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How Rabindranath Tagore promoted Goyna Bori as an art form

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‘This is an exquisite piece of art to be admired for its beauty and not for consumption…’ that is what Rabindranath Tagore thought about Bengal’s artistic snacks, Goyna Bori. In 1930, when one of his pupils, Seba Maity, presented the bard with a packet of dainty Gohona Bori, he was so impressed by the art, he took initiative to get the product photographed and then preserve or display them at the Kala Bhavan gallery. Abanindranath Tagore also considered these unique lentil made snacks of Bengal as a unique art form and was in favour of promoting them as work of art. He like his uncle considered eating this bori as an act of denigrating art.

Goyna bori also found its way in Satyajit Ray’s film, Aagantuk. Midnapore district is now keen to file application for GI tag for Goyna bori, the fine art of using lentil paste mix to create exquisite designs. Although bori is a common edible item of Bengal, Gohona Bori or Goyna Bori/ Naksha Bori is basically a designed pattern prepared with a paste of lentil and their designs resemble traditional jewellery patterns.

In the past, the craft of making Gohona Bori, was the exclusive domain of the rich aristocratic families of Tamluk, Moyna and Contai of Midnapore. Gradually, commoners were attracted to the art and middle-class women started dabbling with myriad forms. The fame of Gohona Bori reached the market and a demand for the product was created. Thus, an exclusive family craft crossed borders and reached out to cater to the masses. Initially, it was manufactured on a very small scale for the local market but, gradually the demand for the bori, went far beyond the district’s boundary and even connoisseurs in Kolkata began ordering Gohona Bori.

In the past few years, this skilled art form has been instrumental in empowering local women in Midnapore. Self-help groups are keen to revive this dying art form and keep the tradition alive. Despite the steep prices of raw materials – de-husked black gram lentils (Biuli or Kolai daal) and poppy seeds (Posto), the women have been continuing with their traditional art. However, a time may soon come, when Goyna Bori will be only found in art museums. The entire preparation process is not only laborious, but time-consuming and requires a lot of patience and practice. In this jet-set age, who has the time or inclination to sit and follow the steps fervently?

It is true that Goyna Bori has lost its exclusivity and aristocracy. If the state government takes initiative to train the local talent and help them market the bori on a mammoth scale, it can turn into a lucrative business prospect. Emphasizing the need for cleanliness, women who make this bori, had to be freshly bathed and wear clean clothes. Traditionally, 12 married women (not widows) stood touching the artist to begin the making process.

The elaborate process of making bori begins with soaking unhusked lentil in water overnight and then made into a fine paste. The paste is placed on a cloth and squeezed out gently. The base designsare laid out in a clockwise direction. A layer of finer embellishment is made in an anti-clockwise direction. The boris are laid out on a thin layer of posto (poppy seeds) which not only prevents them from sticking to the surface but also imparts a magnificent taste to the sun-dried boris. Many substitute posto with sesame seeds (til) and apply a thin quote of oil on the base.