Kolkata Local Dances:
The rich cultural heritage of Kolkata is evident in its theatre and dance forms which are either agricultural or devotional in theme. They predominantly portray the lives of rural folk of Bengal such as the cowherds, goatherds, fishermen, boatmen, agriculturists and so on. Dance and drama are an integral part of the Bengali Tribal lifestyle and a popular source of entertainment among the Bengalis. They have modeled a dance for every little occasion in their lives which shows that Bengalis love to celebrate.
1.Chhau Dance: Also called the ‘Purulia Dance’ as it originated in the Purulia District of Bengal, the Chhau Dance is a very popular tribal mask dance in which incorporates some martial arts which the tribals are very good at and hence the display. The dance depicts the various characters of the mythological epics – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and is performed only by males. ‘Purulia Chhau’, ‘Mayurbhanj Chhau’ and ‘Seraikella Chhau’ are the three sub-genres of the Chhau Dance. The dominant ‘rasas’ (human emotions) being ‘Veera’ (gallantry) and ‘Roudra’ (rage) – the Chhau Dance is performed at festivals where there are huge gatherings.
2.Tushu Parab Dance: Originating from Birbhum District of Bengal, Tushu Parab Dance is specifically performed at ‘Makara Sankranti' – the harvest season, by the Bengali womenfolk between December and January.
3.Jhumar: An ancient agricultural dance form which is accompanied by drums and cymbals, Jhumar is performed while sowing paddy in the fields in the months of March and April.
4.Gambhira Dance: It is a devotional folk dance performed during ‘Chadak’ Festival in the months of March and April. A mask-dance, Gambhira is a solo-act and is popularized by the Malda District of north Bengal.
5.Santhal Dance: Found in the western part of Bengal, the Santhal tribes are credited to this dance’s origin which celebrates nature’s glory especially during the ‘Karam’ festival in the months of September and October. Bright and colourful costumes are the highlight of this dance.
6.Lathi Dance: The ‘Lathi’ Dance is half-dance-half-sport and is performed in groups by the Bengali youth using five-foot long sticks. Though the ambience created with this dance is more war-like, it can depict various emotions such as love, celebration, pain, anger and remorse.
7.Raibense Dance: It is a stick-dance which evolved over centuries. The same stick that was once used as weapon is now used in group martial dances. This dance is highly percussion-oriented with vigorous steps and sharp rhythmic movements.
8.Gajan Dance: Bearing incensed burners called ‘Dhanuchi’, saffron clad men perform the Gajan Dance to the music of brass gongs (kanshi) and decorated drums in paraise of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
9.Rava Dance: Dances indigenous to the Rava Tribes are the Rava Dances which are performed to melodious music wearing colourful costumes. Performed by the Bengali women folk - the Fai Nang Mein (welcome dance), Nak Chung Baini (the dances by the fisherman), Baishar Bidan (dances performed at the New Year’s) and Larai Lunji (a war dance) are some of the popular Ravi Dances.
10.Baul Dance: The Baul Dance is an integral part of the religious rites of the Bauls – a mixed group comprising Sufi Muslims as well as Vaishnava Hindus – all singing and dancing to Baul Sangeet played with bamboo flutes, cymbals, and dhal and khol. Baul Dances are popular in Bemgal’s Burdwan District and Birbhum District and are also prevalent in Kushtia and Jessore Districts of Bangladesh.
11.Mundari Dance: It is a community dance performed to celebrate a wedding.
12.Laghur Nritya: The stick which was once used as a weapon of self defense is used as a dance prop for performing acrobatic feats in this martial art folk dance.
13.Dhali and Paika Nritya: They are gallant war dances and are performed in groups. The dances are reminiscent of the valour and prowess of the warriors.
14.Ranapa Dance: It is a martial art dance performed by dancers who are mounted on stilts and display their skill of dancing on stilts.
15.Natua Dance: This is an acrobatic ancient dance form that figures in the ‘Shiv Puranas’ and is known to have originated at the time of Lord Shiva’s marriage with Goddess Durga and is currently performed during the ‘Charak’ Puja.
16.Rabha Dance: Performed by the women-folk of the Rabha community depicting their daily lives. Some of the Rabha Dances are “Fai Nang Ning Mein” or Welcome Dance, the “Braisar Pridan” or New Year’s Dance and “Larai Lunge” or War Dance.
