Tuesday, March 31, 2009


TANT & MUSLIN- Muslin & Tant(Cotton Saree) is probably the most famous export of West Bengal after the Darjeeling tea.
Muslin is a type of cotton textile which is considered a marvel for its unique texture and lightness. The weaving of Muslin, also sometimes locally referred to as mul mul, has been a part of Bengal lives from the ages of Kings and queens. However, under the rule of British, this art was completely stopped in the interest of western industries that feared the growing popularity of muslin. After independence, with the help of government, the muslin weaving was again started. Most of the muslin weaving industries is settled near Shantipur in Nadia District and Ambika Kalna in Burdwan district. Saris and dhotis are the most widely produced apparel from Muslin.
Jamdani was primarily a dress material for women and men but in contemporary lifestyle we find them in the form of saris with a great variety of patterns donned with geometrical motifs designed on simple frame or pit looms. During the weaving process a paper pattern is kept beneath which acts as a trace to set up the design onto the sari. Generally two weavers weave the jamdani sari.
Jamdanis are mostly woven in lightly dyed backgrounds with designs in white, maroon, black, green, gold, silver and in muga silk of a golden colour. There is a key difference in the weaving technique of extra weft designing between jamdanis and tangails; the embroidery thread in jamdani is inserted after every ground pick whereas in tangails the embroidery thread is inserted after two ground picks. The main characteristic of tangails is the extra weft butis, tiny motifs repeated all over the ground. Traditionally jamdanis are woven in white with designs in bleached white. Traditional jamdani saris with geometrical designs and cotton tangails are very popular and continue to be woven by weavers originally from Bangladesh. Being light they are excellent for everyday wear in a tropical country like India.
Shantipur, Dhaniakhal, Begampur, and Farasdanga are the main cotton weaving centres which are involved in the weaving of fine-textured saris and dhotis. Coarser saris and dhotis, used for everyday wear, are found in Atpur in Hooghly district while fine textured saris with a uniform weave of 100-112 counts in the warp and the weft are done at Shantipur. When the decorations look the same on both sides of the cloth they are called do-rookha or double sided designs.
The borders on the saris of Shantipur could be either dyed cotton-silk or art-silk or viscose yarns or gold and silver zaris. The background of the saris has fine and delicate checks, stripes, or a texture created by coloured threads or a combination of fine and thicker yarn. The anchala or pallava or pallu of the sari which hangs from the shoulder has butis or jamdani designs beautifully arranged along with stripes of different widths. Some tie and dye designs are also being used for the anchalas of Shantipur saris.
The well known Nilamabari sari is of a deep navy-blue colour like the sky on a new moon night with borders of silver zari-like the stars while the pallu is decorated with stripes of different thickness, called sajanshoi, in colours complementing the border. Bengal has a rich tradition of weaving richly patterned cotton saris with heavy borders that contrasts with a finely textured body.
