A colourful procession with ‘baraatis’ smearing vermilion on each other; blowing of conch shells, bursting of firecrackers; dance and music performances by folk artistes; and a feast for over 2,000 guests. The pomp and splendour was evident as the participants were in a mood of wedding revelry.
Amid chanting of mantras and exchange of garlands, the priest tied the nuptial knot performing the traditional Odia rituals.
It was an Indian wedding in every sense, only the bride and the groom were dolls made of lacquer. Although symbolic, the marriage of lacquer dolls, locally known as ‘Jau Kandhei’, organised by Jau Kandhei Marriage Committee at Balasore in Odisha recently, was unique in many ways.
For, it was not just another rural quirk but an attempt to revive the ancient art form, which is on the verge of extinction. With the help of socio-cultural organisation Baleswari Kalakendra, the committee is making all-out efforts to promote it.
“The marriage of ‘Jau Kandhei’ is an ancient culture, which has lost its charm over the years, with plastic toys and feng-shui items flooding the markets,” says Baleswari Kalakendra secretary Kesudas. “So, we are trying to rejuvenate the dying culture and promote the art form.”
The Kalakendra has already trained six self-help groups (SHG) in making lacquer dolls and other value-added items so that they can become self-dependent and also sustain the art. During Hindu festivals, the organisation ties up with saree shops in the coastal town for promotional selling of the lacquer dolls. Apart from four places in Balasore, the marriage of dolls is being solemnised in Bhubaneswar to spread the word about the art.
In the past, ‘Jau Kandhei’ aimed at bringing conjugal peace in the family. “Keeping a pair of dolls in the bedroom is considered auspicious in our tradition. This is why bride’s family used to gift lacquer dolls to the couple in earlier days. It glorifies the celestial relationship,” says Kesudas.
Kalakendra, which started working for the revival of this art form in 2006, has trained 60 women artisans who are now making fancy items in lacquer.
The SHG members—Kanakalata Das, Kuntala Rath, Maya Nayak, Meena Mishra, Latika Begum, Gayatri Khanda, Basumati Behera, Satyabhama Khandei, Sarada Singh and Sita Nayak—come from different socio-cultural milieu and are mostly housewives.
They mould dolls, bangles, plates, office tools, pen stands, paper weights, ashtrays and house decorative items. The two-inch to three-foot tall dolls cost between `25 and `4,000 depending on the size and design of the item.
Kanakalata says, “The members now participate in all state-level exhibitions. Initiated as a part of revival programme, this art form has come to the rescue of women artisans who can now earn their livelihood. We have also roped in artisans from Cuttack, Nabarangpur, Nuapada and Rayagada districts to make this initiative to preserve the ancient art form a statewide movement.”