17.Kirtan Dance: Performed to the music of Dhol and Mridanga is this rhythmic folk dance.
18.Chaibari Nritya: With their intricate costumes and melodious music, this dance originated in the Tea Gardens of Bengal.
19.Mech Dance: Originated in the Jalpaiguri District is this nature dance performed at Spring Festivals. ‘Bagroomba’, ‘Mesa Glang Nai’ and ‘Jhumre Gele Nai’ dances are varioation of the Mech Dance.
20.Rajbanshi Dance: It is a graceful dance performed to the beat of the Dhol, Kanshi, Kartal, and Mukhabanshi by the Rajbanshi Tribes of North Bengal.
21.Bhadu Dance: Badhu Dance is performed during the Monsoon invoking the blessings of Goddess Bhradeshwari for a good and successful harvest and has originated in Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum, and West Burdhamam Districts.
22.Dhamail Dance: This folk dance is performed by the married women by dancing in circles and by clapping rhythmically.
23.Nabanna Dance: Nabanna Dance is a Harvest Dance performed after a successful autumn harvest.
24.Noila Broto Dance: It is a traditional ode to ‘Megh Kanya’ – the Rain Goddess by the farmers in a dance form.
25.Baromashya Dance: The simpletons of rural Bengal have modeled a dance around welcoming guests to their homes.
26.Bou Nritya: Being a part of the ‘Badhubaran ceremony’ of Srihatta, Bou Nritya is a dance where a new bride is made to also dance along with the family as an act of her initiation into her new family.
27.Ganga Baidya Dance: This is dance of the snake charmers of rural Bengal which depicts their pains and tribulations.
28.Budda-Buddi Dance: It is performed by two dancers who wear masks of an old couple and represent by dance the long and happy journey of a married couple.
29.Dance of Kali: Depicting Goddess Kali’s ‘Tandav Dance’, the performer adorns a grotesque costume for this dance.
30.Mahadeva Dance: Also known as the ‘Dance of Lord Shiva’ - it is one of the most prominent dances of Bengal which depicts the ascetic spirit of Lord Shiva.
31.Oraon Dance: It is a dance performed by the Oraon tribal aborigines of eastern Bengal to the tune of the musical instruments such as the nagara, kartal and mandar.
32.Vrata Dance: It is a dance performed during a ritual by the women of Hindu families of Bengal.
33.Brita Dance: This dance is performed by women who are unable to give birth in order to appease the Goddess with the dance and to invoke her blessings.
With easy availability of raw materials, sufficient power supply, skilled man power and a reliable socio-political condition in West Bengal, this material expression of a free and creative spirit soars in the State of West Bengal. This legendry heritage of West Bengal handicrafts embellishes homes of millions all over the world.
The list of handicrafts would run into scrolls but just to give you a taste of what to expect, here are the most popular handicrafts of West Bengal:
1.Sandalwood Carving: One of the most expensive carved wooden artifacts in the world is sandalwood carved. Sandalwood is an aromatic wood which has the ability to retain its aroma for decades even after being chopped from the main tree and the tree needs 60 to 80 years to reach full maturity. The fragrance is addicting and is one of the most sought after plant in the world in all its myriad forms – log, powder and oil forms. Owing to its scarcity and extremely high demand sandalwood is one of the most expensive perfume materials in the world and has been in use for the last 4000 years. Apart from its aromatic properties, the medicinal properties of Sandalwood include diuretic, antiseptic, cardiotonic, moisturizer; astringent, antifungal antimicrobial ad is also used in cosmetics, Ayurveda, Aroma therapy and incense. Unlike all other aromatic oils which are called the ‘horticultural or agricultural produce’ sandalwood has been classified as a ‘forest produce’ as it cannot be cultivated which also makes it the rarest and most precious aromatic oil. This is why the protection of sandalwood is undertaken by the government. The two types of sandalwood are used for two different purposes. The ‘Nagagandha Sandalwood’ variety is darkish-brown in colour and is used to extract oil. For the purpose of carving, the ‘Srigandha Sandalwood’ is used as it is close-grained and is yellowish-brown in colour. It is this variety of sandalwood that is used in the carving of religious deities in West Bengal. The master craftsmen of Khagra and Jiagunj in Mushidabad District of West Bengal once used to carve exquisite and delicate pieces of art on elephant tusks. When the elephant population reduced, a ban was imposed on ivory which turned the craft-wizards from ivory to Sandalwood. In India, sandalwood is of great religious importance and the deities are carved out of sandalwood. The other ornately carved products include figurines of animals such as elephants, caskets, boxes, photo frames, chariots, walking sticks, pens and paper cutters. And the sandalwood-shavings of all this craft work are then used in the making of sandalwood garlands. Any article made of sandalwood is considered the most prestigious gift to give at weddings, house inauguration, and even to important corporate heads.