Dhaniakhali in Hooghly district which was once famous for superfine dhotis has switched over to saris in pastel shades due to failing demand, In contrast to the Dhaniakhali saris, the saris of Begumpur have deep and bright colours. Farasdanga in the same district continues to make fine dhotis, perhaps the finest in Bengal while Begampur also in Hooghly district specialises in loosely woven, light-weight and translucent saris.
In Medinipur(now Purba(East) Medinipur) Amarshi one of the top weaving place in the southernmost part of Bengal.
There is a rich tradition of weaving handloom cotton textiles among the tribal and semi-tribal people n the districts of West Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Maldah, and Cooch Behar in North Bengal. Rajbanshis weave saris with very attractive designs of checks and stripes on simple pit-looms. The sarongs of the Polia are made by joining together two very dense strips woven on simple primitive looms made of short pieces of bamboo stick and a narrow strip of wood about 3 cm wide and 60 cm long. Beautifully patterned, multicoloured, narrow jute carpets on similar looms are made by the tribals of West Dinajpur. These dhokras are joined together and used as sleeping mats or blankets.
The Arthashastra has mentioned that Silk weaving in Bengal has existed from the ancient times. The cultivation of mulberry silk and its weaving is carried out in the plains of West Bengal. The other districts where silk yarn is made are Murshidabad, Birbhum, Bankura, Maldha and Purulia districts. The district of Maldah on the north bank of the Ganga is today the most important centre for silk rearing in West Bengal.
Tapestry material was made from Baluchar silks which were originally used by nawabs and Muslim aristocrats of the Murshidabad district as; however Hindu noblemen used the raw silk. Baluchar silk was woven into saris in which the ground scheme of decoration is a very wide pallu with a panel of mango or paisley motifs at the centre surrounded by smaller rectangles depicting different scenes. The sari borders were narrow with floral and foliage motifs and the fall of the sari was covered with small paisley and other floral designs in undemonstrated but bright colour schemes. Another familiar motif for the body of the sari was diagonal butis. Even today similar saris which have smaller anchalas are being woven at Murshidabad and Varanasi to match contemporary tastes. The traditional jala technique is used for this.
The unique feature of Baluchar saris was the combination of animal and bird motifs incorporated in floral and paisley decorations while other motifs included hunters on horses, elephants, and scenes from the nawab's court. The silk yarn used for Baluchar saris was not twisted and so had a soft and heavy texture. Limited ground colours were used which were permanent in nature and retain their freshness even after so many years.
Murshidabad is famous for its cowdial saris made of fine mulberry silk with flat, deep- red or maroon borders made with three shuttles. The borders are laced with fine serrated design in gold zari. The fine gold lines are supposed to represent the fine trail left on its path by a live cowrie mollusk, thus giving the name, cowdial. Murshidabad silks are further popular for hand-printed designs and other materials which are also printed with wooden blocks. Calcutta and Srirampur in the Hooghly district are the main textile hand-printing centres in West Bengal.
Traditional silk sari weaving is also done at Vishnupur in Bankura district which bear a lot of similarity with the kataki designs of Orissa. In the districts of Bankura, Birbhum, Purulia, Murshidabad, and Maldah the weavers make plain silk fabrics in rich and varied textures using Tussar and mulberry silk

