Mirror to the folk arts and crafts of Bengal.
Different forms of arts & crafts are entangled with each other, and knowing one helps understand the other better. Out of the many oriental arts, Indian arts & crafts can be considered to have been intertwined or reflective upon each other. For example, we see a lot of proof of existence of ancient art of dancing in the temple sculptures, caves & paintings at various places in India from various centuries.
Arts & crafts are one’s own identity. When we know our roots, it’s then that we can stand tall & put ourselves on the world cultural map. I believe that the cultural heritage of the place from where a person comes, defines a lot about him.
Painting, dance, music, sculpture, handicrafts, textile arts, crafts etc are nothing but a mirror to one’s real identity. India is indeed rich, since it has lot of diversity due to its geographical vastness. The many regions & states, multiple languages, diverse habitation, variety in gastronomic culture etc club together to give a unique picture to Indian culture at large. In addition to this, the history, archaeology & philosophy of India give immense depth so as to be called as one of the world’s ancient traditions.
One other such important name is Late Shri Gurusaday Dutta [ICS – 1882 – 1941] whose contribution has provided a strong identity to the folk arts of West Bengal. A person understanding the need of preservation & promotion of the local folk arts & their rustic arts started living his passion by organizing various seminars & workshops such as “Nikhil Banga Navanritta” – on folk dance & song in 1929, “Palli Sampat Raksha Samiti” – to promote village artifice in 1931, as well as committees & institutions such as “Bangla Bratachari Samiti” in 1935 for exhibition & preservation of arts, “Bratachari Gram” – 1940” which he had donated later.
On February 8th 1963, Prof. Humayun Kabir, the then Union Minister of Education, Govt. of India, declared it open to the public. In 1984, the management of the museum was transferred from Bengal Bratachari society to the Gurusaday Dutt Folk Art Society – undertaking its development with financial support from the Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of India under an agreement held on May 23rd 1984 between the President of India & the Bengal Bratachari Society.
The present curator of the Museum, Dr. Bijan K. Mondal [Ph.D B.Lib] spared his valuable time of more than 2 hours & spoke to me about the interesting facts of the museum as well as Shri Gurusaday’s life history thereby providing me important details as well. He mentioned that from 1929 to 1941 about 2325 exquisite specimens including several heirlooms were collected by Shri Gurusaday for reviving & revitalizing the dying folk art traditions. During his tenure as a District Collector in the remote parts of Bengal, Shri Gurusaday developed admiration and interest towards folk & their rustic arts which even after his death in 1941 is being helpful to the public.
[on the right - Vinavadini - Woman with Lyre - Kalighat painting - 19th C. AD - Kolkata]
• The museum on the ground floor showcases:
1 - ‘Kantha’ - a folk form of quilting old dhotis & saris & embroidering it with colored threads depicting intricate floral, human & animal patterns as well s design reflecting social background of WB in 19th C. This section provides a collection of about 210 exhibits from Faridpur, Kulna, Jessore & Dhaka [From, undivided WB]. These are presented in 7 forms: Rumal [Handkerchief], Arshilata [Warp for household], Ooar [Pillow cover], Durjani [wallet-size], Bayton [Wrap for tying books etc], Lep [Winter covering], Sujni [Bed spread etc].
2- ‘Paintings’ – 906 traditional paintings belonging to the 17th to 20th C. with varieties of Square Patas, Kalighat paintings, chalachitras, terracotta saras / lids paintings, Dasaavataar tash [playing cards] etc. Usually mythological, social, commentary, representation of Nayika, rituals & festivals are represented.
Dr. Mondal [The museum curator] also explained that the general paintings are 2D with single line borders whereas the Kalighat painting genre utilizes 3D with shadow lining effect as well as one more category known as the “Bengali Choukhadaan Patta”.
3 – ‘Stone sculptures’- Statues of Durga, Buddist Goddess Marichi & Buddha along with Pala or Sena schools of Bengaal from 10th to 12th C. with around 44 exhibits can be found.
[on the left - sunji kantha - Faridpur - 19th c AD]
4 – ‘Wood Carvings’ – Around 198 carvings of popular deities and social themes from 18th to 19th C. in bold & forceful manner, aesthetically crafted by the carpenters of those days.
• The museum on the 1st floor showcases:
5 – ‘Moulds’ – Intricately carved with elaborate designs in clay or stone – depicting the rich artistic touch or rural folk. Moulds from a very long time in Bengal, have been used to decorate the eatables [dried mango-paste / sweetmeat]. Moulds ornament even those articles which have short life.
[on the right - Kalighat - Pat - Kali - 19th C] paper.
6 – ‘Terracotta objects’ – Around 209 ornamental terracotta plaques of 16th to 19th C. can be found here. These usually were used to decorate the facades of the temples, traditionally since ages in Bengal.
7 – ‘Dolls & toys’ – Around 419 dolls & toys can be seen here from Kolkata, Midnapur, 24 Paraganas, Burdhwan, Mymening, Faridpur, Coomilla in undivided Bengal made in the material of wood, terracotta, lacquer etc.
[On the left - Terracotta - Birbhum - 16th/17th C AD]
Recently, Dr. Mahua Mukherjee the Head of the Department of Dance – Rabindra Bharati University – Kolkata visited the museum with the students of Masters Program in dance. She explained that the students of dance have a theory exam paper on Folk dance which includes a topic on ethnological knowledge of Bengali race along with information on the culture of the neighboring states. When one has knowledge about these arts, it’s easy to understand other arts. Also, Dance is definitely linked with parallel development, influencing other arts.
Dr. Mondal who has been very active, keeps on introducing various activities so as to attract school children and their parents. He mentioned that lot of foreign tourists as well as students of fine arts & performing arts visit the museum. He wishes that more young kids should come to the museum & learn about their own heritage. The next activity he plans to organize is on the birthday of Late. Gurusaday Dutt on May 10th, wherein he will organize drawing & essay competitions for school students along with museum visit & power point presentation as well as a lecture by an invited guest speaker.
After my visit to the said museum, I feel that it is very interesting to understand how important it is for a person interested in pursuing arts [dance/music] at a higher level to know about other forms of arts since the history & features of those speak lots about the background & culture of the people. If one understands the folk culture better, it’s very easy to get the feel of it & therefore produce works of arts on themes & ideas absorbed from the other.
“Gurusaday Museum” is at Bratachari Gram, P.O. Joka – Diamond Harbour Road, Kolkata 14 [Easy to reach from Tollygunj metro / 3A – bus stand]
- MANASI PANDYA