2.Dhokra Craft: This craft dates its origins back to the pre-historic period of Harappa and Mohenjodaro of the Indus Valley Civilization. A beautiful amalgamation of art and science, ‘Cire Perdu’ – French for lost-wax casting, also called ‘hollow casing - is a 13-stage process by which a metal sculpture is cast from an artist’s sculpture is a foundry. The craftsman sculptures a wax model of the object he wants to make and then makes a mould of clay and pours molten metal into a hole in the mould after which the wax is melted (which is why it is called the lost-wax casting) and the clay mould is broken to bring out the metal object which is smoothened and polished to perfection. The specialty of the Dhokra Craft – also known as the bell metal craft - is it’s enthralling folk motifs with timeless, antique, rustic and dull-gold feel and appearance which is the effect of bringing together nickel, brass and zinc in the castings. The craftsmen – the Dhokra Kamar Tribes who are known to be the original metal-smiths of Bengal, were originally wandering groups of Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, who finally dropped anchors at Bankura, Birbhum, Midapur and Bardwan districts of West Bengal. Dhokra Casting is used to make varieties of symbols of ethnic folklore like metal masks, imagery and figurines of Gods, birds and animals as well as lamps, necklaces (hansuli), anklets (payeri & ghungroo), bangles, wall-art, table-ware, door handles, caskets, boxes and other decorative trinkets. This unique metallurgical skill has earned this art a spot in the international marketplace earning considerable export revenues for the State of West Bengal.
3.Leather Crafts: The tradition of leather-crafting in India has its roots in the Indus Valley Civilization where animal hide was used not just make clothing and footwear for humans but also armour and saddles. Today there is whole plethora of leather products available to embellish a human, his car, his house and his dog namely leather jewellery, leather seat and steering covers, leather sofa cover, leather paintings, leather jackets, gloves and backpacks, leather lamp shades, leather handbags and wallets, leather wall art, leather coasters, leather pens, leather stationery, leather stuffed-toys and leather dog-collars. Leather crafting in Bengal originated in the region where the present Shantiniketan is. Traditional designs as well as geometric patterns are what Bengal leather crafts reflect. The artist is able to carve and braid only with the terracotta leather and then stamps golden motifs on it to make it look royal and rich. Shantiniketan Leather is very soft and smooth leather almost glossy in look and feel which is embossed, carved, stamped and painted.
4. Pottery: The large number of Himalayan Rivers – more than 10 big ones in West Bengal have not only made the State the most fertile land, they have also initiated a new avenue for art, craft and livelihood for Bengalis – pottery. The river banks perennially provide rich alluvial clay which the potters (kumbhakars) make the best use of. The classic example of how creative a potter could get with just a handful of clay can be seen in Bishnupur, Midnapore and Murshidabad temples which have rich and ornate decorative panels hand-modeled of terracotta. The most intricate work of art that the potters create is the idol of Goddess Durga which is popular not just in India but also among the non-residential Indians who place big orders for them each year. The pottery of West Bengal has two distinct schools – Krishnanagar Style and Bankura Style. Women-folk are active potters par excellence which is evident in the clay figurines of mother-dolls that they create by hand. ‘Mangal Ghat’ is an earthen vase which is painted on the exterior with interesting colors and is an integral part of every Hindu household in Bengal as the Mangal Ghat is used in the rituals of festivals, wedding ceremonies, birth rituals and so on. Lakshmi Ghat is earthen ware that is shaped like a wine glass with the face of Goddess Lakshmi etched on the upper fringe of the vase. The Lakshmi Ghat ware is usually used in pairs in all auspicious occasions. The Manasha Ghat is upturned earthenware on which the serpent Goddess ‘Manasha’ and her several hoods are depicted on it. This type is found predominantly in Garbeta and Bankura areas of Midnapur. Tulsi Mancha is an exquisite testimony of artistry with decorative motifs of Gods and Goddesses and is shaped rectangular, hexagonal or octagonal – with dimensions of 4 feet height and 2 feet diameter. The Tulsi Mancha is used to plant the much worshipped plant by the Hindus – the ‘Tulsi’.