Monday, March 30, 2009


This is banam. A string instrument played by the Santals. This is a special one for us because this Banam made by Late Guru Bazar Hembram. We will write down about him in future as a tribute. He is an iconic figure as far as this project. It is a great loss for us.








Nakshi Pakha decorated hand-fan traditionally made by housewives and commercial artisans. The pakha or fan, has been in use in Bangladesh since ancient times and is still used extensively in rural areas where there is no electricity. When decorated attractively with colourful designs, the fan is called nakshi pakha.
The main raw materials for making nakshi pakha are yarn, bamboo, cane, date palm leaves, shola (sponge wood), palm leaves and flax. Peacock feathers and sandalwood are also used. When peacock feathers are used, no additional designs are necessary. A variety of motifs are used to decorate nakshi pakha, the fan being named after the predominant motif: for instance, bhalobasa (love), kankair jala (comb's hassle), guyapata (betel leaves), palangpos (bedspread), kanchanmala, chhitaphul, taraphul, shujaniphul (different flower motifs), balader chokh (eyes of a bull), shankhalata (conchshell creeper), manbilasi (mind's delight), manbahar (glamorous), baghbandi (the caged tiger), solakudir ghar (house of sixteen scores), mansundari (most desired beauty), lekha (written message), sagardighi (large lake), hati-phul-manus (elephant-flower-man), gambuj tola (dome), pashar dan (game of chess), yugal hans (pair of ducks), and yugal mayur (pair of peacocks). A woman's song refers to yugal hans and yugal mayur: " Someone has written [embroidered] on that fan a pair of ducks and a pair of peacocks."
Designs may be embroidered or woven. Usually a round bamboo frame is attached to a bamboo handle. Coloured yarn, drawn from sari borders, is then drawn tightly across the round bamboo frame. With the help of a needle, coloured threads are woven in geometric patterns across the fixed strands. Occasionally, words or phrases are worked across the fan. Some favourite messages are: 'Go, dear bird, tell him to forget me not' and 'Days pass but promises remain but time, meanwhile, flies away'.
To make embroidered nakshi pakha, white cloth is attached to the round bamboo frame. Then different motifs are embroidered. The fan is finished off with a narrow strip of red cloth stitched around the edges of the frame to make a frill. Such fans are very popular in villages.
Fans made of bamboo and cane is woven like mats in round or square shapes. The most popular fan of rural Bangladesh is made of palm leaves. One leaf is sufficient for one fan. In order to make a fan, a palm leaf is cut in a round shape and framed with bamboo strips. Then triangular designs are made with fine strips of bamboo.
These days fans made of sola (sponge wood) are sold in different folk fairs. These fans are very light in weight. They are made by pasting fine pieces of sola on a thin paperboard. At times paint is used to make the fans colourful. These fans are available in seasonal fairs.
Sandalwood fans are not made in this country, but in the 18th-19th centuries they were fashionable among women of affluent families. Nowadays, folding fans are made of palm leaves, in imitation of such sandalwood fans. They are popular, as they are easy to carry. Plastic fans are also being made today, in attractive colours but without decorative designs. The folk industry of fan making is, however, fast dwindling with the increasing availability of electricity and use of electric fans.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Leto is a popular folk drama found in the districts of Bardhaman, Murshidabad an some places of Hooghly in West Bengal. Both men and women perform in Leto. Leto is a folk theatre where social, economic and day to day activities are performed in humorous ways through comedy. The participants are usually illiterate agriculturalists who in their leisure period after the harvest performs Leto. There is no written form in Leto. The Leto artists have great excellence in composing extempore dialogues an relevant issues. Ten members comprise of a group for performance. Districts are Bardhaman, Murshidabad, Hooghly.
Harakumar Gupta is one of the Leto Master and it is a privilege to saw him in the stage. He is an octogenarian.


Ivory carving is the composition of Hindu and Islamic culture and art which makes it very secular in its appearance. Khagra and Jiagunj are the two main centers in the Murshidabad district.Craftpersons make gorgeous ivory panels which are part to the beds, simhasans or the royal chairs, palanquins, thrones.
The craftsperson carve beautiful pieces of bullock carts , trail of elephants crossing the bridge, patterns carved on the complete tusk , engraved jewellery boxes, chariots with horses and many more items. Artists put lot of effort and hard work while engraving their art in these items. Artisans working on this art make figures of Hindu gods and goddesses- Lakshmi, Durga and Ganesh.
Craftpersons of Medinipur make combs made out of the horns and are designed in many shapes and designs. Combs made out of horn are trusted to be excellent for hair and the scalp. People living in the villages are the regular users. This craft is mainly common in the villages of Jyot Ghanashyam, Narayan Chak, Midnapur district of West Bengal.
The early pages of Indian civilization are full of descriptions of ‘horn combs’ which adorned the tresses of women in ancient times. in shining black and translucent shades of greys, Bengal horn work is still a fascinating craft. A village near Kolaghat, East Medinipur use to carry the legacy of this crafts.

