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Sutradhars of Notungram narrate tales from folklore and mythology through wood-carved dolls - GetBengal story

1 August, 2023 10:24:28
Sutradhars of Notungram narrate tales from folklore and mythology through wood-carved dolls - GetBengal story

East Burdwan's Natungram is well - known for its world famous wooden dolls

There was a time when wooden carvings would be found everywhere. Intricate wooden carvings would be found at the entrance of the door of warriors and families belonging to high status. These wondrous wooden carvings carried individual messages. Notungram, lying in the district of Bardhaman, is a hub of doll making which has still kept this unique art form alive. The craftspersons have been practicing this craftsmanship for centuries. Characters from mythology and folklore often come up in their unique art form of wooden doll making. Thus, these artisans are referred to as sutradhar or storytellers as the wooden dolls crafted by them narrate myriad stories.

Wooden owls of Natungram, a testimony of Bengal craftsmanship

These wooden dolls crafted by the artisans of Notungram are known for the combination of ethnic style, the richness of ideas, intricate designs and use of vibrant colors. The figures are carved in a simple process in a masterly fashion which makes these extraordinary pieces of art. The most famous of the dolls crafted by them is the king and queen which carry a royal essence of their own. The other famous product which adorns many urban households also is the mystic owl, which reflects abstraction at its best. The auspicious owl made in Notungram, which is the escort of the goddess of prosperity and wealth, Lakshmi, enjoys an iconic status among the handicrafts of Bengal. The combination of yellow, red, green and black lines on a white background makes these owls stand out. The yellow faces with huge eyes drawn in black have a magnetic charm of their own. The back of these dolls are unfinished and flat which adds to the appeal. Rashputul carved by these artisans also has huge popularity.

Traditional hand-crafted wooden furniture of Natungram

Skilled artisans of Natungram

The dolls of Notungram are made of soft wood called gambhar. Other types of wood often used are neem wood, akashmani and mango wood. The process of making these dolls is very interesting. The artisans first draw various figures on the blocks of wood. The body of the figurine is given shape by chiseling away the wood, sloping away on both sides. Thereafter, the carved surface is cleaned and smoothened thoroughly. A paste of kharimati, water, and adhesive is made to cover the entire surface and left to dry. Khari mati adds a smooth finish to the wooden dolls. Finally, colours are applied to give life to these dolls.

Brightly painted wooden birds of Natungram

Apart from toys, the craftsmen of Notungram make various Gods and goddesses like ten-handed Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi. These goddesses carved on a rectangular piece of wood in low relief reflect the exquisite craftsmanship and skills of the artisans of Notungram. Wood carving is a tradition deeply rooted in the tradition of the artisans. Around 51 families living in the area are associated with the art of wooden doll making. The men are skilled in wood carving while the women do the colouring. If you visit Notungram, you will witness the artisans at work and also unfold the tales behind the exquisite dolls. You can also order the exquisite assortment of Notungram dolls online from The Bengal Store.  

In present times, craftsmen have modified their art form to keep pace with the changing times. They make wall racks, clocks, furniture and other decorative items featuring the gour-nitai, raja rani dolls and the traditional owl which have gained huge popularity. If you want to take part in the celebration of the art form of the artisans of Notungram, do come to the annual festival ‘kathputuler mela’ to form a better understanding and enjoy the best of the ancient tradition of wooden doll craftsmanship. Make a memory of every moment in Notungram and bring back the wooden dolls as souvenirs to light up a corner of your room.

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