In Balasore district of Orissa in India, a newlywed couple are given a pair of dolls. A male and female pair, symbolising love and intended to invoke blessings for the couple’s togetherness. These dolls are called jaukandhei or baleshwari jaukandhei and are unique to Orissa, specifically Balasore district.
The jaukandhei have ritualistic significance in festivals such as Raja Sankranti and Savitri Vrata/Sabitri Brata during which they are worshipped. A specific ritual, Jaukandhei Bahagara, associated with the jaukandhei is also an enactment of a wedding between the dolls which becomes an occasion for the people of the community to come together. People lead separate processions with the two dolls, who then meet to enact a wedding ritual between the two dolls. This is meant to symbolise marital joy within families. People of Balasore celebrate this loko samskruti (folk tradition) with great pride.
The jaukandhei are made in the Nabarangpur and Balasore districts by artisans from the Sankhari community. The dolls are first hand-shaped out of fine clay and allowed to dry for around eight to ten days. They are then fired in a bhatti (kiln). Laakh (lacquer) prepared by using natural or vegetable dyes is then coated on it evenly. Distinct decorative elements (shaped like thin threads) in contrasting colours
of lacquer are added on it. Yellow, red, green, and black are the most common and traditional
There are very few craftspeople who continue to make jaukandhei. Renowned artist, Silpi Kesudas and his family are among the few keeping this tradition continuing. They have been diversifying the type of figures made using this craft technique. Groups of figures representing families, animals like tortoises, figures of deities are some of the common figures the family makes. A figure of Lord Ganesha made using this lacquer craft is also part of The South Asia Collection.
Several organisations are also promoting the sustainability of this traditional craft. In 2020, India Post released a set of postcards to commemorate the 151st anniversary of the first postcard, with the intention promote the craftspeople making traditional toys in Odisha and other parts of the country. One of the postcards featured the jaukandhei dolls.
The four figures of jaukandhei and the Ganesha at The South Asia Collection were purchased in 2017 at the Crafts Council in New Delhi, India. They are now on display in our new exhibit, A Festival of Dolls.