Thursday, March 26, 2009



Before plastic was introduced in India, combs were made of wood, bamboo, metal, bone, and ivory. Whether simple in design or an intricate work of art, comb-making was a hereditary craft. Now the craft product is viewed as an object of curiosity and decorative value rather than as an object of everyday use. The share of the market controlled by wooden comb-makers has dwindled and they are now focusing on crafting hair ornaments and pins, along with intricately carved spoons, ladles, and other items of cutlery.
This hereditary craft uses tools that are crafted by the artisans themselves with the help of an ironsmith. The wood used for a quality comb is deodar, ebony, or any other strong wood that is locally available. The wood is cleaned and given its outer shape with the help of a file. The piece is gripped firmly with the feet; the seating posture resembles an inverted lid with its three sides raised by about 6 inches to 8 inches with a nail strategically positioned as a hold for the foot. The finishing file is double layered, with one of the layers having sharply serrated edges and the second layer serving as a moving measure to mark the length of the comb while the teeth are being sawed. A special file is used to smoothen the teeth.
No pencils or markers are used, no designs are drawn, and the designs are made entirely in free hand. A simple wooden comb takes about an hour to make, while a complicated and intricately designed one can take up to three days. A comb that is regularly used lasts only for a month, thereby ensuring regular employment to the comb-maker. The wide-toothed side is meant to be used before the narrow side to prevent the teeth from breaking.
An interesting and ingenious product is the oil dispensing comb in which oil is poured in through a central aperture open at the top of the spine. When the aperture is filled with oil, the opening is closed firmly. When the comb is used this oil comes out evenly from tiny holes in the teeth and the hair is thus oiled and combed at the same time.
In Bastar, in Chhattisgarh, combs have a special significance. Among the young Muria tribes the boys gift either wooden or brass combs to the girl(s) of their choice and the status of the girl is enhanced by the number of combs she possess. These combs are carved by the boys themselves using very simple tools. They are used by both boys and girls as a hair ornament and are embellished with motifs of birds, fish, animals, warriors, and fertility symbols. The combs are made of bamboo spikes tied with sago-palm fibres or with fine thread. They are cherished possessions and it is taboo to use someone else's comb(s). In Central India wooden combs are still being used by tribals and villagers, though they are being replaced increasingly by plastic combs. Wood and horn combs were once popular among the Banjaras, though the craft has now been abandoned. Ivory combs were popular at the turn of the 19th century and were used by the nobility and royalty. More common, however, were combs made of horn --- whether of rhino, buffalo, or bison. This craft has all but disappeared. Artistic brass combs were made by tribals in Central India using the cire perdure process. These combs were large and heavy and used only on festive occasions as hair ornaments.
In Bengal Jashore and Bangaon are the central place for the comb makers.
Pls lookout this place for further reading on this.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


It is a special type of folk song sung on the occasion of Shiva's GAAJON (a festival associated with the worship of the god SHIVA). These songs are widely sung in Nadia, Birbhum, and Murshidabad districts. Performers move in groups from house to house dancing, singing and playing different roles.
The bolan gan group comprises singers, dancers, and musicians and is led by an ustad (teacher). Teen aged boys play the roles of women and sing and dance. Thus it is similar to ALKAP GAN, though alkap is performed on the stage while bolan gan is not.
Bolan gan was usually composed in the form of a narrative play based on mythological stories. However, the themes of these songs have expanded to include social and contemporary issues. Bolan gan may be both light and serious: songs based on serious issues are known as khanda giti, while light and humorous songs are known as ranpanchali.
The songs are prefaced by a bandana or hymn followed by the main song in PANCHALI. The main theme is then presented through dialogue, argument and counter argument. The final part of the song consists of ranpanchali which is aimed at amusing the audience through jokes, dances and songs.
The performers of bolan gan are non-professional. Usually village youths form bolan gan groups when there is no work in the fields. They then get someone to compose a song for them. Musicians are hired if they are not available in the group. However, the whole arrangement is temporary. Bolan gan is gradually losing its popularity due to lack of patronage and changes in taste.


