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Thursday, August 22, 2013
Ivory artisans of Murshidabad2, মুর্শিদাবাদের হাতির দাঁতের কারিগর২
The causes of its decline are stated as follows by Mr. G.C.
Dutt in his Monograph on Ivory Carving in Benaal (1901) :
" For lack of encouragement the Murshidabad carvers have
been obliged to sacrifice quality to quantity. Established during
the declining days of the Nawabs of Murshidabad, the encour-
agement the art received from them was but limited and sporadic.
During the palmy days of Cossimbazar, when many Europeans
belonging to the cotton and silk factories of the old East India
Company lived there, the ivory carvers carried on a brisk
business, both in the district and out of it. Even in 1811, when
the place was fast sinking into the obscurity from which it had
temporarily emerged, it was still noted for silk, hosiery, korahs
and inimitable ivory work. Similarly, when Berhampore rose
into importance as the chief military station in this province
the art flourished there for a time, but with the decline of the
military importance of the town it began to wane, and had it
not been for the railway communication which has made a trade
with Calcutta and Bombay possible, the art would have died out
long ago. Formerly the ivory carvers used sometimes to get
large orders from Government for supplying specimens of their
work for the various exhibitions in England and other European
countries, as also in India, but this has been discontinued in
recent years, as collections for exhibitions are now generally
made on loan from noblemen and zammdars, like the Nawab of
Murshidabad and the Maharaja of Cossimbazar, who have the
very best specimens in their possession.
" Within the last 30 years the industry has altogether died
out from Mathra, Daulatbazar and Ranshagorgram, all three
villages near the city of Murshidabad. Thirty years ago there
were over 50 families of ivory carvers at Mathra, and even so
recently as 12 years back there were about a dozen houses left.
Many of them died of malarious fever, and the few survivors
have migrated to Baluchar, Berhampore and other places. At
present there is not a single Bhaskar in Mathra, and there are
not more than 25 ivory carvers, principal and apprentices all told,
living in the district."
The best workers, it may be added, live in Khagra, a quarter
of Berhampore. The Murshidabad Art Agency has been started
for the advertisement and exhibition of specimens of the art.
The peculiar features of the work are the minuteness of the
carving, which requires 70 to 80 different tools, and the
absence of joins. The carvers hate joins, and would rather
make a small image in which none are required, than a large
article which would sell at double or treble the price, because in
the latter they would have to join the pieces together. The tools
are of a simple character, being mostly ordinary carpenters'
tools, though some are far smaller and finer. They use Assam or
Burma ivory for the most part, as it is light and soft and yields
easily to the chisel without any preliminary process of softening.
For the solid end of the tusk, which is called the nakshidant,
they pay generally Rs. 8-8 to Rs. 10 per seer ; for the middle
portion, known as khovdidant, Rs. 15 to Rs. 16 a seer ; and for
the thick end, which is hollow (galhardant), Rs. 7 to Rs. 8 per
seer. African ivory, which the carvers say is hard, and
therefore liable to crack under the chisel, sells at Rs. 2 to Rs. 3per seer less.