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Folk Arts of West Bengal and The Artist Community

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About the Book Rahul Bengal has always been a treasure trove of folk art in diverse from which found expression in almost every conceivable item of Village life in earlier days, starting from clay built houses and corn-bins to folk painting, kantha embroidery on patched cotton, alpona floor painting, hand woven sitting mats, hand-fans, dolls, terracotta horses, masks worn in folk dances and even moulds for making sweets. What made these items unique was the use of inexpensive and easily a...
About the Book

Rahul Bengal has always been a treasure trove of folk art in diverse from which found expression in almost every conceivable item of Village life in earlier days, starting from clay built houses and corn-bins to folk painting, kantha embroidery on patched cotton, alpona floor painting, hand woven sitting mats, hand-fans, dolls, terracotta horses, masks worn in folk dances and even moulds for making sweets. What made these items unique was the use of inexpensive and easily available ingredients, which the creative passion of the rural artisans transformed into exquisite objects of art.

In this book, Tarapada Santra delves into the intricacies of the creative pattern of folk arts of Bengal, providing on overview of the vast array of art forms and analysing how regional influences and political changes where reflected in the creative styles of the artisans, who braved innumerable hardships to pursue their trade for generations and made significant contributions to the onward progress of rural society.

This first ever English translation of Tarapada Santra's work carries the flavour and essence of the original Bengali text and introduces the reader to rural lifestyle of Bengal and its many traditional forms of folk arts – which are bornd to draw the interest of researchers and art lovers all over the world.


About the Author

Born in an obscure village of West Bengal, tarapada Santra struggled against acute poverty and stringent social constraints all his life to be recognised as an authority on the folk arts of his state. Through his exceptional talent, determination and untiring diligence, he evolved a unique system of field research after spending years in studying the lifestyle of people of different districts of west Bengal, their history, culture, occupation and festivals and the many objects which they produced with simple ingredients for beautifying their homes and serving their day to day needs. He recorded his findings in twenty one books, ten of which were published during the last two years of his life, which he lay in a hospital bed, knowing that death was not far off and anxious that his life's work might remain undisclosed in the end.



The diversity of Ingredients used in the folk art of Bengal reflects the colourful splendour of the secular life of her people. This art not only reveals the nature and many customs of rural life and the diverse livelihoods of the rural society, but also helps us to identify a deep and meaningful expression of social significance. What is manifest from the ingredients used in the folk arts of Bengal is the adoption of Items which are most easily obtainable, such as clay, old cloth and cotton threads. Added to this is colour prepared by local process at nominal costs. It is in this simple background that we find a clay-based culture of the people of all sections, both high and low, which had come to exist – a culture which was centred around reforms and blind faith and yet succeeded in spreading happiness in the set lives of the people.

Those who were the creators – the artisans of this industry – had to put in their hard labour and strive against the pangs of hunger to keep alive the traditions handed down by their forefathers, while they also tried to maintain an onward progress of their art. Even today, we can see their struggling pursuit in thatched huts at every corner of rural Bengal. Sadly, these village crafts, their innovative charm and the skill of the craftsmen had failed to attract the proud pundits, who were acknowledged as the sole authority on fine arts and culture at one time. The many qualities of the folk art of Bengal were recognised for the first time by three of her eminent sons, Dineshchandra Sen, Abanindranath Tagore and Gurusaday Dutta. It was through their sincere and untiring efforts that the significance and true value of this simple and yet grossly neglected chapter was brought to light, and the folk art of Bengal was accorded its befitting status. What had been initiated as an enter prose for individual collections was later laid out for public display for the first time at the Ashutosh Museum. This was made possible through the commendable efforts of Calcutta University, which set up a large collection of carefully selected items of folk art from all over the state. With the passage of time, folk art has now become one of the cultural heritage of this state.

Rabindranath had once said, A country is created by her people; the country is not an inert mass of soil, but is alive and conscious; if her people can express themselves then only shall the country find expression. It is true that a country finds expression through the many creations or her people. And it is only by stretching our eyes towards our rural life, which reflects the conscious spirit of Bengal, that we can come to learn about the creative expressions of the people of this state through the splendid diversity of their folk arts folk sons, folk music and folk dances. But the ambit of Bengal's cultural expression is so extensive that it cannot be fully described in this brief volume. All that has been attempted here is to present in this brief volume. All that has been attempted here is to present an introductory description.




A few thoughts 11
Tarapada Santra – A life Sketch 15
Introduction 23
Art of House Making  
Clay – built houses 25
Corn – bins 27
Folk painting  
Wall painting 29
Rolled pata (painting) 33
Square pata 38
Painting on the Background of a deity 43
Paintings on chariots 45
Cards displaying the incarnations of Vishnu 46
Painted plaques used as covers of ancient manuscripts 48
An ancient manuscript with paintings from the Ramayana 50
Painting on shallow earthen plates 51
Alpona (paintings on floor with rice paste) 54
Paintings on low wooden seats and winnowing trays 56
Paintings engraved on earthen vessels  
Manasa ghot (earthen pitcher symbolising Goddess Manasa) 57
Painted urn – shaped pot 58
Engraved decoration on pitchers and pots 59
Eyo sara (painted earthen vessel used in weddings) 59
Art on household items  
Kantha 67
Rice bowl, betel – box, nutcracker, kohi – compact, comb, Vermillion box 69
Hand fan 70
Hanging loops of strings 72
Four bowls held by a single handle 72
Decorated sitting mats 73
Artwork with small conches 73
Designs with paper cuttings wooden moulds for preparing sweets: chandrapuli and amsatta 74
Wodden moulds for preparing sweets: chandrapuli and amsatta 74
Doll making  
Wooden dolls 80
Dolls made by the painters' community 86
Coloured dolls 90
Dolls produced by the potter's community 92
Wheeled dolls 99
Dolls made of shellac 104
Hand –driven dancing dolls 110
Palm – leaf dolls 116
Artistry with sponge – wood 117
Potter's art related to rituals  
Manasa ghot and Manasa chali 125
Terracotta horses and elephants: different traditions and styles 127
Duldul horse 139
Terracotta tulsi mancha 140
Diwali doll 148
Tusu khola 151
Bara thakur 152
The lakshmi ghot and the Ganesh ghot 154
The art of mask – making for regional folk dances  
Chhou mask 157
Gambhira mask 162
Mukha Kheil or Mokha or Mukha Khela mask 163
Works of art related to the Lakshmi – basket by the Dhokra blacksmith community 165
Symbols and motifs of folk art 171
Clay – built houses of Howrah District 175
Granary and corn – bin 183
The Patuas of West Bengal: social changes 189
Mass representation on the many demands of the patua community 199
Patas based on folk tales of Bengal 201
Art of painting in Bengal: search for painters of plaques used as covers of ancient manuscripts 207
Multi – coloured manuscript of Mahishadal related to folk painting 219
Bengal's folk art: Wooden dolls from Natungram to kalighat 229
The process of making clay dolls 237
A list of dolls made b potters of Majilpur (South 24 Paraganas District) 241
Banak, colour of clay art: ingredients and process 243
Durga Puja festival: A source of livelihood for countless artists and artisans 251
Acknowledgement 257

Sample Pages

Item Code: NAK079 Author: Tarapada Santra Cover: Hardcover Edition: 2011 Publisher: Niyogi Books ISBN: 9788189738952 Language: English Size: 9.0 inch x 7.5 inch Pages: 264 (Throughout B/W Illustrations) Other Details: Weight of the Book: 620 gms
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