The craft of doll making is practiced by many talented artisans in Krishnanagar (Nadia district), West Bengal. The ability to infuse details like delicacy of expression in miniature modeling isn’t mere creative flair. While these dolls aren’t blessed with the gift of gab, yet they almost strike a conversation with their distinguished verve in expression.
Craftsmen practicing this craft belong to the community called ‘Kumbhakaras’ (kumbha – earthen pot, akar – to form) constituting potters and clay modelers. What started as an art practiced by a couple of families has now become a community exercise with over 300 people, including women and children involved in the craft today.
Maharaja Krishna Chandra (1710–1783), a patron of arts, supported the production of clay dolls. He encouraged the local artisans and brought in more potters from Dhaka & Natore districts of Bengal to the Ghurni- a neighbourhood of Krishnanagar. Hence, started the Bengali tradition of clay image making, which is indeed a celebrated feature of the culture to this day.
The dolls as they appear are crafted out of clay that is locally available off the banks of the river Jalangi. The strength of clay may be increased with the addition of admixtures like cotton, rice husk, saw dust, loam or sandy soil. Individual components of the model are crafted out of clay and assembled on the metal wire framework, which supports the clay and can be bent to form desired postures. As modeling and detailing are accomplished with hand, final finishes are applied.
Some locally crafted tools made of bamboo and kamni wood are used in this process are, Chirage (a flat and pointed tool used for fine detailing in clay), Basua (a blunt tip tool used to create folds of simulated clay clothing). Besides these, knives of different sizes are used for scraping and brushes of varying sizes made ofhorse/goat/hag hair are utilized based on requirements. Consequently the model may be placed under the sun for drying, followed by firing.
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