The essence of life in West Bengal is captured in its handicrafts, festivals, wildlife, literature, and architecture. The Durga Puja celebrations in the state are like nowhere else in India. And almost all Indian celebrations and occasions are incomplete without centuries old handicrafts, traditions and rituals. The handicrafts industry of West Bengal is well known across the entire nation. Here’s my list of some of the most beautiful handicrafts in West Bengal that would add grace and beauty to your home decor.
1. Bengal Masks
Masks in Bengal have quite a mysterious history. Nobody knows how or why they came into tradition and became an inseparable part of handicrafts in West Bengal culture. People wear these, somewhat gloomy somewhat vibrant, masks during folk dances and traditional rituals. These masks often depict deities/characters from tribal folktales and mythological stories like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Hindu-purans,etc.
Different regions and communities of Bengal have distinct styles/types of masks, and use different materials for making them. And you would find tribal masks made of all kinds of materials like wood, bamboo, clay, metal, paper, etc. Like there is Gomira masks, Dhokra masks, and various folk dance masks.
There’s a village in Bengal, named Charidra Village. The place is often also called “The Mask Making Village of Bengal”. Hundreds of villagers living there specialize in making handcrafted masks for a martial-arts-based folk dance known as “Chhau”. Charidra Village also hosts an annual village festivals for artisans and handicraft-experts in December.
2. Dhokra Art of West Bengal
Dhokra is a unique method of making handcrafted artifacts made of metal. Historians believe that this art is over 5000 years old! Dhokra artifacts are made of copper alloys like bronze, etc., that are carefully turned into beautiful art-pieces. Each item requires expert handling and careful detailing, and often takes several weeks (sometimes months) for completion.
Metalsmiths use multiple layers of wax and clay to make the mould. Then they heat the core to remove wax and harden the clay mould. Finally the molten metal of right composition is poured into the mould at certain temperature to make sure the cast doesn’t come up with defects. The figure is treated with certain chemicals to make sure the surface looks good and to add an appeal to it. Also, the figure made have no joints in them whatsoever.
What make Dhokra art-pieces unique is that the clay mould is broken after the molten metal splidifies. Since only a single art-piece is made and we can’t reuse a mould, no two Dhokra piece can possible be exactly same. They make look-alike, but each and every piece is unique in itself.
3. Bone & Horn Handicrafts of West Bengal
Bone & Horn handicrafts in West Bengal have been around for centuries now. Tribal people in the region used them for making decorative, artistic or ornamental stuffs. They also used to make small weapons like pocket-knives, etc. You could also find several household items like combs, walking sticks, rings, and cutlery also. However, cheaper plastic-based alternatives is taking their place, and the handicrafts are gradually disappearing from mainstream market places.
You could easily find bone and horn handicrafts of West Bengal in special handicrafts market or handicrafts mela (fairs). You don’t have to be in West Bengal to purchase them, as these fairs are held all across India at specific places every year. The dates and duration may vary sometimes.
Artisans come there from all areas of the country to display (and sell) their regional arts. One such fair is the SurajKund Handicrafts Mela that is held in February/March in Faridabad, Haryana. The committee has been organizing this fair for over three decades now. Artists from foreign countries are also allowed to participate in the fair. The fair sometimes serves over a million visitors within a few weeks of time.
4. Pattachitra (Scroll Printing/Painting)
Bengal Pattachitra is an ancient form of art meant for storytelling. Bengal is the heart and soul of Indian literature, and storytelling has always been an inseparable part of the Bengali culture. Evidently, Pattachitra (or Scroll Printing/Painting) is Bengal’s way of using pictures instead of words, like the rest of the literary works. So, Bengal’s Pattachitra the art of visual storytelling. Traditional Pattachitra use natural colors (like from flowers, fruits, charcoal, etc.) often depict daily-life, religious events and traditions of Bengal. Pattachitra artists community mostly has women artisans.
The art form is slowly fading away from the mainstream as digital alternatives have decided to take over this entire freaking world. Pattachitra artists in Bengal are known as Chitrakaar (visual-artists), have kept this art form alive till date. You could find acrylic-based Pattachitra handicrafts in West Bengal markets, made for the sole purpose of home decoration. Fortunately, you might still find some amazing antique pieces made from natural pigments in state museums, art galleries, and antique shops.
also read: List of Popular Indian Handicrafts: Gujarat
also read: List of Popular Indian Handicrafts: Assam