Horn craft of Orissa has been around since the time of Sri Krushna Chandra Gajapati Narayan Deb, which was in 1892. He was the Maharaja of Paralakhemundi. Even prior to his reign horn crafts were practiced, but during his reign a lot of carpenters by birth took up horn crafts. It is said that during a fireworks display a hollowed horn was used as a container, where the Maharaja observed a very unique characteristic of horn, he noticed its plasticity. Upon observing this he then asked for a detailed crane of which he had seen a wooden sculpture to be sculpted using horn. He was so pleased with the artifact and also realized the potential of the craft that he set up a workshop and assigned his carpenters to carve using horn. He decided and made a dedicated team of horn craftsmen who would concentrate on the craftsmanship of the product as well as the accurate anatomy of the bird or animal that was to be carved from the horn.
Many different types of products are being created in the present day, which includes pen stands, house décor, Idols of god, lampshades, combs etc. In some cases, places like Cuttack silver filigree are used along with horn crafting to create ornaments. Initially when horn crafts started booming in the late 1800’s combs were the major products that were created. These products were not looked at from an artistic point of view and were used as normal products. It was observed that the horns of animals had a very unique property of having a lot of plasticities, which made them very desirable.
In today’s world, horn crafts are looked at mainly from an artistic standpoint. Even in the present day horns are being used to create combs along with many other products which include artefacts like decorative pieces, lampshades etc. but they are not in as high a demand as they once were. A lot of cheaper plastic variants are being sold in the market.
As we heard from the artisan that due to the reduction in the demand for the product the total number of artisans has also drastically reduced. In the district of Cuttack from around 150 to 200 artisans the number has come down to 2-3 artisans in the last 20 years.
Over the years although the products that are being created might have changed, the procedure in which these artifacts are being created has not. Tribes of Santhals, Oraons & Marijas mainly practice this art form.
Utkalika - Orissa State Emporium is an organization which is promoting arts and crafts, helping artisans by buying the products from the local artisans in bulk and selling them in shops and malls. Most of these artisans today are selling and advertising their products in arts and crafts exhibitions.
Not everyone can simply take up horn carving, without the proper kind of licensing owning horns is a punishable offence. One of the major problems these artisans are facing is the availability of horns. In many cases, artisans have been arrested for the possession of these horns although they have the required documentation for owning these horns. In some cases, they even end up spending a night or two in prison until all the documents are submitted. As the raw material gets harder and harder to obtain the art form also slowly keeps on depleting.