The basket is one of humankind’s oldest art forms, and it is certainly an ethnic and cultural icon filled with myth and motif, religion and symbolism, and decoration as well as usefulness.
Today it is a well-developed art form with concentrations in Dakshin Dinajpur, Uttar Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Bardhhaman and Bankura. Leading artisans are making diversified products which can be termed as connoisseurs’ items: jewelry, lampshades, etc. The products marked by finesse and have good market. Keeping the traditional basket weaving intact, some of the crafts persons are even making furniture using bamboo. The craft has huge potential as its eco-friendly, presentable, relatively cheap and light weight.
Despite the abundant supply of raw material, the huge potential and skilled crafts persons, the demand for products in the national and international market is quite low.
Bamboo is one of the most commonly-used materials in the daily life in West Bengal. Bamboo crafts persons from Bankura, Bardhhaman, Murshidabad, Malda, Dakshin Dinajpur and Uttar Dinajpur are part of the intervention.
Bankura district, falling under Eastern Chhotanagpur Plateau, looks like handpicked by Mother Nature and is blessed with old brown hills, murmuring rivers, ancient temples- all bearing testimony to a rich and resourceful culture and tradition. Bamboo craft is the primary source of livelihood for all the 60 crafts persons mapped Bankura.
Bardhhaman is full of religious and historical destinations. The culture of Bardhaman is a mix of a various customs and traditions. The 139 Bamboo crafts persons live in Guskara area of the district.
Murshidabad is a district that boasts of its rich cultural heritage. The city is 182 kms from Kolkata and can be reached by road or rail. The 78 crafts persons living here pursue Bamboo craft as their primary source of livelihood.
Malda is one of the most historically relevant districts in Bengal. It is also the gateway to the hill districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. A visit to Malda will prove to be fascinating for anyone who is interested in ancient and anthropological expeditions. In all 78 crafts persons are part of the initiative.
Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur are predominantly agricultural districts with large area of land under cultivation. The districts have their rich bounty of archaeological ruins, folklore, craft and art forms. The Bamboo crafts persons are concentrated in Ushaharan (Dakshin Dinajpur) and Raigunj in Uttar Dinajpur.
Basket weaving or Basketry is one of the widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization but it is hard to say just how old the craft is. The process of making bamboo baskets is a very ancient one- the process of weaving materials into two or three dimensional artifacts, such as mats or containers.
Bamboo is cut into pieces as per the desired sizes and is soaked in water for nearly three days, then are sun dried and slices are made of desired shapes and sizes. Slices are generally thin to make it pliable so are easier to twine and weave. A wide variety of patterns can be made by changing the size, colour, or placement of a certain style of weave. To achieve a multi-coloured effect, the artists first dye the twine and then weave them together in elaborate patterns. The crafts persons work from the courtyard of their homes.
At first the bamboo is cut into pieces using a saw. Chisels of various grades are also used. Then awls are used for making small bores. In case of fine slicing sharp knives are used. Scissors are used for cutting the ends of the slices. Small hammers are used for assistance in carving. Sand paper is used for polishing the product. Glue and adhesives are used for pasting in cases.
In Dinajpur, the art form has concentrations in 2 villages, one in Kunoor (Kaliaganj block) and Ushaharan (Kushmandi block) and is spread over the 2 districts of Dakshin Dinajpur and Uttar Dinajpur.
The community, in Dakshin Dinajpur has been successful in transferring the skill among the next generation primarily because this craft is the only source of livelihood for its members. The members of younger generation are taking active interest in the craft form and are winning accolades for the same. Young craftsman, Gostho Baishya, is a state award winner craftsman and an example of it.
The crafts persons of Bankura, Bardhaman and Murshidabad belong to castes like Byadh, Mahali, etc. In Malda majority of the crafts persons belong to Mahali community and one-third of the crafts persons are Christian.
In all 437 Bamboo artists from 6 districts: Bankura, Bardhaman, Murshidabad, Dakshin Dinajpur, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur are part of the intervention.
Prominent crafts persons among them are: Joga Baishya (State Award) Goshto Baishya (State Award), Goutam Baishya (District Award), Usha Baishya (District Award), Kamala Baishya (District Award) and Poltu Baishya (State Award). In Bardhaman, the leading crafts persons are Pratima Badyakar, Kalpona Badyakar, Nirmala Mahli, Phoolmani Mahali and others.