Lost Wax Metal Casting of Chattisgarh

Craft, Handloom, Art, Craftspersons/ Artisanal

Lost Wax Metal Casting of Chattisgarh

McComb, Jessie F.


“…like the tribal sculptors, who praise the ‘direct’ method of casting (hollow casting) illustrated in this exhibition, it bears also a deeper, more anxious significance for the artist, since in the interval between the drawing off (of the wax) and the pouring in (of the metal) his creation has become void and can be recovered only by a successful pour; a failure means that all his work is lost with the wax (since the clay envelope, and with it its negative impression of the wax, are necessarily broken up), and he must begin again, perhaps never again to recover his original inspiration. We may say, with reason on our side, that the act of creation in lost-wax casting consists in the modeling of wax, yet we need not be surprised if to the tribal sculptor with his traditional philosophy of vital force, and perhaps to the true artist everywhere, the moment of pouring seems like a mystical act of procreation…”

From Introduction by William Fagg to a catalogue of an exhibition – Lost Wax Metal Casting on the Guinea Coast. Institute of Contemporary Art, London, March 1957

Lost wax or cire perdue metal casting is practiced in many areas in India, but the folk brasses cast with this method in the Bastar region of middle India contain certain tribal elements that set them apart. Bastar is located in the southern region of Madhya Pradesh where the state borders Andra Pradesh. The craftsmen of this area belong to the Ghadwa or Gharua Scheduled Caste, also known as Kaser, Ghasia, Mangan and Vishwakarama, although most of these names are self-proscribed by the craftsmen in order to raise their social status. The Ghadwa create jewelry, local deities and daily utensils for the villagers of their area. The jewelry items consist of pairy = anklets, aenthi = toe rings, fulli = nose pins and ghungru = decorative bells. Figural images not only include local deities but also extend to votive forms of snakes, horses, ritual pots, as well as other birds and animals used for decorative objects. Although these craftsmen are spread throughout the region, a slightly larger settlement exists in Kondagaun and Jagdalpur where items are created on a small industry scale.

Raw Materials Used
The basic raw materials for lost wax metal casting in the Bastar region include: moma = beeswax, rala = dammer rosin, and mungaphali ka tela = groundnut oil for modeling, Clay from river beds and anthills as well as cow and goat dung is used for the clay base and covering. The craftsman uses brass and other types of metal collected from broken utensils, defunct idols or other scrap pieces. He determines the amount of metal needed for a piece by weighing and measuring the amount of wax used in the modeling process and multiplying it by ten.

Ram Wax Model – By Chattisgarh Craftsman, at Crafts Museum, New Delhi, now in private collection, United States
Description of Tools
The kiln, used for heating the wax and metal, is a simple hole approximately 30cm deep, 20cm wide and with a channel 5cm wide which leads from the bottom of the pit to ground surface at a slight incline. At the end of this channel are the bellows, typically made of cowhide. The craftsmen employ the Pichki and Pharni to create the long, thin strips of wax used to model the item. The user exerts pressure on two wooden pressers, one on top and one on bottom, which squeezes a piece of softened wax through a syringe like cylinder and out a screen with small holes. Other tools include: hammer, chisel, files, grinders, etc.

Pichki and Pharni, image by author

Since local environments relegate which types of clay and wax the craftsmen use, this description will explain the method used near Jagdalpur. Preparation of the core of the item is called Mittikutan and the craftsman uses clay from where the river flows quickly called Rui Matti. Since this clay is mostly sand, the Ghadwa mixes it with goat dung or uses clay from an anthill mixed with paddy husk, especially for larger images. This first core model is then left to dry. After drying the craftsman begins the process of scraping or khara by abrading the surface of the core with shards of earthernware. The fallen dust from the image is then mixed with water and reapplied to the core.

