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Art and Craft

Performing Art

Dance forms

In Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore has the credit of rehabilitating dancing as a fine art to be learnt by young as a part of their education. During the last twenty five years the new dance movement has made considerable progress not only in West Bengal but also other parts of India. Various dance forms popular in West Bengal are :

Chhau Dance

The Chhau dance of Purulia district is a sophisticated dance system in Bengal. The Chhau dance is a mask dance. There is no Chhau without mask. This dance is usually performed by male dancers. Chhau dance of Purulia has some characteristics of primitive ritualistic dance in its vigour, style and musical accompaniment mainly the drum. The symbols were once used as facial painting or body painting by dancers who were thus recognized as personifying the characters they stimulated and the masks appeared later.

Tusu and Bhaduriya Saila

Makara Sankranti is an important festival in all parts of Bengal. The Tusu Parab is held in Birbhum on this occasion. Groups of young girls gather every evening throughout the month of Pousa (December-January) and sing songs which have been termed by the generic term Tusu. The songs are accompanied by simple group movements: there is no other accompaniment. The men also have their particular songs and dances for the occasion and these are known as the Bhaduriya Saila.

Jhumar and Ashariya Jhumar

In Chaitra, another type of composition known as the Jhumar is sung and danced. Jhumar can be sung and danced by only one men and women or both depending upon the particular occasion. The Jhumar at Chaitra is a typical men's dance which is accompanied by drum and cymbals. At time of the transplanting of the paddy only women sing and dance the Jhumar. This is then known as the Ashariya Jhumar. Into the agricultural songs of transplanting paddy was impregnated the theme of the love of Radha and Krishna and other stories of mystical union. The basic tune of the Jhumars remained more or less the same. The development of the Jhumar provides an interesting instance of an old form absorbing a new content.

Raibense dance

The Raibense dance of Birbhium district is a traditional system with a martial motif. Dance is a series of vigorous physical exercises, in which the erect torso has an important part to play. The dancers begin in a single file and then make a circle. Hops, jumps and circles are characteristic. Skills with the shield and the spear and the trishul are common. A percussion instrument accompanies the dance.

Some other dance forms

The agricultural dances have gradually given place to dances which are purely devotional or religious in character. Practically each different sect has its own music and dances. The worshippers of Shakti, dance in the Chandi mandir of Siva, in the dance hall called Gambhira and those of Vishnu in the Natmandir. All these pavilions are specially constructed for the dance in front of the shrine. The Gambhira festival is held on this day. So also is the Kesvar where Siva is worshipped. Gazan dance is performed by men dressed in saffron robes who carry a Dhanuchi (incensed burners). This is exclusively performed by men; the musical accompaniment is provided by decorated drums and brass gongs (Kanshi).The ballad singers, the boatmen, the fishermen and the professional musician dancers, actors, acrobats and even jugglers have their distinctive songs and dances. A characteristic feature of these is the musical accompaniment which consists of a one stringed instrument called the ektara. The dance movements are by and large, restricted to short sequences which intersperse the singing. The footwork is elementary, but the movement of the pelvic griddle is difficult and characteristic. It is freely used by men singing the songs to indicate a dramatic moment.


Jatra, is the traditional theatre form of Bengal. The Jatra is performed by travelling troupes under the management of a man called Adhikari. Although, originally the Jatra had only the themes of Radha and Krishna, today Jatras are written and performed by writers and dramatists of rural and urban centres.


Music is a passion with the Bengalis who express their feelings, emotions and spiritual experience in songs. Different styles of Music are :


Kirtan is a sophisticated style of vocal music deriving from Dhrupad. Kirtan is a harmonious combination of the mode and the lyrical message. Couplets of the lyrics are sung in a chaste raga in slow dhrupadic measure by the leader of a group of singers and their significance is elaborated in recitation or song. The refrain is taken up by the group in quicker and quicker tempo until the chorus finishes in a crescendo and then the next couplet is taken up by the leader. The process goes on until a particular episode is completed. Tampura and khol, are used for accompaniment. In recent times the box, harmonium and the violin are also used. Four sub styles of Kirtan have developed in course of time. These are Manoharshahi, Garanhati, Mandarini and Reneti schools, each with its distinctive manner of presentation and incorporating some features of the different classical styles.

