Traditional crafts of West Bengal

Cottage Industry is the leading rural money spinner of West Bengal. Major handicrafts that make up the cottage industry in the state are Terracotta, Dhokra, Sholapith, Cane & bamboo, Textile etc.

Brass and Bell Metal

Metal craft is an ancient occupation handed down to generations of artisans since decades. Various brass work like cooking utensils and theme based vessels for separate events are crafted here and are highly acclaimed worldwide. Engraved Brass and bell metal work of Bankura, Bishnupur, Ghatal and Chandanpur (Midnapore) districts adds up the creative status of the rural landscape in the state.

Pottery and Terracotta clay

An expedition on West Bengal crafts is incomplete without the mention of its well refined and established pottery culture. Almost every Bengal village is well developed in the art of pottery, but the district of Bankura has been recognized across the world for its clayware. The terracotta horse of Bankura is one such exemplary piece of pottery made up of the rich alluvial clay, found in rivers of West Bengal.

The method of manufacturing Bankura horse is quite simple in nature. The kumbhakars (potters) use the rustic clay shaping, furnace and drying methods before giving it a final touch. In addition to the Bankura horse, fine quality of food plates, containers, and pots are produced here. Toys and idols of deities, made by the indigenous potters, with a perfect molding in the required shape, are also in great demand.

Terracotta temples in the districts of Murshidabad, Bishnupur, and Midnapore are standing examples of artistry of Bengal sculptors which provides a glimpse of an outstanding stature of Bengal pottery that goes beyond the conventional clayware present elsewhere in the country.

Clay dolls, pressed-nose dolls and other such toys - generally crafted by women - too are interesting pieces prepared by the pressing and molding methods.

Again, Mangal Ghat (for baptizing), Lakshmi Ghat (for Ganesh-Lakshmi), and Harhi (for nuptials) are different varieties of earthen vessels used in Bengali traditions and rituals. Finally, the wheeled type pottery which is prepared in Tantiberai and Bantul in Howrah district, and in Berachampa area of West Bengal are immensely famous for their ornamentation value besides being a plaything.  

Clay art at Kumartuli

Bengali culture is known for its creativity and the people here have earned international fame for their creative ingenuity and dexterity. One such art which exemplifies the Bengali creativity is the idol making industry established in the remote region of Kumartuli. Images of popular Gods and Goddesses that are deeply embedded into the Bengali culture are crafted and embellished by the potters here.

Ceramics is the major industry at Kumartuli and potters are engaged in idol making throughout the year. But the real fervor and intensity of idol making is apparent during the autumnal period when the Bengalis celebrate their Durga Puja.

At Kumartuli, the traditional Durga idol making tradition is adopted and incorporated by the sculptors, but at the same time they have also modernized the theme of the idol making with their thematic orientation also spreading into the pandals that house the idols. Nowadays creating idols on different subjects which occurred during the year like terrorist attacks, calamities, corruption etc are very common. As Durga puja is a celebration of defeat of evil over virtuousness, thematic puja idols are readied to spread social consciousness amongst the visitors.

Mat crafts

Bamboo and cane craft for household and ornamental usage is also an ancient tradition in Bengal. The craft is the chief occupation for over 40,000 people in the countryside.

Reed Mats and Baskets

Reed mats and baskets made out of bamboo fiber count into indigenous cottage industry of West Bengal. The reed mat is an unusual article made up from a simple bamboo frame loom. The soft madur-reed is minutely woven with a thin cotton thread and unique designer pieces are also produced to meet the domestic and global orders.

Shitalpati mats

Mainly found in Bengal, Assam and Tripura, the Shitalpati variety is yet another type of mat. Human and animal designs in the Shitalpati mats are all time favorites. However, flat strips in chequered form or twill weaves are also in great vogue.

Other than mats, hand rotated fans of palmyra leaves in different colors and geometrical forms are popular crafts. Along with this, cane baskets made in conventional shapes and designs are also quite popular amongst the city dwellers, serving both functional and decorative values.

Dhokra Metal Casting

The ironsmiths in Bengal are known as Kamars or Karmakar. Traditional smiths of the Dhokra Kamar tribes have excelled the art of metal casting. This specialized art form, named after the community itself, is called Dhokra. The Dhokra community is based in the districts of Bankura, Midnapore, Purulia, Birbhum and Burdwan. The Dhokra style resembles the craftsmanship of the Malhars (Jharkhand) and Sithrias (Orissa). However, the Dhokra metal casting has its own unique taste.

The Dhokras of Bikna, originally resided in Bankura, are renowned artisans with a gifted talent, passed on for generations. These Dhokras specialize in figures and image making of various deities like Lakshmi, Lakshmi-Narayan, Siva-Parvati flanked by Ganesh and Kartik. Different animals and birds like elephants, horses, owls, peacocks etc also find their places into these pieces of art. The Dhokras of Netkamla and Bindhyajan are the typical makers of the items such as measuring bowls or paikona of different sizes and anklets (mal), tinkling dancing bells (ghunghru).