Literally songs for twelve successive Bangla months, describes the feelings of a woman who has been separated from her lover. While narrating her pleasure and pain, her hope and despair, she describes the twelve months of the Bangla year. Generally, the song begins with Baishakh, the first month of the Bangla year. The baramasi can be sung at any season of the year. Usually, the singer is a woman who gives vent to her own sorrows while describing the changing faces of nature.
Baramasi songs are rooted in Bengali culture and are popular all over Bangladesh. They invoke gods and goddesses and narrate mythical stories or traditional and social events. They contain stories of love as well as accounts of agricultural life. They are valuable literary and social documents. Baramasi songs can also be called 'work songs'. Female farmers often sing them while weeding the fields to lessen the tedium of their work. No musical accompaniment is used. The tune of the baramasi is mournful, conveying the sadness of separation.
The baramasi songs of some areas are called Sita's Baramasi and Nila's Baramasi. The stories of the two songs are similar in many ways. In the following lines from Sita's Baramasi, SITA laments her separation from RAMACHANDRA during the month of Asadh. She describes the heavy rains during this month and longs to be reunited with her husband: 'Asadh masete dekha ghana barasan/kotha prabhu Ramachandra and devar Laksman/Karmaphale Dashanane aniyachhe hari/ Dharmik Laksman more nao na hari' (Look at the heavy rainfall of the month of Asadh./where is Lord Ramachandra and my brother-in-law, Laksman?/The ten-headed [Ravana] stole me away because of my misdeeds./Devout Laksman take me back.)
Kalketu Upakhyan by the 16th-century poet MUKUNDADAS contains Phullarar Baramasi, which describes the sufferings that Phullara endured for twelve months.

Gopichandrer Gaan

Gopichandrer Gan famous Nath poem, based on the life of Prince Gopichandra of Meherkul. This poem, which was once very popular in north-eastern India, is an allegory describing the true yogic way of sannyas (life of a saint). On the advice of his ascetic mother, Maynamati, Gopichandra became a disciple of the sage, Hadipa. After twelve years of ascetic life, Gopichandra returned home. However, he did not understand the true implication of yoga and used the magical skills he had learned to amuse his wives. Hadipa became annoyed at this misuse of yogic lore. Gopichandra realized his mistake and rectified his ways. Finally understanding the meaning of YOGA, he permanently accepted sannyas. The story is familiar to Bengalis under three names: Maynamatir Gan, Govindachandrer Git and Gopichandrer Sannyas. The three poets who are associated with these versions are Durlabh Mallick, Bhabani Das and Sukur Mohammad.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Awul Chand (c 1694-1770) ascetic and originator of KARTABHAJA cult, was born probably in 1694. He was brought up by a childless Mahadev couple in Ulabirnagar village in NADIA district. His childhood name was Purnachandra. He completed his primary education at his foster father's home and afterwards studied Sanskrit and theology with Harihar Thakur.
According to one view, Awul Chand was a disciple of a Muslim fakir; according to another, he was initiated into VAISNAVISM by Balaram Das at Fulia and then took the name of Awul Chand. Awul Chand traveled to several holy places. Finally, on coming to Ghoshpara near Kanchrapada, he started living under the patronage of Ramsharan Pal. Gradually word spread about his miraculous powers. Twenty-two persons, including Ramsharan, became his disciples, forming the nucleus of the Kartabhaja community. Awul Chand's devotees regarded him as the incarnation of Sri CHAITANYA. Awul Chand passed away some time in 1770. Devotees still gather annually at his tomb in BOALIA.


Gazir Gan songs to a legendary saint popularly known as Gazi Pir. Gazi songs. They were performed for boons received or wished for, such as for a child, after a cure, for the fertility of the soil, for the well-being of cattle, for success in business, etc. Gazi songs would be presented while unfurling a scroll depicting different events in the life of Gazi Pir. On the scroll would also be depicted the field of Karbala, the Ka'aba, Hindu temples, etc. Sometimes these paintings were also done on earthenware pots.
The lead singer or gain, wearing a long robe and a turban, would twirl an ASA and move about in the performance area and sing. He would be accompanied by drummers, flautists and four or five dohars or choral singers, who would sing the refrain.
Gazi songs were preceded by a bandana or hymn, sung by the main singer. He would sing: 'I turn to the east in reverence to Bhanushvar (sun) whose rise brightens the world. Then I adore Gazi, the kind-hearted, who is saluted by Hindus and Mussalmans'. Then he would narrate the story of Gazi's birth, his wars with the demons and the evil spirits, as well as his rescue of a merchant at sea.
Although Gazi Pir was a Muslim, his followers included people from other religious communities as well. Many Gazi songs point out how people who did not respect him were punished. At least one song narrates how Gazi Pir saved the peasantry from the oppression of a zamindar. Another song describes how a devotee won a court case. In Gazi songs spiritual and material interests are often intertwined. The audience give money in charity in the name of Gazi Pir. This genre of songs is almost extinct in Bangladesh today. [Ashraf Siddiqui]


