Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ivory artisans of Murshidabad1, মুর্শিদাবাদের হাতির দাঁতের কারিগর১


১৮৭৫ সালে ভারত সফররত প্রিন্স অফ ওয়েলসকে মুর্শিদাবাদের হাতির দাঁতের কারুকার্য উপহার দেওয়ার প্রস্তুতি
Another industry for which the district is famous is ivory
Carving. The skill of the carvers and the high estimation in which
their work has been held are sufficiently attested by the remarks
of Professor Royle in Lectures on the Arts and Manufactures of
India (1852) with reference to the exhibits sent to the London
Exhibition of 1851 :

"A variety of specimens of carving in ivory have been sent from
different parts of India and are much to be admired, whether
for the minuteness of size, for the elaborateness of detail, or
for the truth of representation. Among these the ivory-carvers
of Berhampore are conspicuous. They have sent a little model
of themselves at work, and using, as is the custom of India, only
a few tools. The set of chess-men carved from the drawings in
Layard's ' Nineveh ' were excellent representations of what they
could only have seen in the above work, showing that they are
capable of doing new things when required ; while their represent-
ations of the elephant and other animals are so true to nature,
that they may be considered the works of real artists and should
be mentioned rather under the head of fine arts than of mere
manual dexterity." In 1888 again the Murshidabad carvers
were declared to be perhaps the best in India, "fully displaying
the finish, minuteness and ingenuity characteristic of all true
Indian art."

The industry dates back to the time when the Nawabs
of Bengal had their court at Murshidabad. The legend of its
introduction is quaint. The Nawab, it is said, one day called
for an ear-pick or scratcher, and when one made of grass
was brought, said that it was not worthy of the dignity of a
Nawab and that one must be made of ivory. An ivory carver
was therefore brought from Delhi to make one. While he
was at work, a Hindu Bhaskar spied on him through a hole
in the wall and learnt his art, which he taught his son, Tulsi
Khatumbar. The latter soon excelled his father and was made
carver in ivory to the Nawab. He was a pious Hindu and  
anxious to go on pilgrimage, and, this being known, a guard was
set over him, for fear that he might leave the city, At last he
managed to escape and went on pilgrimage to various places,
paying his way by his work. After an absence of 17 years, he
returned to Murshidabad and was summoned before the Nawab,
who ordered him to make from memory a carving of the late
Nawab. The statue he produced was so life-like, that the Nawab,
in admiration of his genius, gave him his salary in full for the
17 years he had been away and presented him with a house
in Mahajantuli. To this day, it is said, " the ivory carvers of
Murshidabad bend their heads and raise their hands in veneration
whenever the name of Tulsi is mentioned." Whatever be the
truth of the legend, the art appears to have been from the
first the monopoly of the Bhaskars, whose original hereditary
occupation is the manufacture of clay and wooden images, wood
carving and wall painting. It was an industry which depended
for its prosperity on the support of a luxurious court and wealthy
noblemen, and when the Nawabs lost their power and their
court disappeared, it languished.

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