5.Cotton Weaves: Straight from the magical looms of Bengal is the cotton weaves called the ‘Mul Mul’ – called Muslin in English - which is featherweight, so much so that the international market termed it the ‘woven wind’ and the ‘wonder gossamer’. The Muslin bears its roots in Dacca which is currently in Bangladesh, under the royal patronage of the Mughal Rulers. Muslin is so thin and delicate that a 5-metre long Muslin could easily pass through a finger ring which makes it one of the most sought after materials by fashion houses around the world. Dhatigram, Samudragarh, Phulia, Shantipur and Ambika Kalna are the prime source of one of the finest Muslin textiles and sarees in the world.
6.Clay Dolls: ‘Putul’ is what dolls are called in Bengali language and what the Bengalis are fond and proud of. Representing the Bengali village life, the clay dolls are a big craze among foreign tourists. Midnapore, Balipota, Sariyala, Tulsiberai, Tantiberai, Krishna Nagar and Puliya town specialize in the making of clay dolls. Though this art has been around for centuries in Bengal, it won international acclaim under the royal patronage of Maharaja Krishna Chandra of Krishna Nagar in the 18th Century. Among others, the highest selling clay dolls are Horse-riders, Mother dolls of Bankura, Pressed-nose dolls, Dolls with hip-jars and Krishna Nagar Dolls – all colourful, dolls depicting the life of rural Bengal. Krishna Nagar Dolls real-life sized dolls which have a strong international market apart from the domestic market.
7.Kantha Embroidery: Who knew that outlining a decorative motif with a running stitch in with colourful threads would add so much beauty to an embroidered pattern? As simple as it sounds, it is a very attractive stich which looks like the stich on a Prada Bag – only; the Kantha Stitch which is indigenous to Bolpur and Shantiniketan towns of Bengal has been around for ages. Quilts, bed-spreads, pillow cases, sarees, dupattas, and dhotis are what the Kantha stitch is done on. With patterns specified by some foreign fashion houses, Kantha stitch work is now also done on wall art as well. Kantha embroidered sarees make their way to almost every Indian woman’s wardrobe.
8.Conch Shell Art: It is the art of engraving very delicate, sophisticated and beautiful images on natural shells (sea-dwelling mollusk) which is an extremely specialized skill set that earns very high returns. Blowing a conch shell – what is called the ‘Shankha’ in India, is an auspicious Hindu religious act that marks the beginning of a religious ceremony, or for proclaiming victory of a battle and for purifying the environment of evil. The Conch Shell is an integral part of every Hindu’s household – especially as it is given such prominence in the Hindu epic – the ‘Mahabharata’. It is very difficult to carve a line, much less an image on a shell but such is the magical skill of the Bengali shell-carvers that they carve episodes of Mahabharata on them and take 2 – 3 months to carve a single shell – which makes it a very expensive artifact which cannot be afforded by all. There are various types of Conch Shells on which art is engraved: Dakshinavarti Shankha, Ganesha Shankha, Gaumukhi Shankha, Vaamavarti Shankha, Kauri Shankha and Moti Shankha.
9.Sholapith Craft: Sholapith is a milky-white coloured sponge wood which is also known as herbal ivory and is used to carve decorative wall-art, table ware, garlands, hear-wears of couples in marriage, dolls, birds, animals, palanquins, flowers and peacock-boats.
10.Stone Carving: Stone images dating back to the Pal period in Bengal which were used in temples and palaces of that era were unearthed revealing the high degree of precision and craftiness of the Bengali craftsmen. Susunia of Bankura District is saturated with stone carvers of Bengal.
11.Jute Crafts: Known as the ‘Golden Fibre’ jute has been an essential household item in almost all Indian homes in some form or the other – whether decorative or essential. Today Jute in Bengal is woven, knotted and braided into some of the most fanciful ethnic pieces of art such as handbags, carpets, tapestries, bedspreads, garden pot hangings and wall art. In West Dinajpur, the Kaliagunj area specializes in the Jute Art.