Chal Chitra literally, roof painting, a kind of folk art on circular or vaulted canvas behind the statues of Hindu deities. There is a long tradition in Bengal of placing a circular canvas of mat, cloth or paper bedecked with picturesque paintings of celestial scenes above the idols of gods and goddesses. This is particularly so for the goddess Durga. This traditional art not only enhances the appearance of the Durga image, but also possesses some aesthetic value.
In order to make a chal chitra, the base is prepared by pasting paper on cloth coated with clay. This base is then painted white. Various figures and scenes from myths and legends are drawn on the whitened canvas. Popular themes include Lord SHIVA and his followers, scenes of wars between the gods and the demons (asuras), the goddess Durga slaying the demon, the scene of the coronation of RAM CHANDRA, images of Kali, RADHA, and KRISHNA. The image of Mahadeva or Shiva is found at the centre of all ancient chal chitra. The image of Durga surrounded by her sons and daughters suggests the warmth of Bengali family life. Besides being used for Durga images, chal chitra is also seen behind the statue of the goddesses Jagaddhatri and Basanti (worshipped and celebrated in the vernal season). [Shila Basak]

Monday, March 2, 2009


Shola Craft.
The craftsmen use spongy stem of shola plants which grow in marshlands or paddy fields. Its scientific name is Aeschymene aspera. Shola plants have an important role to play in the natural and social environment of the country.
There is a legend about the use of shola crafts. It is said that while going to wed Himalaya's daughter Parvati, Shiva desired to wear a conical white hat. As the celestial artist Vishvakarma began looking for an appropriate material to make the hat, a kind of plant grew in the wetland as desired by Shiva. This was the shola or spongewood plant. But Visvakarma was used to working with only hard materials like stone or wood and not with soft shola. Once again at Shiva's desire there appeared in the marsh a handsome youngman and he was named Malakar. All those who are now connected with the shola craft are thus known as malakars and belonging to the Hindu community. Traditionally, the malakars made a variety of hats, ornaments for the deities, background scenery for idol worships, temple decorations, garlands, toys and decorative pieces for homes with shola. Blacksmiths and carpenters are worshipers of Visvakarma but malakars worship Shiva as they believe they owe their existence to Shiva and therefore are obliged to worship him.
Almost the whole of the shola plant is its stem. Its bark is grey and inner body white. It grows to a height of 5-6 feet. The circumference of the stem is 2 to 3 inches long. There are two species of shola: kath shola and bhat shola. Kath shola is rather hard but bhat shola is light in weight and soft.
Not much equipment is required in shola craft. A sharp knife and a piece of stone or wood are enough. First, the shola is cut into pieces with knife. Then, with the help of the knife a fine strip of shola is taken out and cut to make various motifs of flowers. To make hats, birds, ornaments and background scenes the cut strips are pasted together and then moulded into various shapes and sizes. The craftsmen themselves make pasting gum from the tamarind seeds. These days they also use gums from the market.

Kartik Puja or Kārttikeya Worship

Kārttikeya in Bengal is considered as a fertility god associated with the harvest festival. Probably he is the same puranic god who is rememebered as commander-in-chief of the devas fighting the demon Tarakasura. However, though both share the same name, the legends and history associated with the two are markedly different. Kārttikeya, the god associated with the harvest festival, is worshipped on the last day of the month of Karttik, when the harvest is yet to be done.

Like all predominantly agricultural states, Bengal too celebrates its harvest festival immediately after the harvest, in the month of Paush which coincides with the English months of December-January. This is considered a time of great celebration with melas and fain organised in various parts of the state. These are limited to covering a handful of newly harvested rice and keeping it carefully in a corner of a room, and having the women of the household offer worship to the leading gods of the harvest festival on Paush Sankranti which falls on 14th or 15th of January annually. The first harvest in Bengal, as in other parts of India, is always considered sacred and auspicious. Apart from these ritualistic associations, there is hardly anything ritualistic in the celebrations which center more around the preparation of various savouries and distributing them among children.

