Ghurni (Bengali: ঘূর্ণি) is a neighbourhood of Krishnanagar in Nadia district in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is the centre for the production of clay dolls, often referred to as Krishnanagar clay dolls.
It can be reached from Kolkata by either train (100 km (62 mi)) or bus (118 km (73 mi)). Krishnanagar City is part of Kolkata Suburban Railway on the Sealdah – Naihati – Ranaghat – Krishnanagar line. Journey time is 2½ hours and one can return the same day. Cycle rickshaws,buses(town service) are available for travel within the city.
The old name of Krishnanagar was Rewe. In the early 17th century Bhabananda Majumdar founded the royal family of Nadia. Later, Maharaja Rudra changed the name to Krishnagar. In 1757, Maharaja Krishnachandra (1710–1783) helped the British East India Company against Siraj ud-Daulah in the Battle of Plassey. He was a patron of the arts, including literature and music, and supported the production of clay dolls. In 1728 he brought families of potters from Dhaka and Natore and settled them in Ghurni, then a village.
In an article, the Bangalore-based newspaper Deccan Herald writes, “We have clay dolls, toys and even clay sculptures in different parts of India. But there has been nothing to match the clay doll artisans of Krishnanagar in the Nadia district of West Bengal. The creations of these artists are displayed in most of the handicraft museums of the world. In India, we have a large display of these dolls in the Shankar’s Doll Museum in New Delhi. One look at the clay dolls and we are amazed at the reality with which the artist has displayed the character of the model. A horse rearing to gallop to a placid dog licking its lips after a hearty feed.”
Krishnanagar clay dolls are unique in their realism and the quality of their finish, ‘...they truly represent a breakaway from the traditional form. Fruits, fish, insects, animals, birds, and of course the entire pantheon of gods and goddesses, and even the ubiquitous Donald Duck and other popular comic strip characters, faithful copies of real-life, down to the minutest detail. Realistic recreations of everyday life, work, mood and character- farmers, weavers, rag pickers, basket makers, umbrella makers - are yet other specialties of Krishnanagar dolls.’
Some of the Ghurni artists have studied in art colleges in France and Italy, but theirs is a talent passed down through generations. Kartik Chandra Pal prepared clay models of statues of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Based on his clay models bronze castings were made and have found pride of place in Washington DC and Moscow and were inaugurated by Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, respectively.
The clay modellers of Ghurni have fallen on bad days. The decline of feudal zemindari culture and loss of their patronage have adversely affected them. They are finding new patrons amongst NRIs, many of whom are acquiring clay models in large numbers.
Tastes are also changing. Even ten years ago, the demand was for clay models of the great poets and traditional icons such as Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. Now, they are losing out. The demand has shifted and so have the artists to the ‘hottest pin-up idols of cricket’, Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Even saints and religious leaders like Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Baba Loknath, and Sai Babas, have lost out in popularity to these cricketers.
The flourishing market abroad of fibreglass models, have forced some of the clay modellers of Ghurni to change the base material of their craft, although they lack the infrastructure for making fibre glass models. Fibreglass is more durable and easy to mould.
The number of master craftsmen is decreasing as members of the younger generation are switching over to more lucrative trades or more paying professions. In 2007, the number of master craftsmen staying at Ghurni dwindled to 10, most of them aged.
Women at Ghurni have formed co-operative societies with financial assistance from the funding agencies for the culture of ornamental fishes. Apart from their decorative value, these fishes fight mosquito-borne diseases and there is a potential export market in countries such as the USA, Japan and China.
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