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The dying art of exquisite stone carving of Susunia in Bankura

13 June, 2020 05:44:45
The dying art of exquisite stone carving of Susunia in Bankura

Susunia Hills of Bankura located at 1450 ft attracts tourists all round the year. But many of us probably are not aware that this place is also home to one of the most ancient forms of Stone Carving handed down from the Maurya and Gupta ages. Susunia happens to be a renowned archaeological site that bears evidence of stone articles which were made here and used for thousands of years. In fact, experts believe that the earliest stone carving in Bengal was undertaken in this region. 

A pair of stone carved elephants

Even to this day, Susunia village, on the bank of Gandheshwari River reverberates with the sound of point chisels and hammers as sculptors work for hours patiently, shaping a slab of stone into brilliant pieces of artwork. Availability of good quality stone in the village and its vicinity acts as an impetus to this otherwise dying art form. Each piece of stone craft is a creation of love and dedication by skilled craftsmen. Connoisseurs of art are mesmerized by the magic created by the gifted hands that carve out such brilliant pieces of art. They make both small and large sculpture, ranging from idols of gods and goddesses that stand 20-25ft tall to miniature pieces of lamps and jewelry like pendants, wristlets, neck pieces etc. which have a ready market as well. There are times when the sculptors require special kind of stone that is not available locally. In such case, stone is procured from Odisha or Andhra Pradsh. Many of the local craftsmen have been honoured with the President of India’s medal and have been recognized abroad as well and this speaks volumes about their labour of love.  

Local stalls near Susunia hills selling the craft items

Despite having a rich tradition of stone carving in Susunia for thousands of years, the craft is gradually fading away. The present generation is not willing to dedicate itself to a laborious and time-consuming art form. Acute poverty prevents many to take up stone carving job as a secure profession. Lack of proper infrastructure and financial aid act as impediments for many traditional stone carvers who are forced to look for other professions. Many have even migrated to other states due to the government’s indifference, lack of sponsors and a proper, marketing strategy to attract buyers and ensure the moolah for all the hard work. 

Incidentally, India as well as Bengal had seen exquisite stone temples, stupas, sculptures, cave paintings and items of utility from the Maurya and Gupta Age. Magnificent filigree art on stones, carved stone gates and minarets from the Mughal era stand as evidence of the expertise of the artisans and growth of this ancient art form. Taj Mahal, the ivory white marble mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his deceased Begum, Mumtaz Mahal, is a universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage. 

Intricate stone chiseled figurines

But gone are those glorious days. Times have changed and so have the demand for stone carvers and their craftsmanship. A couple of decades ago, Susunia craftsmen even carved out household utensils and glasses from marble, limestone, sandstone etc. Deities were offered Prasad on such plates. Grinding stone, mortar and pestle etc were an intrinsic part of any rural household. Artisans honed their skills patiently and perfected their art to create exquisitely beautiful pieces of art to cater to the aesthetic demands of buyers and users. However, stone was gradually replaced by lighter, easy-to-use and cheaper substitutes that led to a fall in demand. Gradually a general apathy drove talented artisans to discard their equipment and turn to other avenues for livelihood. However, there are still a few marginalized artisans who struggle to stick to their traditional craft and eke out a living by stone carving. And they still can be found in Susunia of Bengal. Only question how long will they survive!

Product image courtesy: Official website of Bankura District- Government Of West Bengal

Story Tag:
  • Art and Culture of Bengal, Stone Carvers of Susunia

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