With every passing day, we Indians may become increasingly modern and technologically superior, but I wonder how many of us have tried to use these advancements to benefit our local industries. While there are some state governments who have taken noble measures to uplift their own cottage industries and showcase them to the world, certain other states have consistently failed (even after much poriborton) to take their cottage industries to the national arena, let alone the international markets.
1. Think apart from Kanjivaram, Benarasi and the Mysore silks – the sericulture industry of Bengal offers you no less than a treasure trove!
From Baluchari—an intricately crafted silk which illustrates myriad mythological scenes on the pallu and the border—and the rich and elegant tussar to the sober korial, the soft and smooth murshidabad silk and the traditional garad, you can have silks of myriad textures—from heavy to light—tastes and choices in Bengal.
2. Think ivory, think Bengal!
Earlier, when there was no ban imposed on import of ivory from Africa and other South American countries, ivory craft reached its peak in Bengal.
They would create impeccable idols, hair pins, smoking pipes, chariots and other animals—specifically (and, ironically) elephants out of it. Since, there is not much ivory work to do nowadays, a few families have continued with the art on wood and camel bones.
This craft is mostly practiced by the Bhaskar families from Murshidabad.
3. Thermocol can be put to lovely uses too.
Go to any Bengali family, and you will find a lovely showpiece or an idol made of Thermocol, or shola, as we call it.
From flowers to ornaments, the Malakar families of Murshidabad have crafted innumerable items for generations now. In fact, Thermocol crafted ornaments of Ma Durga during Durga Puja, known as the DaakerShaaj, are highly acclaimed for their intricate work and magnificence.
4. Don’t forget the Dokra jewelry and artifacts.
One of the oldest metal casting—dating back to 4,000 years ago—this non-ferrous metal casting uses the lost-wax casting technique to acquire shape. It is then transformed into various exquisite idols, figurines and jewelries by deft craftsmen, especially from around Shantiniketan in Birbhumzilla.
5. For utmost comfort and elegance, look no further than our own taant.
Be it for household chores or while offering puja or even while attending office and other formal events, a taant sari does the trick always. Available in variety of colors and motifs, with or without zari, the cotton taant sari has become the identity of Bengal (with our Didi sporting it always).
Taant is a handloom technique weaved across different districts of Bengal. However, if you’re wearing one from Dhaniakhali, Shantipur and Phulia (apart from Dhaka and Tangail of Bangladesh), you can be rest assured of getting the best!
6. When you need perfect rest, take refuge on a Shitalpati.
Known for their smoothness, glossiness and luxurious appeal, the Shitalpatis are handcrafted mats are made from green cane slips. Crafted to perfection, it is said that even a snake cannot glide over the best Shitalpati. Well, whether or not the statement is true is yet to be learned by us, but the perfectness of its nomenclature—Shital refers to “cool” while pati refers to mat—is superb indeed.
Coochbehar excels in crafting these wonderful mats alongside other myriad varieties.
7. Drive out evil forces with the Gomira masks.
Although the main purpose of crafting these wonderful Gomira masks was to drive out evil and vicious forces, these masks nowadays make their way to almost every household of Bengal due to their vibrant colors and appeal.
These masks get their names from the Gomira dancers who danced across villages in the Dinajpur districts to usher in good luck and charm.
8. Kantha Stitch—Synonym of elegance and beauty
Evolved by a Bengali housewife, the kantha stitches run about to form exquisite magical patterns.
You may find kantha work on bed sheets, bed covers, cushion covers as well as on kurtas, dress materials and full length saris as well. The Nanoor block of Birbhum produces the maximum kantha work. Full length kantha work done in myriad hues on a lovely Tussar silk sari is a staples in every Bengali wardrobe!
9. Clay dolls—the pride of Bengal
Have you ever seen a mammoth idol of Durga at any Kolkata mandap? It’s all but clay! Needless to say, we Bengalis excel in this intricate and magnificence art as well. The Krishnanagar area of Bengal is specifically hailed for its excellence ability of crafting exquisite idols and dolls. These dolls are not only hailed for their loveliness but also for their intricacy and detailing topped off with vibrant colors!
10. Wooden dolls aren’t much far behind
These are the ethnic character dolls, also known as Katwa dolls, handmade by craftsmen from Natungram Village of Burdwan district. Although the traditional owl painted specifically in white, red and yellow stands as the brand product of the village, you will find myriad mythological characters transformed into wooden dolls here.
This ancient craft is termed as Sutradhars by the locals since they would, in earlier times, go around different villages narrating mythological stories through these dolls.
11. Because terracotta can never grow old
The prehistoric craft of terracotta isn’t unknown to anyone. This craft has been a part of Bengal since ages unknown, and has been implemented in making different kinds of idols, figurines as well as jewelries. The intricate terracotta walls of the temples in Bankura district are also vivid examples of the craft. Its birth can be traced back to the 7th Century AD during the times of Malla Dynasty.
12. Chhau masks—vibrant and energetic as the dance form
These masks form an intrinsic attire of the Chhau dancers—a dance form is loaded with vibrancy, and has been listed in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Made of paper pulp, clay and mud, and adorned with feathers of peacock and painted in vibrant hues, the craft of making Chhau masks started around 150 years ago under the patronage of King Madan Mohan Singh Deo of Baghmundi. Purulia is famous of making these lovely masks.
13. Let Madurkathi decorate your living space
This is yet another specific variety of weaving mats that Bengal is so famous for! Unlike shitalpati, madurkathi is weaved from specific variety of grass weed. Common in every Bengali household for various purposes, nowadays, madurkathi products include hats, purse, bags, sun guards, table mats and even curtains. Bhagabanpur of Purba Midnapur excels in weaving the madurkathis.
14. Be mesmerized by the unique history of Pawtochitro
Pawtochitro, along with PawterGaan, is one of those things that make Bengal the cultural capital of India. This art form requires the patua to ‘paint’ stories on long scrolls of cloth. Then, in olden ages, the potuas, would go to different neighborhoods, unfolding the pawt in sequence while singing out, in a specific tone, the stories. What attracts one’s attention the most is the innovative painting style along with the vibrant colors—extracted from flowers, fruits and vegetables!