West Bengal has a century old rich cultural heritage with rural areas being the hub of handicrafts. A Government of West Bengal supported initiative, ‘Hasto Shilpo Mela’ is being organized in December with thousands of artists from rural Bengal showcasing their handicrafts.
Many families in remote villages of Purba Medinipur, Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Birbhum seen their ancestors practice crafts or shilpo for many years and carry the tradition forward. “It is always good to come here and sell products because for the last 5 years my ancestors have been coming to this fair and profits are very high. People like these handmade unique clay products instead of readymade products available in the cities.” Says Manobindra Ray who has come with his mother from a small village in Uttar Dinajpur district.
The West Bengal Government invites craftsmen every year to this fair to sell their products. “The sale goes up with every passing day at the fair. I am satisfied because I get Rs.75 from the government everyday during the fair and also get a chance to display our bamboo work or ‘baansher shilpo kaaj’. This is a unique piece of work done on bamboo sticks. I like it when people look at my work and purchase it. I have all types of products ranging from 100-500.” Says Khokan Beyad from Bethuadouri in the Nadia district who says he wants to keep coming back here.
Maloti Chitrokor from Purba Medinipur is an expert in ‘Potchitro’ and has been able to maintain her family tradition of painting on canvas using natural products like grass, plants and seeds. The art of etching ‘Potchitro’ is hard work because it entails a lot of labour and time. “It is nice when people understand my work and are ready to pay any amount for it. People in cities can get machine made products, but here they can get handmade ‘potchitro’ which is hard to find. I have been visiting different cities, but Kolkata’s ‘hastoshilpo mela’ is the best one according to me.” Says Maloti Chitrokor.
Bohon Chitro from Paschim Medinipur has been practicing the famous ‘Botchitro’ and selling his products at the fair. Botchitro is the art of painting on clay pots using organic colours. Paschim Medinipur being a small place is always profitable to sell his products, but whenever he comes to Kolkata for the fair he gets a very good response. “I thank the government for giving me this opportunity to showcase my work and display a variety of products, which is not always possible to do in my hometown. My products range from Rs.50-5000 which is a huge price range. But I never go back dissatisfied.” Says Bohon Chitro.
Cities have a lot of potential to sell machine made products which are easily available to everyone. However what makes these handicrafts alluring are people who value handicrafts and are attracted towards them. The art of handmade products and their aesthetic value will always be available in the city. Yet most artists prefer to come to the fair and sell their products, because they understand that people in cities give value to their work and hence purchase them. The demand of handicrafts or ‘shilpo’ is also increasing and these kind of fairs continue to flourish every year, with a special focus on these artists.
Beautiful artistry and artifacts made by the rural people of India really astonishes the people dwelling in the cities, and reminds them of the rich culture of Bengal.