Bengal's folk art defies easy categorization. The designs are often particular to a specific region; some pieces carry the imprint of outside influences, ancient and modern. Sometimes an entire village will specialize in a particular craft tradition, with artistic styles and techniques passed from one generation to the next.
It was this rich tradition, its Intangible Cultural Heritage.
While the products retain the deep-rooted elements of Bengal’s heritage, they are shaped in contemporary design to suit the needs and preferences of 21st-century global citizens. One of the initiatives that needs special mention here is the Rural Craft Hub, a collaboration between the Government of West Bengal and UNESCO. Ten Rural Craft Hubs, comprising nine traditional crafts spread across West Bengal.
Kantha is an indigenous household craft of the rural women of West Bengal, India. The craft form originated as embroidered quilts not less than a thousand years ago, often to keep babies warm. This has with time developed into a full-fledged art form, making way for the embroidery on diverse textiles such as traditional women's wear (sarees) among several other products. It remains the most creative of all embroidery styles, characterized by simple running stitch securing layers of cloth together.
The Rural Craft Hub (RCH) of Kantha supports 3000 rural craftswomen, poor but enterprising, in sustainable production of this unique craft. Interventions such as skill building for design improvement, product diversification, market exposure in fairs and festivals have helped raise the women's income from a monthly average of US$12 to US$100 - 650 per month according to their skill levels
Jamdani is a vividly patterned sheer cotton fabric, traditionally woven on a hand loom by craftswomen in West Bengal. Its vibrant colours and the richness of its motifs make Jamdani stand out from among other handloom products. Jamdani textiles were exported to Kabul, Baluchistan, Iran, Arabia, Persia and Greece for a premium in the 17th century.
Baluchari, the widely admired silk saree, is a Geographical Indication (GI) product of West Bengal and has a history of over 200 years. It is charecterised by its intricate designs that often depict scened from India's ancient epics and mythology. The sophisticated hand-weave and colour harmony make Baluchari an object of desire. It supports 120 Baluchari weavers and another 360 artisans engaged in preparatory work with better returns and improved market access while diversifying product offering to cater to the demand of contemporary buyers.
The interventions that include design improvement, product diversification and strategic marketing have helped raise their average income from US$70 to US$90 per month.
Products: Fabric, Scarves, Sarees, Shawls, Home Furnishing products.
The Indo-Portuguese quilts mark a period in history when Indian textiles had reached the peak of their sophistication. The designs show strong influence of Christian imagery and the Italian renaissance. This represents some of the oldest surviving textile wonders of the country that were predominantly made for European export between 1550 and 1650 CE. In its revived form, this beautiful quilted fabric can be used as a bed cover, wall hanging, tablecloth or floor covering.BB has supported an all-women self-help group to revive this heritage craft with its unique craft work on the best of cotton fabric and Tussar silk threads.
The faintly fragrant silk 'Balaposh' quilt is an example of fine craftsmanship in West Bengal. What sets it apart is its characteristic softness and sublime fragrance that wafts through its quilted layers when it is unfolded. A thin layer of cotton perfumed with attar (traditional Indian perfume) snuggles between two blankets of silk in this three-layer quilt. Today, the art of Balaposh making is a closely guarded secret of the family that used to handcraft this premium quilt for Bengal's royalty in historic times. BB has revived this almost-forgotten wonder of Bengal’s heritage and produces 3-4 pieces in a month.
The origins of Bengal muslin are more than a thousand years old. Hand woven from uncommonly delicate hand-spun yarn, muslin was produced from a cotton plant that grew exclusively along the banks of a certain stretch of the Brahmaputra River. In historic times, Bengal's Muslin was exported to far off Rome under the name textalis-ventalis meaning woven air. It was also referred to as 'evening dew' and 'morning mist'. The best quality Muslin of unparalleled fineness was valued at such extraordinarily high premium that only the very rich could afford it. Products: Fabric, Apparel, Scarves, Sarees, Home Furnishing products, Bags and Accessories.
Dokra is a 4000-year old art of sculpting brass, nickel and zinc with the ancient technique of lost wax metal casting (cire perdue). It is named after the Dhokra Damar tribes, the traditional metalsmiths of West Bengal. The craft is characterized by its primitive simplicity, charming folk motifs, rustic beauty and imaginative design. Traditionally, craftspersons used to make objects of use like brass vessels to measure rice, bells, anklets, lamp holders and figures of local mythical characters.
Pat means a piece of cloth scroll and chitra means painting. The Patuas, a community of itinerant scroll painters and singers in West Bengal, used a unique form of story-telling while travelling from village to village. The patachitra (painting) would be unrolled in front of audiences and the patua would sing about the mythological stories that the paintings contained.
Terracotta craft originated in West Bengal under the Malla dynasty towards the end of the 7th century AD. Historically, the artefacts were used for ritualistic purposes associated with local village gods and worship of tribal, semi-tribal and folk deities. Traditional terracotta artists used to inscribe temple walls with this beautiful artwork. To scale up this internationally appreciated art form, BB set up the Rural Craft Hub of Terracotta in 2014.