The crafts of West Bengal are renowned all over the word, mainly because of their pastoral charm. Amongst all the crafts of the state, the art of clay doll making is amongst the most popular ones. These beautiful, lively clay structures are adorned with vibrant colors. Though the art of doll making has always been an integral part of Bengal's culture, it gained momentum under the patronage of Maharaja Krishnachandra of Krishnanagar, in the late 18th Century. Ghurni, in Krishnanagar city of Nadia District (West Bengal), is the place renowned for its clay sculptures and toys.
part from Krishna Nagar, you can also find clay dolls in Puilya, Tantiberai, Tulsiberai and Sariyala - Balipota and Midnapore. The clay dolls are basically made by pressing and molding methods. First of all, different kinds of clay is blended and mashed, to form a dough-like material. With this dough, different parts of the sculpture are designed, by molding and pressing them to give the desired structure. Then, clay paste is used for sticking together all the separately molded parts. The resultant object is baked in high temperature kiln. After the basic structure is formed, the doll is painted in various vibrant colors, by brush Putul, as the Bengalis fondly call their clay dolls, come in various types, depending upon their structure and the purpose they are made for. The rustic beauty and homeliness of these dolls make up their most attracting attributes. The clay sculptures of West Bengal are designed in various themes, many times representing the village life as well. These dolls are a craze amongst the foreign tourists of the state, who find this art totally unique and love its vibrant colorfulness. Let us know more about the different Types of clay dolls in West Bengal.
Krishnanagar clay model artists spread in three parts hereditarily. First and foremost part is called ‘Ghurni’, another part is Kumorpara Shasthitala and the third is spread Rathtala near Krishnanagar Rajbari.
3.1 ABOUT CLAY MODEL:
In a locality of Krishnagar called Ghurni, there is a colony of artists who work with clay. These artists produce images of Hindu gods and goddesses for traditional worship throughout the year, as well as clay models of human figures and real life objects. Open studios and shops of the artists comprise an important attraction for tourists. It is said that initially it was Raja Krishna Chandra who settled a few families of talented clay artists in the area. Since then the colony has grown and flourished. Some of the artists have recently worked with other media. Dolls of Krishnanagar refer to clay modelling of Krishnanagar, an art admired by Maharaja Krishnachandra in the late 18th century. This art form is about three hundred years old. The potters of Krishnanagar did not originally belong to their present locality. Krishnachandra, the Maharaja of Krishnanagar in 1728 brought them from Dacca in East Bengal and from Natore in North Bengal. Dolls are the most popular items of Krishnanagar Clay modelling. The scenes relating to our society, our country and the people, the different castes and racial types are some of the common themes which are reproduced realistically through these clay models. For example, social scenes like collector’s court, tea garden, pandit-sabha, Charak festival etc are used for modelling.
This pottery is very popular and in most of the international exhibitions held since 1851, Krishnanagar clay models have won medals and certificates and also great admiration from the Europeans. The exquisite craftsmanship of these artisans have earned them laurels and accolades from the British royalty like Queen Victoria as well as other important people of the British Raj and Catholic Popes in recent times.
For exhibitions of their models, they made models from the special soil of Krishnagar (river side soil) in Nadia district, have been held in London, Paris and Boston, where these art pieces of captivating beauty have earned connoisseurs’ appreciation and common man’s lavish praise. The first rewarded artist was Sri Ram Paul (1819-1885). Presently the eminent artists are Sri Biren Paul, Goutam Paul, Ganesh Paul etc. Their realistic sculptors’ clay models are well known to every body. Most of the artists of this region went abroad and engaged as an engraver to create temple image mosque, monuments etc.
According to some reports, the Duke of Connaught (1850-1942) was the first Britisher to have had his bust modeled. So impressed was he during a visit to an exhibition that was being held in 1924 in London that he urged the Indian sculptor who had just then arrived to make his model. The sculptor readily obliged and the bust was made in less than five minutes. Fascinated by true to life models on display at the exhibition, British peerage had their models made by some of the artists who had been sent to England by the Indian government of the day.
