Unknown artisans of India – Janakadeipur (Odisha)

Over a platter of simple delicacies for lunch in a local outlet of Chandanpur; my host, Mr. Ajit Swain asks me if I would be interested in exploring the village any further or head home.

What can I possibly say?

I am still in awe of the exceptional finesse of a world class craft in the heritage village of Raghurajpur – Odisha. After watching it from close quarters while spending time with one of the 150 artisan families in the village, what more could be in store for the day to intimidate me further?

Nevertheless, we move ahead and continue our discussion around the unknown art and artisans of rural India.

We stop just at the outset of the board which leads to Raghurajpur. Towards my right, a group of women are gathered near one of the houses happily engaged in their daily dose of afternoon banter. After a brief introduction, I am left in their company for rest of the day. No men folk are to be seen around – apparently at work. Children are playing restlessly immersed in their own carefree world.

Here’s the afternoon scene when I walked in:

The place turns out to be “Janakadeipur” a not so known community with a handful of families working anonymously to create some unique home decoration crafts.

I finally found name of the place on the station board

I sit silently for a while; tired from the heat and waiting for the right words to strike a conversation. Meanwhile, my eyes are glued to the hands weaving magic out of the dull, lifeless coconut fibers without any visible struggle. While some of them look like a pro, others are being trained under the open sun. Suddenly, I’m surrounded by a mirage of colors everywhere. Their attire is as vibrant as their infectious energy and the uninhibited laughter. The eyes are lit up with an innocence hard to describe.

The mirage of colors everywhere 🙂

They make me feel welcome and in no time, generously explain and display all they could about their simple yet intricate art form.

I don’t have to try hard. Through the next hour; the discussion takes many turns about their craft, their lives, livelihood and families. One after the other, more of them join and in no time, it’s a house on fire, quite literally. I take pauses in between afraid to shift the course of conversation into anything serious. The smile never fades away from their faces and remains playful regardless of talking about their happiness or miseries.

Occasionally; the topics also deviate towards the pandemic, vaccination, technology, weather and everything else under the sun.

Early stages of drying up the coir (coconut fibre) before shaping them into different products:

Training the younger lot with the basics
Work In Progress

Displaying some final products:

I try and make a mental note to discuss all their major challenges (mentioned below) with my host which I could gather through the conversation.

  • Earning in peanuts for their work (most products being ordered in bulk through middlemen who sell them in cities at a higher margin)
  • Low footfall of buyers (post pandemic)
  • Lack of training to further enhance their craft
  • Lack of exposure outside the village

My curiosity is further multiplied to know that most of the ladies have taken the art from their respective families post marriage into the community. They come from far off native villages and now collectively turned it into a steady income generation source. Further, the younger lot is also being trained in the basics in their spare time to keep them productively engaged.

Their combined enthusiasm refuses to give up. And just like that; out of nowhere, I am bombarded with requests of capturing their pictures, their craft and then each one individually lines up for a solo photo session. Their poised grace, attitude and liveliness could give the professionals a run for their money.

The models and their creations:

Meanwhile; the eldest amongst them who has not spoken since my arrival except for exchanging some side glances finally does “Many visitors come here and spend time. But we end up with nothing. The free ration and biscuits distributed occasionally through organizations are of no use. It doesn’t value us or our handmade craft. It does not give us money.”

Before I could even respond, one of them speaks up as if defending me “The pandemic has changed everything. There are no buyers. It’s no one’s fault.”

Left with no answer except a blank smile; I don’t want to give any false hopes but they make me promise that I’m going to post these captures across and try to get their work it’s due recognition . Enthusiastically, some of them even make me save their personal contact information (their simplicity woos me and leaves me speechless)

It’s been a few weeks since the visit now and as the late afternoon clock strikes, I can’t help but recall all of them gathered around one of those houses and going about their usual routine – in anonymity for ever.

The parting capture with the remaining lot as some already left to continue their early evening rituals

NOTE: This write-up is based on my visit to a small village, not too far from my hometown; Bhubaneswar, Odisha. It is intended as a personal effort to promote and spread a word for these unknown artisans of Odisha in association with “Dedicated To People“. If you would like to be a part of enhancing their lives in any possible way, please reach out to me through comments or email. I will revert at the earliest.

More from Odisha:

The Mystique Chausath Yoginis of Hirapur – Odisha

A quick guide to Rajarani Temple – Bhubaneswar

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