Knots of IdentityLocation - Rajkot
Tucked away 145 kms from Kolkata, Bolpur is best known for its rich culture and vast expanse of paddy lands. Birbhum district which Bolpur belongs to, is also called ‘Lalmati’, meaning red soil.
With a small population of a little over 3000 people, this village shines in its simplicity, tradition and a remarkable history interwoven with that of Tagore’s Shantiniketan nestled here.
Bolpur experiences warm summers and cold winters. But no matter the weather, the local folk singers keep the spirits alive, with their unique one-string drum and melodious tunes.
The popular Baul group of singers keep the spirit of Bolpur alive. When one enjoys the art as much as they do, it sure does show!
Cultural celebrations abound in Bolpur, and even the joyous occasion of bringing ripened paddy back is celebrated at the ‘Nabanna’ festival.
Surrounded by such rich culture and heritage, the kids run around paddy fields unaware of the history and legacy around them
Apart from cleaning and threshing paddy, the locals also involved in another craft, one far more delicate and vibrant in contrast: Kantha embroidery.
Kantha, a unique type of embroidery, is the pride and enterprise of the people of Bolpur. Typically embroidered on cushioned quilts made of stacked old cloth, this art form is now seen across different surfaces.
Kantha across the region of Bangladesh and West Bengal sees different variants in emboridery styles, thread work, motifs and even in the thread used to make this artwork.
Each Kantha has an amazing story to tell, with a personal touch to it. Kantha is also an important form of self expression.
Every kantha work and kantha artist has a story to tell, one that is usually inspired by nature around them. The artists begin by drawing forms on crisp tracing paper, and incidentally most of the men in the family are involved in the sketching practise.
Then begins the process of transferring the design onto the cloth canvas. This begins with small holes are made on the white tracing paper.
Black/dark grey paste colour is then passed through the holes on the tracing paper to make the design on the surface below it.
The black outlines help the artist stitch outlines around the patterns thereby creating a motif to work within
Once the tedious task of bordering is completed, the artists go on to fill the motifs with varied vibrant colours.
The embroidery that fills up these motifs creates an embossed effect, and the vibrancy that the colours bring along, seems to fill the canvas with life.
The motifs in Kantha are usually birds flowers and animals, seemingly inspired by the world around the artisan.
For a Kantha to be complete, there are three important details – hard work, concentration and creativity and the people of Bolpur seem to be gifted with these in abundance.
Dreamily oblivious to the weather, young girls are seen meticulously threading a story on a home terrace.
A finished piece of Kantha, seems to happily radiate the hardwork and effort of the Bolpur artisans.
In some of the kantha work, there seems to be an entire tale embedded in a singular canvas. These stories are passed on through generations, making it easier to remember and communicate.
Threads are the most important tools for embroidery. The colours are some time seasonal. Artists select teal blue for birds, orange for dry fields, purple and red to portray flowers and brown to showcase paddies cut from the field.
Sahibar Banu started making Kanthas at the age of 13. Today, she is 82 and weaves a new story into each of her embroideries. She won a national award in 2004, and dedicates it to her first trainer, her mother.
With an impeccable experience of over 70 glorious years, she now holds workshops for more than 500 women in her village.
Even after the workshop is over with the master craftsman, the village women bring back the cloth to their homes and continue weaving in the open fields.
The intricate art of Kantha is handed down through generations. Here, a 4 year old is already starting to mimic her mother’s gentle hand movements at the art work.
Umma Salma Khatoon, a national award winner, inherited Kantha skills from her mother. She imparts the knowledge of the art to over 1500 students in and around Bolpur every year.
Even in the adjoining areas to Bolpur, the art of Kantha is fairly popular. 62 years old, Saleha Bibi from Patita village in Nanoor, trains over 200 women at her place in the art of Kantha embroidery
Initially popular on quilts and cushion work, Kantha work is now seen even on saris, shawls, coats and other applications.
The stories embedded within each Kantha work as impressive as the very story and history behind the craft itself, which closely rivals the splendid history behind the town of Bolpur itself
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