Wax preparation begins by melting and straining the wax through a fine cloth into a basin of cold water. The softened wax, pressed through the Pichki and Pharni, becomes thin strips that the Ghadwa wraps around the core image. During the matna or evening process, this wax is smoothed while the craftsman sits in the sun. The Ghadwa makes the channels for wax removal and molten metal replacement during the kunti dena. This is done by adding two wax wires at the base of the image. Then the craftsman covers the entire clay/wax model with a mixture of equal parts clay, sand and cow dung, on top of which he adds four layers of the husk/anthill mixture. This is called matti chhapna or leaping.

Ganesh Playing a Gong – By Chattisgarh Craftsman, at Crafts Museum, New Delhi, now in private collection, United States

Somewhere on the figure or within the decoration, the inner core and outer layer of clay are attached by leaving a hole in the wax model. This process, called nikas kikalna, prevents the two clay layers from collapsing onto each other when the wax is melted. In the mochhi bandhan, the channels formed during the kunti dena are covered with clay, joined and kept free of debris with bamboo sticks. The appropriate amount of metal (ten times the weight of the wax used) is placed in the crucible, made of clay-husk mixture, which is then attached to the channels. During this phase, ghaili jorna, the image and crucible become one. The metal used is comprised of copper, zinc, iron, aluminium, nickel and tin. The ratio of brass to zinc proves that these objects are made of brass and not bronze.

Finally in the casting or dhalai phase, the craftsman places the figure/crucible onto a bed of wood charcoal (with the crucible at the bottom). The figure is held in place by logs piled around it. The item is heated for about three hours, until the crucible has turned a sulphur-yellow, which indicates that the metal has melted. The craftsman then takes the piece from the fire and quickly flips it over so that the molten metal flows into the space left when the wax burned away. After drying for an hour or longer, the craftsman cracks the clay mold to reveal the finished piece. Occasionally additional finishing will be needed in the form of chiseling or filing, but most often the piece is completed after casting. The cast process is considered a ritual by the Ghadwas and often silence is required for the entire firing procedure. This process may also be used without the original earthen-core. Instead the entire model is made of wax and the resultant image is solid metal.

Village Woman Wax Model – By Chattisgarh Craftsman, at Crafts Museum, New Delhi, now in private collection, United States

Craftspeople of Bastar cast most of these items with thin limbs, but a stable base and structure, although these characteristics vary with geography. In all areas however, Ghadwas use precise and detailed ornamentation to enhance their figures, including jewelry and weapons. Often these items are rendered with more detail than the actual figure itself. The ornamentation and clothing for the figurines are made from thin wax strips wound around the image or placed on the surface. Meera Mukherjee notes that this could be due to the Bastar craftsmen’s history of crafting jewelry and other ornamental pieces.

The set ornamental designs include the braid pattern, diamond shaped chain pattern, ringed pattern, ball-like pattern, lateral lines, zig-zag lines, sun and moon, notches or indentations, circle with dot in the center, wheat grain motif, flower/bitter gourd motif, spider chain pattern (vertical version of this represents the fish bone), eye of the maina (bird), tiger’s claw, pellet bells and hanging lozenges. The last two are commonly found among most brasses.

Woman prepares a meal while her husband performs Puja – By Chattisgarh Craftsman, at Crafts Museum, New Delhi, now in private collection, United States
Products and Use
Along with utensils and decorative figures, Ghadwas produce images of local gods and goddesses and other ritual items including: Chitla Dei, Kalikankalin, Ganga Dei, Linga Dei (all of the above are conceived of as Mata), Danteswari (elephant image, also the State goddess of Bastar), Rakshin, Bhairam/Bhangaram (horse and rider, commonly conceived of as Shiva), Dular Dei, Kodai Budi, Gappa Dei (often worshiped with her husband Lakkad), Mitku Thaitku, Pendre Undrin, Mayi/Mata, horses, elephants, snakes and other votive items. While Ghadwas create many idols for consumption by villagers and tribes of the area, they do not worship these images. Marias also buy images of deities to place in altars, both public and private, either to complete a vow or for the hopeful fulfillment of a prayer. If the respected god or goddess does not grant the prayer, the devotee will cast of the image and will only reinstate it in the alter when the prayer is fulfilled.


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