NEPALI WOMEN HELP REVIVE A DISAPPEARING ARCHITECTURAL ART FORM
By: Mokha master artists Shanti Chaudhari and Khedni Chaudhari, Rotary Club of Itahari Past-President Ramesh Tamraker and Canadian architect Stanley Britton
Tharu is the indigenous culture of the Terai plains east of the Koshi River between the Himalaya foothills and Nepal’s southeast border with India. Many families are farmers and labourers. Houses are often built of bamboo-lattice with mud-plaster walls. Mokha art is their architectural heritage.
Mokha art’s sculpted bas-relief designs aim to attract visitors and welcome guests. During Tihar, the annual Festival of Lights, Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Wealth, is said to enter these houses and bless the inhabitants. In anticipation the art is revitalised annually.
The wall plasters are layered mixes of mud, cow dung and straw. Decorative designs are hand-sculpted onto a top layer made with a cow milk additive to produce a white ‘canvas’. Popular designs include flowers for beauty and peacocks for good fortune. Colourful paints are applied using small bamboo sticks.
Women are the keepers of the tradition. However, for many years the art form has been a victim of societal affluence as families move from bamboo to masonry houses. Few are those still with skills. It is to help revive the Mokha art form that workshops are being held at, and in the neighbourhoods of, SOS Children’s Village Itahari. Growing the number of artists is a goal. Encouraging Terai homeowners to demonstrate the art is another.
Mud-plaster on bamboo-lattice is a traditional Nepali wall cladding. Thermal, impact and abrasion properties are good. Materials are usually found close at-hand and at little or no cost. Mixing and application techniques are simple. Basic masonry and artistic skills are easily learned. The Shanti Chaudhari and Khedni Chaudhari technique for locations with Terai-type clay soils is as follows:
Clay soil (2/3 clay with 1/3 sand)
Cow or buffalo dung (dried)
Bhusa (dry straw chopped 20-50 mm)