< Back
Bhakta Bhaskar, Wooden Dolls
Address: Vill : Natungram
P.O: Patuli
P.S: Purbasthali
West Bengal

65 year old Bhakta Bhaskar is one of the senior most master traditional artisans of Natungram village in Bardhaman, famed for its wooden dolls. There is no recorded history with respect to the origins of the wooden dolls of Natungram or when a group of Sutradhars ( traditional wood carvers and also clay image makers) settled in this village. The seventy odd traditional wood carving families who continue to sustain themselves on this craft in Natungram, have been doing so for many generations. Of these, it is only twenty to twenty-five families who focus only on traditional doll making. The rest make doors, windows and furniture. 
Bhakta learnt his craft from the elders in his family of master craftsmen. Having lost his father as a child, his guru was his uncle Shambhunath Sutradhar, a recipient of the National Handicrafts Award in 1966. The family changed their title to Bhaskar after Shambhunath received his award. Bhakta also learnt from his elder brother Jibanananda, also a master artist and a State Award winner.

In the sixties, the craftsmen of Natungram, living on the edge of society, would sell their cheap, simple dolls, bou putuls, owls and raja-rani,  to local fairs and festivals in an attempt to eke out a less than modest living. A young Bhakta would accompany his father and uncle to such fairs.  Their circumstances were dire, to say the least. 

It was around this time that Prabhas Sen, a champion of the cause of folk art and crafts throughout his life, and head of Regional Design Centre, under the (now defunct) All India Handicrafts Board , Government of India, discovered and began to actively promote Shambhunath and the craft of Natungram. This immediately elevated the status of Shambhunath and his family. It was also Prabhas Sen who was the inspiration behind the current, popular avatar of the famed Natungram owl. The earlier form was rather different. The Natungram owl soared in popularity and this provided a launching pad for the craft of the village. This then was the background against which a young Bhaskar learnt his skills, constantly encouraged by Prabhas Sen.
Quickly mastering his craft, Bhaskar was chosen to participate in the renowned Festival of India in 1986, which showcased the richness of India’s folk culture in the USA. He spent six months at Philadelphia, New York and Washington as part of the Crafts Council of West Bengal team and fondly remembers the fabulous experience that he had. The exhibition at Philadelphia was called Mahamaya and this exhibition and demonstration of ten crafts from Eastern India was part of Philadelphia’s celebration of the Festival of India. Bhakta had carried a 3 foot Ardhyanarishwar as his main exhibit. The event was a huge success for all the participants and sales went through the roof. Bhakta recalls being invited to sing by Ruby Pal Choudhury at the inauguration ceremony at Philadelphia. Bhakta feels that he owes his passion for singing to his elder uncle who, unlike the sculptors in his family, was devoted to folk music instead. Back home, Bhakta’s popularity soared. 

Bhakta has also closely collaborated with Rajiv Sethi, noted internationally for his innovative contribution to preserving and celebrating the subcontinent’s rich cultural heritage. Bhakta was part of a team of artists from West Bengal whose work adorn the Jaye He museum at Mumbai T2 airport – the brainchild of Sethi.

Winner of numerous awards at district and state level as well as from reputed institutions, Bhakto carries on with his craft, helped by his wife who does the painting.  His two sons Aukkhoy and Srikanto continue the family tradition as well. Bhakto also owns a small plot of land which yields sufficient rice for the family’s consumption and is of support during lean seasons. But Bhakta has an axe to grind. He wonders why a master artist/artisan has to resort to farming. He strongly feels the current governmental system should be tweaked to give them their due respect and recognition beyond the certificate or award handed out to them. Even the pension given to them ought to be graded on the basis of their standing in the craft, he feels. Perhaps the skill of the masters should become part of the education system.   

Bhakta Bhaskar : The singing Sutradhar