Conserving Crafts

  • Miharu’s contemporary designs aim to revive and preserve the art form of dokra. Photograph courtesy Parul Bajoria
  • Parul Bajoria works with local artisans to promote crafts as well as provide them sustainable livelihoods. Photograph courtesy Parul Bajoria

AIRSWEEE 2.0 participant Parul Bajoria’s social enterprise Miharu connects rural artisans and urban customers to preserve ancient arts and crafts of India. 

Dokra, also known as dhokra, is an ancient art of metal craft famous in various parts of India, including West Bengal. Artisans in the state’s Bankura, Birbhum, Burdwan and Medinipur districts create figurines of gods, birds and animals and ethnic jewelry from bronze- and copper-based alloys using lost-wax casting. It involves making a wax mold, casting it with mud and putting it in the furnace to replace the wax with metal. The laborious process of creating the items and the time consumed—a single piece can take up to a month—have led to a decline in the art form and impoverishment of the artisans. 

However, in recent years, artists, designers and entrepreneurs have given a boost to this age-old tribal art by creating pieces to cater to modern tastes. One such designer-entrepreneur is Parul Bajoria, who sells her dokra jewelry and artifacts, under the brand name Miharu, through various online portals and major offline retail chains. Launched in 2013, Miharu has become popular with urban customers for its innovative designs and product quality, certified under the Craftmark label. Its contemporary designs aim to revive and preserve the art form by product development and accessing different markets. “My goal is to help revive dying crafts, generate jobs for artisans and maintain a sustainable venture,” says Bajoria. 

A diploma holder in fashion designing, Bajoria grew up in Siliguri in North Bengal and moved to Bankura after she got married. She tried different enterprises, but it was in dokra that she found her métier. Bajoria observed and interacted with local artisans and the idea of the social development enterprise was born. “In rural India, it’s difficult for housewives to work, especially if they need to meet people and travel,” she says. “The Internet, however, is bringing the world into our homes.”

Bajoria works with artisans of Bikna village in West Bengal, who are known for their jali work. “They are clean and precise with small components,” says Bajoria. “I find it’s the best area for contemporary designs, particularly for smaller products. Artisans in other parts of India make bigger dokra products, which are heavier. But the intricacy of work, with clarity, is best in Bikna.” Bajoria also works with artisans in the Burdwan district for traditional figurines and larger products as well as with artisans in the Dumka district of Jharkhand for jewelry pieces like beads and pendants. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Miharu had to stop its e-commerce operations. However, it continued to place orders with all its regular artisans and supported them by providing essential food and hygiene items.

Bajoria is also venturing into the world of décor products with Baluchari weaving. The Baluchari silk saree of West Bengal is famous for its intricate weaves on the pallu, depicting mythological stories from the “Ramayana,” “Mahabharata” and tales about Lord Krishna. Once upon a time, only women from aristocratic families were allowed to wear these sarees. Bajoria has adapted the style to create home décor products and dupattas to complement salwar-suit ensembles. “I’ve always wanted to help rural artisans, who struggled to sell their creations and were often swindled by middle men,” she says. “These artisans weren't adapting to modern trends and I thought that working with them would be a perfect way to help and also promote our textile heritage. In this way, more artisans could make a living.” 

Bajoria was a participant of the All-India Roadshow on Women’s Economic Empowerment through Entrepreneurship (AIRSWEEE 2.0), a Public Affairs New Delhi grants program implemented by the U.S.-based nonprofit organization The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE Inc.) and its India chapters. The project aims to educate and inspire women in Tier II and Tier III Indian cities to consider entrepreneurship as a viable and rewarding career option.

“AIRSWEEE 2.0 impacted every aspect of my journey as an entrepreneur,” says Bajoria. “It gave me a reason to take forward the venture as an example for others. It provided exposure to business through friends in the same milieu and the opportunity to explore marketing through digital media.” She adds that the workshop addressed all the queries and problems associated with entrepreneurship. “My takeaway from the experience is that hard work, with the right product, right placement and right links, is sure to succeed.”

Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist. She also translates fiction and writes short stories.