As late as 1990, when the Government of Russia wanted a bronze figurine of Rabindranath Tagore for display in one of their national parks, they sought the help of master craftsman Kartick Chandra Pal to give them a clay model. Paul provided it and later converted it into a bronze sculpture. The Pal families are inseparable from the history of the clay dolls of Krishnanagar. At present there are about 100 old families at Ghurni area of Krishnanagar, belonging to the Pal family, who are actively engaged in clay modelling.
But the clay modellers of Krishnanagar have now fallen on bad days. Recently the artists who are involving such activities faced with great difficulties. Gradually decreasing the demand of good buyer, and also capturing market by cheapest non – breakable item throwing the clay model artists into poverty and unwillingness. Most of the young generations are inclined to service or other business leaving their heredity artistic works. The number of master craftsmen is decreasing as members of the younger generation are switching over to more lucrative trades or more paying professions. In 2007, the number of master craftsmen staying at Ghurni dwindled to 10, most of them aged. A few those have money engaging with stone sculpture, fibreglass models, although they lack the infrastructure for making fibre glass models. Fibreglass is more durable and easy to mould. The petering out of the ‘zamindari-babu’ culture in West Bengal brought with it days of gloom for the modelling artistes and they witness continous erosion of patronage.
3.2 MAKING PROCESS:
As it is mainly a family oriented art, most of the household members are involved with clay doll making at Ghurni. The process involves various activities, but it is formulated mainly in three steps:
I] Moulding: This process starts with preparation of collected clay for modelling. At first, a moulder makes the clay wet and processes it as it is to be desired and dump it for at least one night. Next, an artist gives shape of a specific model with the help of moulded clay. The moudels can be fullyhand made or made in moulds.
II] Drying: Next important step is drying of the models. Firstly, dolls are dried on sunlight and then they are placed within a furnace. The fire place is called ‘Poan’ in local language. Here models are kept for 4-5 hours at 500C.
III] Decorating: Keeping out from the ‘Poan’, the models become ready for decoration. The immediate step is coloring of the dolls which depends upon the aesthetic view of the artists, which is the most vital thing in giving the eyes and facial expressions of the models which makes it lifelike. Unique coloring pattern of Krishnanagar clay dolls deserves crown in the world of dolls.
They have their own special technique in using glue and in bringing brightness to the dolls which actually help them to achieve fame and awards on state, national as well as international level. During preparation of glue, tamarind seeds are used to increase the longevity of the colour fried in dry condition their shells are separated. Then, cotyledons of the seeds (white portion) are grinded and boiled in water. After boiling, the mixture is cooled and mixed with the colour. To increase glossiness in colour, a brushing treatment of arrowroot (plant from which a nutritious starch is prepared) powder mixture is used on the colour coating. After that kerosene oil added to burnish is used to increase the kerosene oil added to burnish is used to increase the brightness.
Mainly clay/earthen dolls are manufactured by the people of this sector though nowadays wax or fiber dolls are also produced. The rate of clay dolls (generally human figures) various according to their artistic fineness. Cost of a 2’’ costs about Rs. 150.00-200.00. The height of models of human figures varies from 2``to 1`.
3.4 CHANGING TIMES:
Tastes are also changing. Even ten years ago, the demand was for mrit silpa of the great poets and traditional icons such as Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. Now, they are losing out. The demand has shifted and so have the artists to the ‘hottest pin-up idols of cricket’, Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Even saints and religious leaders like Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Baba Loknath, and Sai Babas, have lost out in popularity to these cricketers.
The govt. grant is main cause to decrease such worldwide creations. Though officials argued that they purchased such creation through co–operative / handicraft development emporium also placed them different emporium in different states. Now, NRIs have shown interest in acquiring collections of the Krishnanagar clay dolls and the resultant demand has made the market better for these famous clay dolls. Govt. also pledged to arrange loan as their necessity and encouraged the artists as inter-state competition and rewarded them.
After all we can say only govt. grant can help to survive clay work of Krishnanagar and the artists who are still struggling with their heritable creation.