Vishnupur School or Gharana Style

The court at Delhi patronised classical music. The tradition was set by Mian Tansen, court musician of Emperor Akbar, an exponent of dhrupad style, who ruled the musical world of northern India. As the Mughal authority declined, the disciples and descendants of Tansen started leaving Delhi. A number of them found warm reception with Bengali feudatory chiefs. A descendant of Tansen, a 'dhrupadiya' named Bahadur Khan, settled himself in the court of the feudatory chief of Vishnupur and started a school of music which came to be known as the Vishnupur school or Gharana which produced a line of eminent musicians, many of whom were retained by wealthy landlords interested in Indian classical music. Prominent among such patrons in the mid-nineteenth century were the members of the Tagore family, Saurindramohan Tagore and his brother Jatindhramohan Tagore whose efforts made Calcutta a main centre of Hindustani classical music in Bengal. Some other masters of this school were retained by Devendrnath Tagore for coaching the members of his family and also for setting the music of Brahmo devotional songs in the solemn and dignified style of Dhrupad.


A lighter style of song which had great vogue in nineteenth century Bengal is Tappa, originally introduced during the first half of the century by Ramnidhi Gupta or Nidhu Babu who composed a number of memorable songs of secular love in Bengali which became quite a fashion among the gentry in a short time. By and by its features were assimilated in popular music of diverse kinds-in songs of devotion, in Jatra songs and other compositions by later composers.


Thumri was a later arrival, it was the lightest of all classical styles. It took a considerable time to earn popular appreciation.

Folk Songs

The main varieties of folk songs may be classified into three groups-Baul, Bhatiali, and Sari.

Tagore tradition

Song compositions of Rabindranatha Tagore has the most extensive adaptation of the all the styles, Hindustani classical as well as indigenous and European and a personal styles assimilating and synthesising all extant styles. Subject-wise his songs, nearly 2,500 in number fall into five broad categories namely

- Songs of devotion.
- Songs of love
- Songs of nature
- Patriotic songs and
- Miscellaneous songs. Most of his songs are dhrupadic in structure, being composed in four stanzas and are to be sung according to the notation set.

Dhrupad and Baul styles predominate in Tagore's devotional songs while his other songs make liberal use of the Tappa style in a modified form omitting the feature of improvisations. Many of his patriotic songs are composed in Baul style. For example, the song 'Amar Sonar Bangla' which has been adopted by Bangladesh as its national song and others, like 'Janaganamana-adhinayaka', India's national song are Dhrupad based and combine the feature of choral singing. It is in his songs of nature that Tagore comes out in the fullness of his genius as a composer. He employs classical ragas, combines them felicitously to fully unfold the nuances of the lyric and introduces a happy synthesis of folk tunes and ragas in a variety of appropriate time measures. In his songs of spring, Tagore has created a naturalistic myth of recurrence of life, most of such lyrics are for song and dance.

Musical Instruments

In instrumental music Bengal has produced great masters in the Sitar, the Sarod and the Esray. The great teacher, late Ustad Alauddin Khan has developed the art of the flute into the first rank for the exposition of classical music. The' modern' style has pressed into service the guitar, the violin cello and other musical gadgets of western origin. The portable box harmonium, which evolved in Calcutta about eight decades back is ubiquitous despite the frowns of orthodox classicists. For concert music the violin, the clarinets and the cornet are extensively used. Some itinerant rural singers also use the fiddle for accompaniment. The Bauls use the ektara and the dotara, bayan (percussion) and ankle-bells. The wealthy traditionally call for naabat consisting of the sehnai and nakkara (percussion) for auspicious ceremonies. In major public celebration like the Durga Puja the instruments of choice are the Jaidhak (major Indian drum) and the Kansi (brass gong) played in a variety of rhythmus and time measures. The khol and cymbals are the invariable accompaniment for Kirtan music.



Hand-made pottery is predominantly a woman's art in West Bengal. Women generally make variety of dolls and toys. These hand made figures, small dolls and toys are done by pressing and moulding methods. Some important and interesting items are :


Mangalghat is a kind of small vase which is commonly used all over Bengal in all kinds of rituals. In birth initiation and marriage ceremonies, in the festivals and rituals of all Gods and Goddesses these auspicious vases of various shapes and sizes are counted as essential requisites. These are mostly painted.

Lakshmi Ghat

These are auspicious vase of the Goddess of wealth. There is fairly a large variety of Lakshmi-ghat in West Bengal, mostly done in pairs, one for Lakshmi and another for Ganesh. Of these, Tamluk Lakshmi - ghats are most decorative and beautiful. Lakshmi's face is shaped on the upper fringe of the vase, with sharply drawn eyes and crest and the trunk of Ganesh in the other vase is also fine. In Raghunathbari, the vases are placed like bowls on an earthen stand. The Jhargram type, is the simplest one with a little long neck marked with two dots for eyes. It has a look of tribal simplicity.

