A few days back an article was put up on the traditional clay dolls of West Bengal. There are other types of wonderful dolls too that have been traditionally made in the state. Artisans also create colourful dolls made of wood, metal, sponge wood, palm leaf, jute, etc. Today, let us take a look at such dolls.
There was a time when the making of wooden dolls was monopolised by the carpenter communities of Bengal. These dolls were earlier made in the districts of Howrah, Bankura, Purulia and West Medinipur, but are now restricted to places like Natungram, Daihat and Patuli in Bardhaman.
The dolls are carved from white teak wood and then coloured. Some of the popular types of dolls are the owl, bride, mummy, king and queen, Radhakrishna, Gaur-Nitai, etc. Earlier, they were commonly available in Kalighat and Nabadwip for pilgrims and hence, came to be known as the dolls of Kalighat and Nabadwip. With constant experimentation, the artisan community of Natungram is coming up with utility and home décor products, including these dolls.
Wooden dolls of North-24 Parganas district: Wooden dolls (kather putul) are also crafted in and around Kolkata. The face is made of wood whereas the rest of the body is made from cloth. Radha-Krishna, the bride-bridegroom, and the baul couple are some of the significant artefacts of this region.
Wooden dolls of Natungram (Bardhaman district): Natungram in Bardhaman district is famous for its wooden dolls. These are crafted by the local carpenter community. The most popular are the owl, bride, king and queen, Gaur-Nitai, Shiva, Kali and Durga, all carved from the wood of the white teak tree. The attractive wooden owl is a special attraction of Natungram. Originally used for worshipping the goddess Lakshmi, it is now an artefact of global repute. These dolls were also sold in the Kalighat region of Kolkata. Earlier, they were painted with herbal colours; now modern chemical dyes are also used.
(L to R) Wooden dolls of North-24 Parganas and Natungram (biswabangla.in)
Jute dolls of Murshidabad district: Bengal jute has been a fibre in demand for making items ranging from apparels to home decor and furnishing. Jute dolls (pater putul) are one such sought-after object. Jute dolls have been in existence for a considerable period of time, though a sea change has been observed in the technique for the past 5-6 years. Dolls are being made from attractively dyed jute fibre. The rural women of Murshidabad are proficient in this art form. Apart from dolls of girls with braided hair, birds and animals, routine items like key rings, bags, rags and home decor products are also being given a touch of the golden fibre these days.
Cloth dolls of North-24 Parganas district: The older women in Bengali families used to make dolls by stitching pieces of old fabrics together. Various attractive dolls (kaporer putul) like the wedding couple, the Baul couple, an Englishman with his lady, are in demand.
(L to R) Jute doll, cloth doll (biswabangla.in)
Dancing doll of Padmatmali (East Medinipur district): The braided or beni doll (beni putul) artists of the village of Padmatmali in East Medinipur was known to beg for money by performing the beni puppet dance. The dolls made from bamboo and palm seeds were cleverly made to dance to the songs they sung. With time, the production process of these dolls has changed to a great extent. The head is made of clay while the arms are wooden with strings of bells tied to them. These are dressed according to the characters they represent. The dolls are fixed on bamboo sticks with threads. The lower ends of the sticks have holes for the puppeteer to slide his finger in and pull the threads, making the doll dance. Since the fingers are covered by the skirts of the dolls, the dolls seem to have a life of their own.
Palm leaf doll of Bardhaman: The soldier made of palm leaf had a unique appeal for kids. This type of palm leaf doll (talpatar putul) with its flinging limbs used to be a special attraction for all ages in fairs. Though a dying art, it is not completely forgotten yet. The dolls are made by cutting palm leaf in the shapes of parts of a human body and then attaching them with threads. When the bamboo stick fixed at the back is rotated, the dolls toss their hands and legs in the air. Madan Dutta of Bardhaman is one of the few artists excelling in this art. He has created a unique ‘Saheb O Mem’ doll – a set of of palm leaf dolls consisting of a gentleman and a lady.
(L to R) Dancing doll, palm leaf doll (biswabangla.in)
Shellac doll of East Medinipur district: Panchrol, Pashchimsai and Pratapdighi of East Medinipur district were, at a point of time, renowned centres for shellac dolls. At present, Brindaban Chanda of Pashchimsai village is the only one making these dolls. The primary structure is made with hand-pressed soil gathered from white ant hills. This is then sun-dried and baked. This fired clay doll is layered with coloured shellac. The formula for making this colour is a complicated one. To begin with, shellac is mixed with paint. This mixture is then heated to make thin shellac sticks. The clay dolls are then warmed up in charcoal fire and shellac is applied. This is then topped up by the shellac sticks. Animals, pendants, goddess Manasa and Shasthi dolls are some of the popular shellac items.
Metallic dolls: In Bengal, cast brass art pieces by nomadic craftsmen communities have been in vogue since ages. This primitive process of metal casting has been technically termed as lost wax process. The brass figurines are polished with cow dung for an enhanced shine, though the modern artisans prefer an acid polish. These artists also create models of various animals, birds, tribal people, contemporary characters, Lakshmi pots, jewellery boxes, masquerades and so on. These artefacts have garnered international acclaim. The Kansari community of Nabadwip, in Nadia district, is famous for manufacturing exclusive brass statues of deities.
(L to R) Shellac doll, metallic doll (biswabangla.in)
The state government is making a lot of efforts through its Biswa Bnagla brand to bring these dolls to the notice of buyers – from India as well as from all over the world, and there has been a lot of success too. Efforts are continuously being made to let the world know and appreciate these wonderful traditional artefacts, and through it, enable the artisans earn through creating these, and thus, keep alive the age-old traditions.
Lead image: biswabangla.in