Art & Handicrafts
Bamboo Crafts: Among the numerous varieties of mats woven and used, the Madur mat is a widely used household item. The warp is cotton/jute thread and the weft is the madur kathi. Crafts of very fine textured mats made of carefully selected reeds with beautiful geometric designs are indeed pleasures to the eye.
Dhamas and Chalunis: netted-baskets/containers of different sizes and shapes, made of whole or uncut bamboo/cane, are traditionally and extensively used in the rural areas for the carrying, storing and measuring of grains. Apart from this Dhamas are now being adapted to various shapes for use by planters, fruit-sellers and bread-bakers. Domestic items like fruit- trays, paper-baskets, bowls and home Shitalpaati, a kind of mat, are perhaps the most notable and popular products among the handicrafts of Cooch Behar. Unlike other kinds of mats woven in Bengal, Shitalpaati is more expensive. Barokodali, Ghughumari and Nakkati-Pushnadanga of the Cooch Behar district are the most decorative like arm-chairs, sofa-chairs, low-seats (Morha), table-mats, waste paper baskets, magazine racks and lot of decorative furniture are made out of cane/bamboo. Bamboo-crafts in the form of vase, bed- lamp, cane tray may be used as trays for various purposes.
This is an important center of Shitalpaati. Besides, this is also available in the states of Tripura, Assam and in the neighboring country of Bangladesh. The word 'Shitalpaati' means cool-mat. The makers are usually Kayasthas in caste, not a traditional craftspeople caste. The raw material is italicize (Maranta dichotoma).
Many varieties of bamboo as well as cane are available in Cooch Behar. These are extensively used for handicrafts, apart from building thatched houses in the rural areas. The cane is heated and bent over a charcoal fire and then coiled together by the expert craftsmen giving in the required shape, after which it is smoked carefully to make it insect and waterproof.
Cane kunki: may be used as pen/pencil stands apart from measuring grains in rural areas.
Jute, a bio-degradable product, is grown almost all over West Bengal. Exquisite jute articles are made in Cooch Behar by the Polia and Rajbanshi tribals. Jute items come in a range of fascinating designs and sizes. Crafts Council of West Bengal has pioneered the craft of jute embroidery by training about 30 women under training programmes of the Govt. of India and World Crafts Council. A range of items like table mats, bags, bottle holders and cushions covers are made using these intricate embroideries. Jute bags can be used for various carrying purposes. Cushion covers are used as material for bed rooms decorative.
Kantha is an indigenous household craft, stitched by the rural women. It is also referred to as the thrift craft as it was usually done on layers of old cotton dhotis/sarees with threads drawn out from the saree border for softness. These are then embroidered all over. Thereafter the under-side is covered by stitching single-coloured cloth for making it more durable in case of front side Kanthas. The finer the embroidery greater is the sophistication effect. Hence the real value of Kantha embroidery lies in its fine craftsmanship and vignettes of daily folk-life motifs being a favourite of the embroiderers. Nowadays, it is usually commercially done on a single layer of new silk cloth using new thread, but the Crafts Council strictly adheres to the traditional three-layered quilting technique.
Some of the popular Kantha pieces are stoles, bedspreads, wall hangings, cushion covers, napkins and beach bags.
Shola-pith is a very light pithy reed found in the marsh lands of Eastern India. The craftsmen or 'malakars' work with their special iron knives fashion intricate objects out of it.
The core of this reed, which is pure white in colour, is exposed when the outer layer of the stalk is shaved. The core is light, porous, soft, and pliable and can be shaped to suit the imagination of the artisan. Skilled craftsmen shape this reed into many objects: scaled down models of temples, churches and mosques, carved images of Gods/Goddess (like Durga, Kali, Ganesh and so on), marriage headgear (Topor and Mukut), floweres, garlands and toys.
Apart from toys and images, some shola-pith craftsmen also create items that form an integral part of most of the major religious rituals - mainly in the form of Solar Saaj - which is the ornamentation and decoration for sacred images. This latter form uses foils, sequins, beads or artificial pearls mounted on the main frame.