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Wooden Doll

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From Tradition to Modernity: Wooden Doll in Contemporary Context

The small hamlet of Natungram in Burdwan district of West Bengal is the birthplace of exquisite dolls made of wood. Wooden doll making is an age-old practise in Bengal and has been handed down generations. The unique shapes and bright colours of the wooden dolls of Natungram sets it apart from other forms of dolls found across the globe. There is a certain rustic charm associated with the simple triangular cuts and the bold facial features painted on the dolls.

The Natungram dolls are given a 3-D shape and has vibrant primary colours usually red, yellow and green. The dolls are made of wood from Gamar, Mango, Chhatim and Jackfruit tress. First, basic rectangular blocks of wood are cut by the men of the village. Then a 3-D triangular shape is given to the blocks and then slowly the shapes of the dolls are carved and etched into the wooden blocks. The women then paint the dolls in various bright colours. A special glue made from tamarind seed is used to coat the dolls to give them a sheen.

The most popular amongst the wooden dolls are the brightly painted owls. Owls and owlets of various sizes form the backbone of the wooden doll market. The other popular dolls include Jagannath idols, Gaur-Nitai idols and king and queen figurines. One of the most striking features of the dolls are the unabashed use of primary colours and the bold black borders to add definition.

With the growing demand of the wooden dolls in the market, the artisans have ventured further into incorporating these dolls in clocks, wooden furniture and tea-trays. To further facilitate the growth of the local artform, the government arranges handicraft melas or fairs every year. The state government in association with UNESCO has developed Natungram as a rural craft hub of West Bengal.