Rahul Bengal has always been a treasure trove of folk art in diverse from which found expression in almost every conceivable item of Village life in earlier days, starting from clay built houses and corn-bins to folk painting, kantha embroidery on patched cotton, alpona floor painting, hand woven sitting mats, hand-fans, dolls, terracotta horses, masks worn in folk dances and even moulds for making sweets. What made these items unique was the use of inexpensive and easily available ingredients, which the creative passion of the rural artisans transformed into exquisite objects of art.
In this book, Tarapada Santra delves into the intricacies of the creative pattern of folk arts of Bengal, providing on overview of the vast array of art forms and analysing how regional influences and political changes where reflected in the creative styles of the artisans, who braved innumerable hardships to pursue their trade for generations and made significant contributions to the onward progress of rural society.
This first ever English translation of Tarapada Santra's work carries the flavour and essence of the original Bengali text and introduces the reader to rural lifestyle of Bengal and its many traditional forms of folk arts – which are bornd to draw the interest of researchers and art lovers all over the world.
Born in an obscure village of West Bengal, tarapada Santra struggled against acute poverty and stringent social constraints all his life to be recognised as an authority on the folk arts of his state. Through his exceptional talent, determination and untiring diligence, he evolved a unique system of field research after spending years in studying the lifestyle of people of different districts of west Bengal, their history, culture, occupation and festivals and the many objects which they produced with simple ingredients for beautifying their homes and serving their day to day needs. He recorded his findings in twenty one books, ten of which were published during the last two years of his life, which he lay in a hospital bed, knowing that death was not far off and anxious that his life's work might remain undisclosed in the end.
The diversity of Ingredients used in the folk art of Bengal reflects the colourful splendour of the secular life of her people. This art not only reveals the nature and many customs of rural life and the diverse livelihoods of the rural society, but also helps us to identify a deep and meaningful expression of social significance. What is manifest from the ingredients used in the folk arts of Bengal is the adoption of Items which are most easily obtainable, such as clay, old cloth and cotton threads. Added to this is colour prepared by local process at nominal costs. It is in this simple background that we find a clay-based culture of the people of all sections, both high and low, which had come to exist – a culture which was centred around reforms and blind faith and yet succeeded in spreading happiness in the set lives of the people.
Those who were the creators – the artisans of this industry – had to put in their hard labour and strive against the pangs of hunger to keep alive the traditions handed down by their forefathers, while they also tried to maintain an onward progress of their art. Even today, we can see their struggling pursuit in thatched huts at every corner of rural Bengal. Sadly, these village crafts, their innovative charm and the skill of the craftsmen had failed to attract the proud pundits, who were acknowledged as the sole authority on fine arts and culture at one time. The many qualities of the folk art of Bengal were recognised for the first time by three of her eminent sons, Dineshchandra Sen, Abanindranath Tagore and Gurusaday Dutta. It was through their sincere and untiring efforts that the significance and true value of this simple and yet grossly neglected chapter was brought to light, and the folk art of Bengal was accorded its befitting status. What had been initiated as an enter prose for individual collections was later laid out for public display for the first time at the Ashutosh Museum. This was made possible through the commendable efforts of Calcutta University, which set up a large collection of carefully selected items of folk art from all over the state. With the passage of time, folk art has now become one of the cultural heritage of this state.
Rabindranath had once said, A country is created by her people; the country is not an inert mass of soil, but is alive and conscious; if her people can express themselves then only shall the country find expression. It is true that a country finds expression through the many creations or her people. And it is only by stretching our eyes towards our rural life, which reflects the conscious spirit of Bengal, that we can come to learn about the creative expressions of the people of this state through the splendid diversity of their folk arts folk sons, folk music and folk dances. But the ambit of Bengal's cultural expression is so extensive that it cannot be fully described in this brief volume. All that has been attempted here is to present in this brief volume. All that has been attempted here is to present an introductory description.
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