The rituals associated with Kārttikeya worship centre around young girls and elderly women. Girls well trained in rituals associated with this worship alone are permitted to observe these rituals under the guidance and supervision of older women. The austerity inherent in the worship is such that its observance has to be performed life-long, until the woman breathes her last.

The ritual in itself remains a prayer to ensure a safer and prosperous harvest, and the element of austerity has a note of fear and anxiety hidden in it. The ritual begins with every worshipper decorating a mudpot with alpanas made from rice paste. On the day of worship, every worshipper first takes paddy in her pot; to this she adds a few cowrie shells, a few ears of corn, the vegetables available in that season, the tender stalk of a cane plant, dry betel nuts and some fruits available in that season.

The worshipper then keeps the decorated pots before the clay idol of Lord Kārttikeya, who resembles the puranic Kārttikeya. A lamp fed with ghee burns the whole night before this idol. An arm twig is also planted right behind the idol and various kinds of fruits, betelnut, egg, bananas and a particular variety of lemon are all bound to the twig. The priest invited for this special occasion performs the main worship which is completed by evening. However the fasting women associated with this worship stay awake the whole night before the idol.

These worshippers come mainly from the agricultural community, and the worship, accompanied by fasting, continues the whole night with the singing of various folk songs. Here is an example of one such folk song.

Pakeere āre re bābūi re
khe#ter pāke nā dhān khāyile
uidā uidā dhān khay poidā poidā rong chāy
shorāi nolēr shāg bāshābe.
ek bābui dhaliyā, ār ek bābuil kāliyā
ār ek bābuir kopāle tilak.
kāl nā cheletāy dāk diya koiyā jāy.
bādūd podiche rādhār khete
ārē re bābūire kheter pāke nādhār khāyile.

The song has for its theme the idea of driving away those animals and birds which come to eat/steal the grains in the field. Sometimes these fasting women singing songs also take bow and arrow in their hands to shue away those children who try to take away the fruits and vegetables tied to the arum twig. Towards the end of the night, just before dawn, the fasting women mime out actions like sowing seeds, reaping the crop and harvesting it. The songs go on continuously. As soon as it is dawn, the women take their respective pots from the place of worship and go home. The objects kept inside the pot are cooked and distributed among family members. In connection with these festivities, alpanes made out from rice paste arre also made on the floor.

The idol of this harvest god, Kārttikeya, is not taken for immersion in the river. It is kept either in the garden belonging to the house or in a corn-field. Perhaps it is kept there to protect the crops.

Life in any agricultural community is very closely related to nature. To ensure harmony ecologically man has to learn to live with nature and not do anything that is anti-nature. Kārttikeya worship during the harvest festival comes as man's way of praying to the Lord for a prosperous and rich harvest. Hidden in this prayer is the fear that the harvested crop might be stolen by such predators like snakes and mice while Kārttikeya's vāhanā, the peacock, brings man the assurance that these unfriendly predators will be overcome. The peacock together with the rooster symbolises continuation of prosperity and the natural order of things while Kārttikeya the harvest god stands for fertility and growth. The peacock and the rooster, according to ornithologists belong to the same family and help in restoring order and equilibrium in society. They are supposed to possess four qualities, viz:

  1. capable of fighting its enemies with valour;
  2. remaining alert and active;
  3. feeding along with its group; and
  4. going to help women in distress.

These qualities remain symbolic of the qualities associated with Lord Kārttikeya Himself, viz:

  1. the Lord fighting with Tarakasura;
  2. the alert Lord who has conquered sleep in his battle with Tarakasura;
  3. the Lord as the Commander-in-chief of the Deva forces; and
  4. the Lord chivalrously rescuing the suffering Surabhalagan from Tarakasura.

