West Bengal, the eastern state of India, is a land of cultural diversity. From its world largest delta to the elegant British Raj buildings, folk dance, handicrafts, variety of sweets and spectacular landscape captivate the soul of the traveller. Hazarduari palace is a treasure trove of historical artefacts.
The glorious past of West Bengal has made the state unique for its traditional crafts. Various indigenous crafts represent the true cultural heritage of Bengal. Fancy articles(made from bamboo and cane), reed mats, jute products, metal crafts and scroll paintings are aesthetically appealing to the soul.
Terracotta art is the heart of Bengal art. Bhisnupur, a town in the Bankura district of West Bengal, is famous for its terracotta temples and Baluchari sari. Even pottery, figures and jewellery made of terracotta has claimed recognition globally. The temples like Shyam Ray temple, the twin shrines of Jorbangla and Rasmancha are tourist spots. The terracotta walls of these temples echo stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Bengal is truly the state of art. Kantha embroidery is a treasured art of every Bengali ladies. It is made of old clothes, worn Sarees and dhotis. These clothes would be kept layer upon layer and get stitched together. Different designs, figures and motifs are employed which depicts the creative outflow of craftsmanship. The following lines by master poet Jasimuddin expresses how the khanta work reflects the emotional psyche of its creator-
Spreading the embroidered quilt
She works the livelong night,
As if her the quilt her poet were
Of her bereaved plight.
Many a joy and many a sorrow
Is written on its breast;
The story of Rupa’s life is there,
Line by line expressed.
(translated from ‘Nokshi Kanthar Maath’)
Winter brings the much-awaited festival of Shantiniketan, the Poush Mela. On the 7th day of the Bengali month of Poush(around 23rd December) Shantiniketan looks vibrant with different exquisite handicrafts of rural Bengal. Bengali folk music and tribal dance add beauty to the Poush Mela. People of diverse culture from all over India come to explore the tradition of West Bengal.
Hill crafts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong are unique in their own ways. Paintings of local artist and painted scrolls or ‘thangka’ are on the shopping list of most visitors. How can one not give special mention to jute products of Bengal? Popularly known as ‘golden fibre’ has traditionally been used to make jute goods, ranging from carpets to decorative tapestries, handbags and bedspreads. Moreover, jute products of Bengal reach every nook and corner of the world.
Have you ever wondered what the white conical headgear of Hindu Bengali bridegroom is made of? or, you may have seen on Durga idols during Durga Puja in Bengal. Well, the conical headgear is made of Sholapith which is eco-friendly. Sholapith is a milky-white spongy wood found in marshy areas of Bengal. The white colour of Shola Suggests purity and sacredness. Therefor it is used for religious purpose and marriage rituals.
Women of rural Bengal are extremely skilled. The serene Dakshin Barasat, a village in rural Bengal, is quite popular for its chikan and zari work. Women create intricate work on sarees which take hours to complete one design. The detailed work gives luxurious sheen to sarees. Moreover, it is the way women meet their livelihood.
Champ who hails from small village call Dhoopguri make bandages at her home! Along with her, there are large community of women who make bandages using indigenous machine. Artisans of rural Bengal are also involved in making paper-bags and umbrellas from scratch! With the growing technology, exploitation my middleman and challenges like natural calamities the unorganized sector of handicrafts are the worst sufferers. But thanks to government initiatives that are providing employment these artisans.
However, the artisans of Bengal break the cycle of poverty with their traditional art forms. Endeavors of these artisans can be seen in their work which fascinates us the most!
About the author:
I am Farjana Basir currently pursuing Master’s in English. I am a private tutor who loves to interact with children. I like to pen down my thoughts and use my abilities for greater good.