(Last Updated on : 17/05/2012)
West Bengal is famous for the craftsmanship of clay craft. The clay crafts of West Bengal have got its recognition because at the time of cultural refinement and progression, the craft got the Royal patronage and the artisans got the encouragement to develop this unique craft. The artisans create different items out of clay and to give the items a distinct style and lustre a lot of techniques are followed by the artisans. The craftsmen involved in clay crafts usually follow two separate schools. One is the terracotta school in which the figurines are burnt to get the desired hardness and another is the school that does not follow the method of burning the clay items. This second process is more prevalent in Kumartulli and Krishnanagar in West Bengal.
These are available in different forms that include toys, the figures of Gods and Goddesses, animal and bird figures, mythological characters, pots, containers, plates for food, carts and figures of rural day to day life. The terracotta toys are created with minute details and the craftsmen are also deft in creating jewelleries out of clay that are called terracotta jewelleries. Sometimes to give the created items a life like charm and splendour, the artisans apply vibrant glossy or matt colours to the clay figurines. The human figurines, the statues of deities and other figurines of famous personalities are crafted and painted in this way. The terracotta Bankura horse of Bengal is quite famous in India and outside India as well.
The craft of pottery in West Bengal
can be traced back to the Neolithic ages. Prehistoric archaeological evidences indicate a Neolithic stage of civilization in West Bengal. These have been largely collected from the districts on the border of Chota Nagpur and the Santhal Parganas that includes the regions of Bankura
, Midnapore, Purulia
and a part of Burdwan which has wedged itself in between Bankura and Birbhum (Asansol
subdivision). This region is perhaps geologically, and also historically, oldest in Bengal.
Since the equipment of pottery is very simple and the potter's raw material (clay) is available everywhere, pottery thrived as a craft form. Such perambulating potters may still be found in some regions. However, such wandering potters are not a common phenomenon in West Bengal. On the contrary the crafts appear to be a domain of the women in Bengal. For instance, hand-made pottery is predominantly a woman's art. Women of Kumbhakar (Potter) caste and of Patua caste also, generally make variety of dolls and toys in leisure hours. These hand-made figures, small dolls and toys, are done both by pressing and moulding methods
, Chaurigacha and Katalia and some other places in Midnapore and Bankura, perhaps the most primitive method of hand-modelled pottery is still pursued, and that almost exclusively by women. Moreover, in general, it has been observed that big jars are usually prepared by men, and comparatively small pots are made by women" (Saraswati and Behura). This is also largely true of West Bengal.
The raw material, alluvial clay for clay craft, is found in and around Bengal's rivers. These are shaped and fired in simple kilns. Kumartuli in Kolkata
is well known in all over the world for creating images of popular gods and goddesses including the idols of goddess Durga
which are indeed exquisite works of art and stand apart from the other forms of craftsmanship. The decorative terracotta panels of temples in Murshidabad, Bishnupur, and Midnapore, are exemplary of the terracotta work of the artisans of West Bengal. In West Bengal the women of Kumbhakar caste generally model by hand small clay dolls, toys, animals and birds of various kinds, and also small pots. But clay-modelling by hand is not the monopoly of the women of Kumbhakar caste. It is also widely practised by the women of patidar-chitrakar (painters) castes. In fact, in Bankura-Midnapore-Birbhum, and some areas of Howrah
districts, women of Kumbhakar and Patidar-Chitrakar castes are still engaged in making hand-modelled pottery as part-time occupation. The women of Sankhari (conchshell carvers) families in Bishnupur (Bankura) make clay figurines (painted) of mother-dolls at a particular time of the year, especially for ritual purposes. It appears, therefore, that the tradition of hand-modelled pottery by women is very old and it can very well go back to the Neolithic stage of civilization, in the earliest phase of which it was exclusively women's occupation.
West Bengal pottery is of two kinds, namely, Bankura-style and Krishnanagar
-style. Besides a number of items including a variety of pots are made by the women potters of West Bengal that are used in day to day life.
The clay crafts of West Bengal are the unique instances of the rich cultural heritage of west Bengal and the artisans have been living on this crafts for generations. Apart from creating deities and utilitarian items the craftsmen create different decorative items with discernable variations and artistry.