Dhamrai a small town which is situated on the banks of river Bangshi and about 40 km in distance from Dhaka has a rich saga of multifarious art and cultural history which is a millennium old. This old town was once the epicenter of brass and bronze metal workshop from where highly detailed and aesthetically appealing artefacts of various kinds were produced and traded. Dhamrai had been majorly a Hindu concentrated community along with a few Buddhist families living in these areas, therefore, the metal objects produced mainly consisted images of various Dev- Devis such as Vishnu, Shiva, Durga, Ganesha, Kali etc, with images of Buddha. After the war of Independence plundered the cultural richness of this place and the exodus of majority of Hindu population to India, this craft lost its original glory with the brass and bronze metal market losing its sheen to chaos and ignorance of the society.
Metal craft has been an integral part of human cultural existence since its discovery with metal taking an essential part in our day to day use. In Bangladesh metal industry which was mainly a cottage industry had thrived because of its skilled craftsmen who produced quality product having great aesthetic appeal. Today only ten percent of the population in Dhamrai practice this traditional art form and are trying to preserve this rare craft. Main mention is to be given to the Banik Family who has been practicing and are carrying forwards this unique artform since five generations. This family has revived this old traditional practice and are producing unique works enhancing the produce by confluence of contemporary elements into their artworks to fit the modern market.
There are mainly five types of traditional handmade processes in metal craft which are: lost wax method, clay casting, sand casting, spoon casting and plate casting. Among these the most practiced is the lost wax method with the artisans of Dhamrai. The Banik family is one of the main producers who excel in the lost wax technique. The process of Lost Wax also called precision casting or cire- perdue is one of the most ancient methods of casting metals which obtains a duplicate metal sculpture from an original wax sculpture. One of the oldest known examples of this technique from Indian- Subcontinent is the Dancing Girl belonging to the period of Indus Valley Civilization which was obtained from the excavations at Mohenjodaro.
In Dhamrai the process of lost wax uses bees wax which is mixed with paraffin. The craftsmen while preparing the wax moulds uses more than 800watts bulbs to keep the wax soft which enables them to give shape to them according to their hearts content. Minute detailing given to these wax moulds to acquire the required model for the final wax sculpture truly shows the skilled mastery over this artistic art form by the craftsmen of Dhamrai. All parts of a single statue are made one by one and then joined together by melting the wax in the required part after which a finished wax image is produced. The second step involves application of layer of clay on the waxed model. This clay is mainly obtained from the fertile fields near the bank of the river Bangshi. Then the clay is mixed with water and applied to the wax statue without damaging the original form which is dried and again another layer of clay is applied to it. After that the final hardened layer of clay which is mixed with sand and husk is applied on the whole sculpture making it thick holes are made in some parts of the clay clad sculpture so that the molten wax can run out from these holes. The third step involves putting these clayed sculptures into the kiln which is heated to more than 1000˚C. At this high temperature the molten wax runs out from the holes of the clay structure and the final image of the sculpture is taken shape inside the clay mould. Fourth step includes preparation of clay bowls from clay mixed with sand and husks to put broken metals required for melting. These bowls are filled with metals then sealed and put inside the kiln which melts the metal. Now the last and important step is taking out of the heated clay structures and pouring into them the molten metal through the holes made initially before heating. The molten metal takes the form of the sculpture and later the clay part is broken and the final metal statue is obtained. The craftsman skillfully removes the unwanted parts and smoothens the final product, sometimes polish is applied onto the finish product to make it look more attractive.
This one of a kind metal craft is indeed a pride for the artisans of Dhamrai and it must be given the recognition it deserves. In today’s plastic world with the increase in cheap and easily available technology produced machine made products such as plastic, melamine these type of handicraft industry is severely bearing the brunt of it. The need for preservation and mainly revival of this artform is a must; so that the future generation gets to witness this rare and unique art pieces. The few families of Dhamrai who are proud to carry forward their tradition and are willing to fight for the revival of this art are protecting the rich cultural heritage which dates back to more than 1000 years are the real heroes of Dhamrai.