46 year old Bholanath Karmakar
is one of the last Sherpai makers actively plying his craft. Sherpais are traditional grain measuring bowls. Also known as Suri bowls, they were commonly used in the homes of wealthy farmers and zamindars of yore. The use of these ornamental objects as measuring bowls for a range of measures died out with changing needs and the standardization of weights and measuring systems in India and by the 1970s were reduced to decorative items, scaled down in size.
Bholanath`s journey began after this change had occurred. Son-in-law and disciple of the late master craftsman, Kartik Karmakar, he began his training when he was about 20 years , under the guidance of his father-in- law. Following this up with a government organized training in 1989, he has been actively crafting sherpais ever since.
He set up shop independent of his father-in-law and together they were the only two families crafting sherpais, till the unfortunate demise of Kartik in 2014. Without Kartik, his son, Kailash and brother, Shantanu struggled to continue their craft, as it usually takes the labour of three people to efficiently create sherpais. They now help Bholanath instead, who is the only artisan who steadily continues to uphold this craft. Bholanath`s wife Ruma too assists him with the metal carving.
Bholanath won the National Award in 2014 from the Ministry of Textiles for his Suri Bowls. Business, though not brisk, because of the time taken to manufacture each set, keeps this artisan and his family busy. His main clients are the government agencies and the state emporiums, but he looks forward to being able to cater to private buyers as well.
Read more on Sherpai here