In addition the peacock remains a symbol of beauty. As an extension of this symbolism, Lord Kārttikeya is also seen as a symbol of youth, fertility and beauty. Hence unmarried girls worship Kārttikeya praying for young, handsome bridegrooms. Married women, those who are barren, and those without children worship Lord Kārttikeya seeking ferility. It is for the same reason perhaps that the Lord is worshipped by prostitutes and thieves as well, as they pray for beauty and prosperity respectively.

It is therefore possible to see qualities of the puranic Kārttikeya getting superimposed upon Kārttikeya the harvest God. It is also believed that Kārttikeya worship as a community puja was prevalent at one time, probably until the 18th and 19th centuries. Today Kārttikeya the pauranic god is not worshipped separately. He is worshipped along with Lakshmi, Saraswati and Ganapati as the son of Parvati, the Supreme Mother. Most Bengalis are of the opinion that Kārttikeya is a bachelor. However there is no second opinion that the pauranik Kārttikeya has a wife called Devasenā. He marries her after slaying Tarakāsura and he also begets a son called Visakha. Devī Purana recounts these in detail. According to this purana, it is Devasenā who comes as Sashti Devi and blesses her devotees. Brahma Baibharta Purāņa makes reference to Visakha, son of Kārttikeya.

The sanctity and austerity associated with the worship of the pauranik Kārttikeya has today, the traditionalists claim, degenerated to a lower level such that most people see him as god of prostitutes. As has been pointed earlier, association of fertility, youth and prosperity could very well have been the reason for this so called degeneration while the pauranic god stood for valour, victory and chivalry, the harvest god stood for fertility, youth and beauty. He has also stepped down from the normal pedestal or throne occupied by the traditional gods and goddesses. Hence he is known to Bengalis as Babu Kārttikeya.

Thus it is interesting to note that while the pauranic god worshipped along with goddesses Durga remains associated with community worship and is taken for immersion. Kārttikeya the harvest god, standing for fertility and prosperity, is the more practically wanted one, as he is much sought after by women in want of children. He has become a more familiar personal deity, worshipped when the need arises but he does not anymore enjoy a regular separate traditional worship. It would be fitting to conclude with a few lines offered as meditative verses to Lord Kārttikeya.

Kārttikeyaŋ mahābhāgaŋ mayūropari sansthitam
taplā kāñcana varnābang s’aktihasthaŋ barapradham
dvis’ujang shatru hantāraŋ nānānaŋkārabhūs’itam
Prasannavadanaŋ devaŋ s’adānana sūtapradam.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Chalchitra" or "Devichal" is the painted background of an Idol, especially used with Durga. Chalchitra is a metamorphosed form of halo found in the Indian sculptures of ancient period. Primarily these were used to give proportion to the structure. Gradually narrating the associated myth of the figure gets its place on this halo which then took the form of a slab, known as "Prabhamandali" or halo of the idol. This tradition has been carried forward to the idol of Durga also. According to some this tradition was to put up a resistance to the tide of Buddhism. So decoration to depict the glory of the Hindu gods and goddess in its background has become an important part of the worshipping. According to some this may also be a display of the general familial bonds that a Bengali shares.
Though generally Chalchitra or commonly called Chali is painted on perishable materials like, course canvas of "Potas" or paper a few varieties engraved on ivory, wood, stone or sculptured out of metals (Ashtadhatu) are also found.
Originally the artists of Chalchitra are potters but name of two other section are found to be involved in this drawing, surprisingly called "writing". First of them is "Grahabipra" (they are idol makers and might be Brahmanas by caste), the other is called the "Patuas" or "Sutradhar" (the painter of scroll patas, who are often its narrators). These people are often referred as artisans. It might be possible that they are part-timers.
While tracing their religion these artists or writers cannot be clubbed
into a single section as they came from both Hindu and Muslim community. Mysteriously some are found to be followers of both the religions as they had to draw "Gaji" patas for the Muslim locality and Kalighat and other mythological patas for the Hindu locality. They are found to have changed names for serving their purpose.