. The search for everlasting conjugal bliss is expressed through these dolls where they are worshipped and sometimes an entire wedding for them is enacted. All of it in the hope that the serene orchestrated relationship of the dolls is replicated in real life.

Nabarangpur and Balasore districts of Odisha are famous for the creation of these dolls. Artisans from the Sankhari community residing here manufacture these dolls out of fine clay and coat them with lacquer collected from the local forests. Their form is kept simple with just a basic indication of limbs and other features. The detailing is done by the use of lac, which adds the eyes, jewellery and garb to these dolls. In Balasore district, these lac-coated dolls are called jaukandhei. They are again in the form of a couple and are believed to be a hybrid of a similar custom practiced by the tribes residing in Mayurbhanj.

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Jaukandhei dolls. Balasore, Odisha. Courtesy: Sushmit.

Lac is an insect resin that is collected from the trees growing on the local forests. In olden days, it was sufficient, but today with diminishing interests of the craftsmen towards it caused by low returns, it is slowly on a decline. Now lac has to be also sourced from outside. The artisans still continue this crafts and other than these dolls, toys in the form of parrots, bulls and elephants are also made for children to play with. The famous lacquered boxes, lakho-pedi, which comprises a square shaped structure of a box with a lid, all made of bamboo, with the entire surface covered with lacquer in bright shades of orange, chrome and black. The designs are an echo of the floor decorations or alpona with floral sprays and geometric arrangements. These are sold in village fairs as well as during major events such as the Ratha Yatra fesitival.

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Lac-coated dolls. Nabarangpur, Odisha. Courtesy: Sushmit.

Similar dolls are made in West Bengal coated with shellac (a processed form of natural lacquer). In olden days they were made by the Nuri community of Ilambazar in Birbhum. Due to shortage of raw materials and a decline in the demand, the craft almost vanished. But due to the personal endeavour of Rabindranath Tagore, the craft caught the fancy of the students of Shantineketan. Today, the craft production has shifted to Panchrol and Kharui Bazaar in Medinipur East district, adopted by the conch shell workers[1]. Dolls made here too share the same minimalist approach of depicting the subject. Votive dolls of goddesses such as Shashthi, Durga and Manasa are created as well as other toys for children.

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Goddess Shashthi, shellac coated doll. West Bengal. Courtesy: Sushmit.

[1] Tarapada Santra. Folk Arts of West Bengal and the Artist Community. Trans. Shankar Sen. (New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2011), 104-107.

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Lac-coated dolls of Eastern India

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