12.Scroll Painting: Also called the ‘Pata Chitra’ this painting is done on a piece of cloth which is treated with cow dung, lac and black earth by the ‘Patidars’ – the practitioner of this craft or the ‘Patuas’ – traditional caste community of artists. When these materials dry up they give a crackled appearance to the painting which is a distinctly different style of painting from the fine arts but equally alluring. The scroll paintings are painted with bright vegetable colours which remain intact for a minimum of 50 – 60 years. The paintings are of village scenes, men, women, birds and animals. The outlines of these paintings are made in black and red bold strokes and filled in by other complementary colours.
13.Cane and Bamboo Crafts: More than 35,000 artisans of Bengal weave cane for a living which only shows the demand for cane products. Furniture, baskets, lamp shades and cane mats of Bengal in diagonal and diamond shapes, twill, zig-zag and checks are very popular items in India. This is a special kind of cane called the ‘Mutra’ Cane which is used in this craft. Even the elite class cannot resist this simple material called cane for their new urban furniture requirements.
14.Paper Mache: In Bengal, Paper Mache was pioneered by the students of Shantiniketan School of Artists and is currently used to make masks and idols.
Important Telephone Numbers in Kolkata:
1.Tourist Centre, Govt. of West Bengal
3/2, Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh (E)
Kolkata - 700001
Phone : 033-2248-8271, 2248-8272
2.Tourism Centre (Kolkata)
(For reservation & detailed information)
3/2, B.B.D. Bag (East), Kolkata - 700 001
Phone : 033-4401-2659/2660/2661/2662/2665/2243-7260
Fax: 033-2248 5168
E-mail : email@example.com
3.Tourism Department, Government of West Bengal
2, Brabourne Road, Kolkata - 700 001
Phone : 033-2225 4723/4724/4725;2225 4565
4.Calcutta Information Centre
1/1, A. J. C. Bose Road
Kolkata - 700020
Phone : 033-2223-2451
5.West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Ltd.
Hemanta Bhawan, 4th Floor,12 B.B.D.Bag (East)
Kolkata - 700 001
Fax: 033-2248 8290
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
6.Foreigner Registration Office
237 Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Road
Kolkata – 700 020
Precautionary Measures While Travelling to Kolkata:
1.Summers in Kolkata soar higher than 40 degrees Celsius, minimum being about 30 degrees. And winter temperatures range between 9 – 12 degrees Celsius. January being the coldest month of the year and May being the hottest, June to September spell rains in rather heavy doses so pack clothing accordingly.
2.Medicines that must be carried along on any trip away from home, (which must be approved and prescribed by your physician or medical practitioner) are:
vi.Mild sleeping pills - just in case you feel very overwhelmed by the altitude and atmosphere because of which you are unable to sleep.
3.Commuting in peak office-hours in Kolkata is not advised as you would end up stuck in traffic jams for prolonged periods of time. Try venturing out early before 8 am and you’re safe.
4.Eating off the way-side food-stalls is not recommended for those with sensitive tummies on short visits. Always drink mineral water.
5.Sun-screen, sunshades and comfortable set of walking-shoes are a must in this tropical and vast city.
6.For international tourists: Always carry your passport, return tickets, credit cards and cash with you everywhere you go and also carry multiple photocopies of these travel-related documents as well. In case you lose your passport, immediately lodge a complaint at the Police Station and also inform your country’s Embassy and make it your priority to resolve this issue before you get onto anything else. Dress conservatively.
7.Between June and September Kolkata experiences serious drenching so is not a great time for city-trekking.October to March is the ideal time of the year to visit Kolkata and explore on foot and ferry. However, if you’re one of those who think it’s romantic to be in a ferry on the river in the rain then June to September is the right time for you.
8.Carry cash with you for making small purchases in stores or in the flea markets or to pay for transport.
Accommodation at Kolkata:
Having been either influenced by or built in the Colonial Era some of the colossal edifices of Kolkata exhibit opulence and grandeur and have been converted into 5-Star Heritage Hotels – promising royal ambience and services with state-of –the-art amenities for the indulgence-seeking traveler. A whole new bunch of contemporary hotels in classes both luxury and business has mushroomed all over the city to suit the nouveau businessmen and corporate executives. Also available around the Howrah Station and Sealdah Station, among other areas are bed-n-breakfast hotels for an economical stay with basic hotel amenities. State Government and Central Government guest houses are also available in Kolkata.