The specialty of Dhokra handicraft is that each relic seems to have been made up of a seamless wire coiled around the clay article. This is indeed an illusion as the metal casting is done using the lost-wax technique which forms the main attraction of this craft. It is believed that the lost-wax technique for copper casting had been found in other East Asian, Middle-East and Central American regions as well. In Purulia, the Dhokras make mixed aluminum by the lost wax process but do not make any images or figures; they rather make paikona, dhunuchi, pancha pradeep, anklets, and ghunghrus.  

Dhokra metal casting is generally famous for unique artefacts like animals, jewelry, piggybank (Buli), ornamented pots and various deities. In the genre of jewelry: payeri (anklets), hansuli (necklace), earrings and bangles are most in demand because of the style statement they impart. The single and multiple diya lamps are, even molded in the forms of elephants, and are considered auspicious for many Hindu occasions. Dhokra is the only live example of the metal casting in the East India as other similar crafts have faded away with time. But unfortunately, no substantial initiatives have been taken to promote and help sustain the Dhokra art in recent times in West Bengal.

Kalighat Paintings

This unusual type of painting is followed by the artists belonging to the Patua neighborhood. The term Kalighat is derived from the place where the artists formerly established their practice, around Kalighat Temple in Kolkata situated on the banks of the river Hooghly. This distinctive style of watercolor on paper has its roots in the cultural upheavals which started off during the19th century colonial Bengal.

The painting throws light on the mode of life witnessed at the time of its creation. It symbolically commemorates events which would have otherwise been lost to future generations. In the beginning the paintings depict scenes from Hindu mythologies. This art was later replaced by themes showing the colonial India. At present, both religious and social themes are created by artists meeting the demands of the contemporary era. Simultaneously, images of birds, animals, snakes and fishes are also discovered in the Kalighat Paintings.

During the late 18th Century, the art of conventional clay dolls, clad in the provincial attire, gained momentum in the Krishnanagar town of West Bengal. Today, the place is a noted clay modeling destination of traditional dolls. The establishment of craft owes its origin to the patronage of Maharaja Krishnachandra of Krishnanagar.

At present, the level of Krishnanagar pottery has progressed by leaps and bounds. The art has gained immense expertise in portraying Indian social scenes via pottery. To name a few are Pandit-Sabha, Charak festival, collector’s court, tea garden etc. Krishnanagar pottery has gained international recognition and is regularly displayed in international exhibitions since 1851. The pottery’s reputation in international community, especially Europe, has reaped substantial returns for the indigenous artisans.

Jute Products

Bengal is the chief producer of Jute products like ornamental tapestries, jute-blended carpets, garden pot hangings, hand bags, bedcovers etc. Along with the natural jute production, the state is also blessed with jute crafting methods like weaving, knitting and braiding mostly performed by the women.

In Western Dinajpur, over fifty villages of the Kaliganj area is professionally involved in coloring and weaving of seamless looms to meet the various national and global demands of the Jute products.

Leather Craft

The artists of Shantiniketan are highly appreciated for uplifting the leather crafting techniques in West Bengal. The contemporary leather crafting occupation taken up by people in the countryside is the primary source of income for many. 

Chikankari Embroidery

Chikankari is an embroidery type which is practiced mainly by professionals. The designs of Chikankari Embroidery are very delicate. Embroidering the white cotton thread on fine white muslin fabric requires a lot of effort and diligence. A variety of silk - moga - is used for outlining the embroidered portions to produce an erupted impression.

Conch Shell

Conch Shell craft of Bengal is one of the most ancient crafts and its creativity is immensely appreciated outside the state. In fact, it is the art of engraving ornamental designs on the natural shells found from the ocean. Conchshell crafts are considered to be extremely auspicious in the Hindu mythology.

Sholapith

Sholapith is actually the core of a plant stem named Aeschyromene Aspere that grows in the wild or in the wet marshes of West Bengal, Assam, and Orissa.

Artisans utilize it for making artefacts relevant to decorative and ornamental head-wears of bridal couple. The best Sholapith pieces are craftsmanship found on idols of "Gods and Goddesses" during various festivals, especially Durga Puja" celebrations. Apparently, the object seems much simple, however, artists devote months behind honing every piece and details which are meticulously worked out.

Sholapith is a white sponge wood cut up into delicate objects of art. The sholapith is the cortex or core of the plant which is 1 ½ inch in diameter. The harder brown skin which forms the outer part is removed with fine expertise. This technique reveals the internal soft whitish and spongy material. Though the material is definitely not thermocol, it indeed resembles the same. However, shola pith is a much higher quality in comparison to thermocol. Thermocol is an artificial substance while Sholapith is the one with higher plasticity, texture, shine and compressibility.

Sholapith arts of flowery designs, decorative head-wears of gods and goddesses, garlands, exquisite figurines like faces of gods and goddesses, elephant-howdahs, peacock-boats, palanquins are best known in Murshidabad district of West Bengal.

Alpana Floor Drawings

Alpana Floor Drawings are related to ancient magic cults. These drawings are also used for ornamental purpose, in the contemporary world. During festive or religious occasions, Alpana is made on the floor for ritual purpose. This custom is only practiced by women for inviting luck into the households.

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