a 200-year-old Family Tradition
to Dhamrai village, located 39 kms northwest of Dhaka, and
you will glimpse an old mansion which dates back over 100
years. This is the picturesque home and workplace of Sukanta
Banik, proprietor of Dhamrai Metal Crafts. Carrying on a flourishing
200-year-old family business, Sukanata unveils an eight metal
statue which depicts a pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses.
There is the central figure of Vishnu, the preserver, Lakshmi,
the goddess of wealth, Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge
and Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu.
The eight metals are copper, tin, zinc, iron, mercury, lead,
gold and silver. Despite a hefty price tag of Taka 12,000,
'there is a huge potential market for statues in countries
such as India and the US,' says Banik. 'People in many parts
of the world believe that the metals represent the planets
and keep evil spirits away,' he adds.
displayed in Banik's showroom are a variety of Buddhist, Jain
and Hindu statues, bowls, decorative items and pots made out
Banik's major current works is a traditional Indian chess
set which he began this June. The product, to be completed
by the end of November, is priced at Taka 1 lakh. Overall,
he says, the price tag for metal crafts varies from Taka 500
to Taka 60,000.
are five techniques in metal craft. Banik's firm most commonly
uses the Lost Wax Method for statues .
predominantly Hindu Dhamrai metal craft business dates way
back to the Pala dynasty (800-1100 AD). During this period
both early Buddhist and Hindu settlements once flourished.
Now Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and folk statues are a popular draw.
family are pioneers in the metal craft. Beginning with his
great grandfather Sarat Chandra Banik and going downwards
to his grandfather Sarba Mohan Banik and his father Phani
Bhushan Banik, Sukanta took over the reins of the family business
in 2000. A post graduate in political science from Savar College,
Bhanik recalls those difficult early days: "When I joined,
the business was in a bad shape because of the slump in demand
from expatriate customers. This lasted from 1993-2000. Now
the business is run by my parents and me. The export market
is booming, especially US and India."
A major supporter of Banik is the Matthew S Friedman, an USAID
official, who he describes as his 'friend, philosopher and
guide'. Freidman, who left Bangladesh last year, has authored
books on metal casting. He also helped Banik with slide shows
to show the techniques of this craft. This helped generate
awareness about the metal cast industry.
what is his company's unique selling proposition? "Other
countries have a master mold so that they can make more pieces
easily. In Bangladesh, we use the freehand technique and use
a one time use mold, so that there is a richer variety of
products. Also our statues are finer than that of others,
more ornate and better designed. We work with different metals
so there is a variation in statues, says Banik."
of Dhamrai Metal Crafts' major buyers is Kyle Tortora, a US
art dealer. The enterprising Kyle visits Dhamrai twice a year.
On one such visit, he bought a statue for Taka 9,000 and reaped
a bonanza when he sold it for US$ 1,500 in his own country.
the export market is flourishing, Banik says it is still a
struggle for metal cast firms to eke out a living. Before
Liberation, for instance, people of about 33 villages in Dhamrai-Shimulia
were in the business, but now only around five families are
involved in the craft. Likewise with stiff competition from
cheaper aluminum and plastic products coming in from India
and other countries in the region, the market for these handcrafted
items has dwindled.
are other bottlenecks to deal with. It is quite a hassle for
example, to get the necessary export clearance from the Archaeology
Department which may declare that the crafts are not antique.
Then there is the problem of raw materials such as metal scrap
which are smuggled out from Bangladesh to India.
has some strategies to counter these hurdles as chairperson
of the NGO called Initiative for the Preservation of Dhamrai
Metal Casting (IPDMC). This organisation trains artisans in
metal craft and the Lost Wax Method through workshops in Dhamrai,
Savar and other places.
need more publicity and advertising about all the five techniques
of metal casting,' says Banik. What's heartening is the response
from school children to the craft. Last year, IPDMC held a
one-day workshop on the Lost Wax Method for 200 students from
American International School Dhaka, French International
School and Japanese International School. Recalls Banik, 'We
had a very good response. The children sat near the artisans
who explained the technique and then made butterflies, snakes,
elephants and so on. We cast these and gave them back to the
children. This year we have trained 160 students so far.'
major support to the IPDMC is the US $ 14,000 aid from the
US Ambassador's Fund. This will go to broaden the market through
documentaries, skill exchange programmes with Nepal, training
workshops in Dhamrai and school programmes.
those less adventurous, it is possible to see Banik's delicate
and eye catching metal work in Aarong and Aranya. His company
is also exploring marketing options with Probortana, a craft's
this technique, bees' wax is mixed with paraffin and
the wax is used to make statues. A 800 watt electricity
bulb is placed in the light box to help to keep the
wax soft and pliable. First the craftpersons make the
legs of the statue and then the other parts of the body.
Then the wax is heated and the parts are put together.
The product is then decorated. Subsequently, three layers
of clay are put on the metal piece. The first layer
is a very fine clay solution using a brush. The second
layer is clay mixed with jute fibre and sand. The third
layer is clay with rice husk.
next step is casting the mold. Around 100-120 kg of
metal is cast at a time. After the metalusually brass
in Bangladesh-- has been added to the crucible (a container
in which the raw unheated metal is placed) the mold
and the crucibles are placed in an oven for firing at
a high temperature. Subsequently, the melted metal is
poured into molds and given finishing touches.