Manasa - Ghat (Bari)

The most conspicuous type of Manasa ghat is found in Bankura and Garbeta area of Midnapur. Based on earthen jars turned upside down, the face of the serpant-Goddess, along with the attached snake-hoods, give the vase a peculiar shape and form. The number of snake-hoods varies from one, three, five, seven, to more than hundred arranged in ascending tiers according to the size of the vase.


One of the finest unique specimens of potter's craft is the Tulsimancha of Midnapore. Tulsimancha is generally a raised pedestal, either brick-built or earthen. The terracotta tub - like Tulsimancha with decorative motifs (mainly of Gods and Goddesses) are hardly found outside Midnapore. . It may be placed on the ground anywhere and filled with earth. Then a tulsi plant or any other small plant may be planted on it.

Dakshin Roy's Head - 'Bara - Murti'

Another interesting piece of pottery which is basically a Ghat or vase, shaped into the figure of a local village deity is Bara - murti. This is also a vase upside down. The upper part is elongated into the form of a leaf with painted leaves and flowers on it and below it on the round surface the face of Barathakur is drawn. It is commonly worshiped in pair and also sold by potters in pair, of which one is God Bara and the other, his consort Narayani. In the Narayani ghat the moustache is absent. Eyes, eyebrows, moustache and beard are all sharply painted by brush. The worship of this Bara - murti is widely prevalent in the south of 24 Parganas district, where almost in every village the rituals are observed on a mass scale during the last day of Bengali month Pous and the first of Magh, corresponding to 14-15 January. The painted terracotta heads of Bara is placed under trees in pairs. Locally Bara is popularly known as the severed head of 'Dakshin Roy' who is a tiger-god. It is one of the most popular people's God in south 24 Parganas, associated with an environment of forest, which is likely to be the Sunderbans.

Marriage - Ritual vessels (Harhi)

In marriage ceremonies, vessels of different shapes and sizes are necessary for sending gifts to bride's and bridegroom's houses, especially varieties of sweets. Earthen vessels were used in the past because it were considered more sacred and auspicious than glass-pots or metal-pots. Of these earthen vessels some interesting varieties are found in Bankura, Midnapore and Murshidabad, which are painted and decorated. Harhis are not painted in all places and even where these are painted, the painting is not done by the professional potters of Kumbhakar caste, but by Patuas or scroll-painters, as in Midnapore (Narajol). In Bankura, the vessels are not painted by brush, but etched and engraved with pointed needles by potters (generally women). The designs are geometric and symbolic. Fish is a common subject in all drawings on these auspicious vessels. The Patuas paint flowers and leaves with fish. The other designs are of trees and flowers, symbolically executed.

Putul (Dolls)

The dolls are usually made by pressing and moulding methods. Now-a-days these are mostly prepared in mould. The mould may be prepared in parts and on each mould - piece the required quantity of clay is firmly pressed to get the intended shape and look. Clay paste is used for joining together the moulded parts. Then the object is dried, burnt and painted by brush. Mica - coated Red Dolls are made by moulding method. It is found in Howrah district : Puilya, Tantiberai, Tulsiberai and Sariyala - Balipota and in Midnapore.

Pressed - nose Dolls

The size of this doll is 1-2 inches to 4 -5 inches. It is found in Tulsi - berai, Tantiberai, Sariyala - Balipota, Antila and Kalikapur, Patihal and Jagatballavpur in Howrah district, in Midnapore town and in Berachampa - Debalaya. The dolls of Jagathballavpur and Midnapore town have blue and red stripes on white coating.

Horse - riders with and without wheels : Average height of the dolls is 4 to 5 inches.
Wheeled type is made in Tantiberai and Bantul in Howrah district and in Berachampa. Mother - Dolls :

Of all the mother - dolls the most interesting and unique types are made by Bankura potters. The types vary in different centres. Panchmura, Rajagram and Sonamukhi which are the three principal centres of Bankura pottery produce different type of mother - dolls. The dolls of Sonamukhi have red colour but the Panchmura dolls are generally black. Dolls of Sonamukhi and Rajagram have 'bonnets' also.

