Dhan Murti: Indian Art Tales of Odisha


Today I bring to you one of the fascinating art tales from the land of Odisha, the story of Dhaan Murti art (also referred as Dhan Murti). I was intrigued seeing the detailing of this craft form so much so that I did research to know more about how it was made and who makes it. As I learnt more about this craft form, I decided to share this amazing craft story that is untold and unheard of. I am sure, you will enjoy reading it as much as I did while I researched it.

Indian Arts and Handicrafts are deeply rooted to India’s fascinating cultural diversity and rich heritage. The diverse art forms across various regions are deeply connected to the region’s traditional vibrancy and ethnic styles. Indian handicrafts can be broadly categorized into traditional, tribal and religious artworks. Of these, Tribal Art brings in the simplicity and flavor of indigenous lifestyles that is lost in today’s modern civilization. Even more captivating is to see how the native tribes use simple natural resources available to them for their day to day living. We in our modern civilized worlds won’t be able to replicate their ways of skillful and mesmerizing craftsmanship. One such art form is Paddy craft, made out of unhusked rice grains by the native tribes of Indian state Odisha.

Historical Canvas of Odisha Arts and Crafts

Odisha (formally known as Orissa) is known for its rich cultural manifestations, stone carved temples and archeological sites, national parks, wildlife and it’s a homeland to many native tribes. Situated along the Bay of Bengal, on the eastern coast of India, Odisha showcases a whole range of exquisite art forms like stone work, silver filigree, applique work, bell metal dhokra art, pattachitra paintings, dhaan murti (Paddy Craft) and Odisha’s iconic weaves such as Bomkai, Sambalpuri Ikat, Berhampuri Paataand Saktapar Ikkat Weaves that reflect the rich cultural heritage of the state. The beauty and simplicity of the land takes you through spiritual odyssey right from stone carved temples that are examples of architectural excellence and UNESCO World Heritage Sites to Pattachitra artworks of Lord Jagannath. One such traditional art is form of Odisha is Paddy Craft, the art of using unhusked rice grains to create beautiful handmade idols. Journey through Odisha is a treasure trove of ancient civilization and culture that remains pristine from time immemorial.

Age Old Paddy Craft of Odisha

Odisha is an agrarian state. Rice is the major crop in this agricultural land comprising of 69% of the cultivated area. Did you know, according to published literature, domestication of rice might have started before 3000 B.C. in different parts of Southeast Asia? Further, it’s more interesting to know that the old social customs, festivals and traditional rituals in Odisha have strong relevance to different phases of rice cultivation. Akhyatrutiya marks the seeding of rice in May-June, Rajasankranti means the completion of sowing that occurs in mid-June, Garbhanasankranti symbolizes the reproductive phase of rice in October, while Nuakhaee and Laxmipuja coincides with the harvesting of upland and lowland rice, respectively. Makarsankranti is celebrated as Chaita Parab by the tribal people in mid-January as by this time rice is threshed and brought to the granary. The calendar events of different phases of rice cultivation correlating with the beginning and end of seasons and festivals are observed in many other parts of India. I am sure you will agree with me that we enjoyed listening to these tales from our grandparents who have lived most of their childhood in the farms. Reminds you of Malgudi Days, isn’t it? With digitalization and modern day lifestyles, we have forgotten our ancestral origins somewhere. Our ethnic instinct awakens only when we read such passages, and we get instantly connected to our roots.

The Tribal Culture of Odisha

I bet, you will be astonished to know that according to the Constitution of Indian Republic, there are about 62 indigenous scheduled tribal communities in Odisha. Honestly, I was too intrigued to know it, as I write this article from my research notes.  13 out of these 62 are known as “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups” (PTGs). The two main prominent tribal groups are the Munda Tribes and Kondha Tribes followed by the Santals and the Ho People.  The Munda’s speak Mundari language and they are mainly populated in the north eastern states of India mainly Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The tribal communities make their living primarily from agricultural activities and creating amazing handmade handicrafts which are sold in markets at very nominal rates.

Explore the Tribal Communities of Odisha in the video below

Culture of Odisha – Tribal Anthem by Shri Naveen Patnaik

The Art of Making Dhan Murti Idols

Paddy is considered a sacred crop symbolic for prosperity, good harvest and well-being. Paddy Craft or Dhaan Murti (“Dhaan” means Grain and “Murti” means Idol) is handcrafted by the tribal communities of Odisha mainly in parts of Balasore, Korapat, Bolangir, and Kalahandi. The idols are crafted using unhusked rice grains. It is an arduous and highly skilled craft form that requires a lot of dexterity. Three main ingredients used for the crafting of these idols are mainly unhusked rice grains, bamboo silvers and strong yarns of colored threads in yellow, red and green. The bamboo silvers and rice grains are soaked in natural coloring material like turmeric water, these are later sun dried well enough to retain the yellow color of turmeric. Each of the colored individual paddy seed is painstakingly knotted and intertwined between two bamboo silvers using colored threads to form paddy garlands by the trained child artists of the tribal community. Each of the paddy garlands measure roughly one yard in length and it takes roughly 10 paddy garlands to create 3-4 medium sized Goddess Laxmi Idols. Once the paddy garlands or paddy strings of unhusked rice grains are ready, the tribal craftsmen fold the strings and coil them into desired shapes to create beautiful craft forms of highly religious significance. Most of the Dhaan Murti idols are crafted to create idols of Goddess Laxmi, Lord Ganesha, Lord Vishnu, Lord Jagannath instilling spiritual vibes by the native creators.  It’s amazing to know no modern day tools are used for the creation of this spectacular native art forms. The finished products are so mesmerizing that one can clearly appreciate the hard efforts that are put in making such beautiful handmade idols. Dhan Murti idols not only make good home or office décor items but also carry immense positive spiritual significance for bringing peace, harmony and integrity in one’s life.

If you are still captivated reading the story of this art form, I strongly encourage you to have a look at these beautiful idols here and perhaps make them part of your spiritual home or office decor element. Let us all contribute to the upbringing of this tribal folklore by promoting their products. If you enjoyed reading this, don’t forget to share it on your social media groups.

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Nimisha Desai Sharma is an Indian writer who grew up in Mumbai. She developed a strong penchant for writing since her childhood. She has written more than 80 poems and continues to write articles and blogs on topics related to travel, health and fitness, spirituality, and Indian traditions and culture. Nimisha loves to take her readers on a joy ride through the incredible spiritual land of India. She is a voracious reader, and innovator who loves to grab every opportunity to learn new things. Nimisha's favorite den is a library and loves to surround herself with books. Her recreational hobbies include listening to music, reading, painting, and going on nature trails. Nimisha makes her home in Calgary, Canada with her family. She is a Nature admirer and a spiritual person who strongly believes in simple living and high thinking.


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