Shapes and Themes of Shellac Dolls
Shellac dolls of West Bengal have certain similarities with the wooden dolls of Ranchi or Varanasi in shapes. But in terms of themes, they exhibit the typical Bengali expressions on the dolls. The most common themes of shellac dolls are a mother with a child in her arms, a woman tying up her companion's hair, a man husking paddy, a mahout riding an elephant, a horse rider and endless variety of fruits, such as mango, custard, apple, lychee, bitter gourd and several types of lemons etc.
Formation of Shellac Dolls
First, soil from white ant hills around the village is soaked in water and then preserved in an earthen pot to let it dry. Once, the soil is dried up then it is given the shape of a doll and baked in a domestic oven. After the baking process, it is painted in colours for the decoration. Then, sticks of painted shellac are prepared by mixing screened shellac with paint powder of the desired colour and heating it on fire. The sticks are normally 12 to 18 cm and of four colours - red, black, yellow and green. Then the dolls are heated in charcoal fire, after which they are inserted in a bamboo kamrha. Kamrha is the portion of a bamboo between two nodes, about 20 to 22 cm in length, the top portion of which is split up along the middle up to the lower joint. Then the painted shellac sticks are applied on the dolls kept on the kamrha. Generally, the front faces of the dolls are painted in red or green and the rear faces in black. Shellac threads then are taken out of the shellac sticks; this process is called guna work. The threads are then rolled into balls to use them as eyes of the dolls; the threads are also used as decorative apparel and ornaments. These shellac dolls are sold in fairs, among which ‘Rath Mela’ during Ratha Yatra festival is the most famous one.