Dolls with Hip Jars

These are popularly known as 'Kalasi Kankhe Putul' or dolls with hip - jars.' Housewives on the village roads with water filled earthen jars on their hips in pleasant relaxing mood ' has been captured by the women potters and shaped perfectly into the hip-jar dolls. There are numerous representations of village life in dolls. The different types of these dolls are hair - caring, milk - maid (Goalini), wheat-crusher, horse - rider and elephant - rider. All these dolls are done by pressing method and by women potters. Of these, hair-caring is a peculiar type of doll which depicts a woman sitting in front with her child sucking her breast and another woman from behind is caring her hair. The size of the doll is about 5" x 6"x3". It has all the qualities of sculpture and looks like a piece of wood-carving or stone-carving.

Patua-made dolls

Patuas or Chitrakars are scroll-painters. Some types of clay dolls, figures of deities and animals are made by women of Patua-caste in West Bengal in Midnapore, Bankura, Howrah and 24 Parganas. Silate (slate-like) dolls: These are like plaques with holes for fixing on walls. These are coloured dolls and the favourite colours are green, red and blue.

Krishnanagar Pottery

Krishnanagar clay-modeling is about 250 years old and the potters of Krishnanagar did not originally belong to their present locality. In Krishnanagar pottery the social scenes of our country and the people, the different castes and racial types are reproduced realistically in clay-models. For example social scenes like collectors court, tea garden, Pandit-Sabha, Charak festival etc are used in clay modeling. This pottery is very popular and in most of the international exhibitions held since 1851, Krishnanagar clay-models have won medals and certificates and also great admiration from the people of Europe. The prices were very high even one hundred years ago and one can easily imagine its possible clientele today. The customers of these models used to be mainly Europeans.

Bankura Pottery

The principal centres where the terracotta horses and elephants are produced are Panchmura, Rajagarm, Sonamukhi and Hamirpur. Each of these four centres has its local style. Bankura horse is very popular. The Bankura pottery is mainly used for ritualistic purposes. The rituals are almost all exclusively associated with local village gods and folk-festivals in the worship of various kinds of tribal, semi-tribal and folk deities. The Panchmura-style of pottery is the best and the finest of all the four types. The symmetry of shape, the rhythm of the rounded curves of the body, especially of the horse, have lent a dignity and charm to it's form which is incomparable. Simplicity and dynamism are the chief components of Panchmura-style. It is more sophisticated than the other three types-Rajagram, Sonamukhi and Kamirpur types are a little less sophisticated and more massive. In Jhargram and Gopiballavpur areas in Midnapore district, within the tribal belt, the terracotta horses assume a crude near-primitive form and are fully hand modeled.

Dokra Metal Craft

The metal smiths using the lost wax process of metal casting or hollow casting method in West Bengal, are known as Dokra Kamars. The ironsmiths are known in Bengal as Kamars or Karmakar and other metal smiths as Sekras. The word Dokra in Bengali is used with contempt for those who are socially low and despised. Of all craftsmen in West Bengal, these metal smiths are socially most persecuted and are being treated as social outcasts. Hence they are called Dokras. The Dokras are now dispersed over the western part of West Bengal in four districts namely Bankura, Purulia, Midnapore and Burdwan and are mainly concentrated in Bankura and partly in Purulia.

The Dokras who lived in a small suburb called Rampur on the fringe of Bankura town have shifted to Bikna. These Dokras make various kinds of images and figures of gods and goddesses, birds and animals, like Lakshmi, Lakshmi-Narayan, Siva-Parvati flanked by Ganesh and Kartik, elephants, horses, owls, peacocks etc.

The Dokras of Netkamla and Bindhyajan do not make ritual objects, like images of deities and animal figures. Their main items of production are measuring bowls or paikona of different sizes and mal or anklets and ghunghru or tinkling dancing bells for the Santhals. The Dokras of Lakshmisagar make images of deities and figures of animals and sell their products in local markets and fairs.

In Purulia the Dokras are widely known as Mals or Malhars to common people, although the Dokra artisans are considered lower in social rank. In Purulia, there are some semi-nomadic Malhars, who move about from village to village, take shelter in community houses, outhouses or temporary camps under trees and make various kinds of metal products by the lost wax process. They make paikona, dhunuchi, pancha pradeep, anklets, ghunghrus with mixed aluminium by the lost wax process but do not make any images or figures.

The Patuas (Scroll-Painters)

A scroll-painter is known in West Bengal as Patua, Chitrakar, Patikar and Patidar. In North-West Bankura and Purulia the Patidar name is more popular, in Birbhum and certain areas of Midnapore the Chitrakar name is more current and in south-west Bengal the Patua name is more widely known. Birbhum and Midnapore districts have the majority of Patuas in West Bengal, distributed over a large number of villages. The Patuas are generally very poor and socially outcast.

The Patuas in West Bengal may be divided into three groups, according to the theme or subject they represent on their scrolls.

- The Patuas who represent mainly Hindu mythological themes.

- The Patuas who represent the conception of Heaven and various kinds of tortures inflicted by Yama the Lord of Death, on the sinners.

- The Patuas who represent the theme of the origin of a tribe (which is mainly the Santhals in Western Bengal) and the passage of the Dead from this mortal world to life beyond death.

The first group of scroll-painters who deal mainly with Hindu mythological themes, constitute the most advanced' Hinduized' group. The terms 'Hinduized ' here does not mean their actual Hinduization, but their more frequent contact with and economic dependence upon the surrounding Caste-Hindus who dominate their social environment.

The second group of scroll-painters are Yama-Patuas. The Yama-Pat is an adaptation of the Chakshu-dan pat for the consumption of the Hindu. In the Yama-Pat popular Hindu morality tales are included and 'magic' is totally excluded.

The third group of Patuas are largely found in Jhalda, Barabazar, Manbazar, Jaipur, Raghunathbari and other areas of Purulia district, in some villages in north-western part of Bankura, such as Bharatpur near Susunia Hills, in Kalipahari and Geramdi and Salberia. This is predominantly a tribal zone and among the tribes the Santhals are in majority. In the past, they used to paint scrolls on the theme of the origin of the Santhals. The story of the origin of the Santhals was pictorially depicted through stages on the scroll. The Patidars of this region also demonstrate a kind of scroll, known as Chakshudan Pat (eye giving scroll), after the death of a person, before the members of the deceased's family. The Patidar here performs the role of a tribal magician-priest.

In the traditional style of the Patuas, a fresh spontaneity of conception and execution can always be discerned. They are never drawn with the meticulous perfection. It seems there is some influence of Muslim Calligraphy on the bold and vigorous brush lines of the traditional Patuas. Pat-Painting can be traced back to the Buddhist and the Jain tradition. It the richer among the Jains than among the Buddhists.

The Patuas are dying group of folk artists. Those who are still clinging to the traditional profession are not painters and do not know the art of painting. They are simply wandering minstrels, roaming and begging from village to village by entertaining the poor illiterate villagers with Hindu mythological songs, illustrated on scrolls. These illustrations or paintings were done by their fathers and grandfathers.

The traditional myths of Krishna Radha, Kamalay Kamini, Manasa etc, represented in the scrolls were being replaced by newly created myths of British rule generated by the babus and babu-culture. There are also studies of birds, animals, snakes and fishes.

The Mask-Makers (Wood-Carvers)

The masks made of clay, paper and cloth are found only in the Purulia district of West Bengal. The mask-makers who are Sutradhars or wood-carvers by caste, are located in two or three centres in Purulia and practically originated from one centre. They were also known as Dutta and Seal. This art depend fully on the local Chhau dance of Purulia found only in west Bengal. Chhau dance is a mask-dance. There is no chhau without mask

The technical stages of production are:
1. Preparation of clay-models.
2. Drying the models partly in sun.
3. Pasting of wet paper twice on these partly dried models.
4. Pasting of paper with glue, six to ten times. The glue is made of gum.
5. Pasting of clay-soaked pieces of cloth twice for parts of the face like eyes, ears, nose etc.
6. Trimming up the whole thing with a small wooden, 'Kurni'
7. Full sun-drying.
8. Detaching the mask from the clay-model, dyeing, painting and finishing.

Various types of Puranic characters, gods and goddesses, birds, animals and demons etc. are made, such as-

Ram, Ravan, Jambubab, Jatayu, Mahisasur, Kirat, Bhim, Arjun, Ganesh, Lakshman, Sita, Abhimanyu, Surpanaka, Kumbhkarna, Siva, Durga, Kali, Saraswati, Krishna, Radha, Balaram and Peacock, Dog, Beer, Deer, Horse, tiger, Lion etc.

There is a mask-making season. It starts from Falgun (January-February) after Saraswati Puja, aiming at Chaitra-Baisakh Gajan festival, which is the peak season of Chhau-dance in Purulia.

The Bhaskars

The stone-carvers were known as Bhaskars. Burdwan is the most important centre of Bengal school of stone sculpture. Patun and Dainhat near Katwa are the two most important centres of Burdwan school of Bengal Sculptors.