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Taraknath Sutradhar, Chho, Chho Masks, Wooden Dolls
Address: Village & P.O : Chorida
P.S: Baghmundi
Purulia 723152
West Bengal

Chorida village in Purulia district is renowned for its Chho masks. But there are a handful of mask makers who also carve wooden dolls. While most of them are elderly craftsmen, 32 year old Taraknath Sutradhar and his younger brother, Bholanath (28), are continuing with this family tradition, albeit with some recent stylistic changes.    

In an earlier time, the wooden dolls carved by their forefathers would represent bride and groom or Krishna and Radha, with one set differentiated from the other through the use of particular painting styles and colours. When the popularity of folk festivals like Bhadu puja began to spread sometime in the mid nineteenth century, the dolls would be suitably painted to represent Bhadu, the folk deity. (According to folklore, the Maharaja of Kashipur, the capital of Panchakot, an erstwhile state in the Purulia region, introduced Bhadu Puja.  Bhadu or  Bhadreswari was the king`s daughter and her untimely death prompted her father to start the puja, to keep her memory alive. In the process, Bhadu was elevated to the status of a deity. The puja is performed by the women of non-tribal subaltern communities in the month of August-September). Similarly Tushu dolls too were made in advance of the winter harvest festival. 

Taraknath`s forefathers who were originally from Ichagarh (now in Jharkhand) migrated to Chorida village in the early 20th century, bringing with them their traditional craft of making wooden dolls and clay idol making.  Crafting Chho masks came later. (Chho masks have evolved over time,  beginning with painted dried gourds which were current when Taraknath`s ancestors migrated). They would sell their dolls at local festivals like the Durkura mela. 

The shape and structure of the dolls have remained unchanged. They use the wood of the slim Shalkadoka tree, carefully sourced from the nearby Dumdumi hill near the Ajodhya hills. Taraknath feels that this is the best possible wood for carving - it is smooth, repels insects and does not crack. The logs are split longitudinally and soaked in water for a day. Each section , about a foot long, will be chiselled carefully to yield the basic structure for a doll. 

The dolls are first given a base coat of Khori  mati. Unlike the simply executed bi-coloured (often red and yellow) traditional dolls, Taraknath and his brother use a combination of bright synthetic colours to embellish the dolls and add a lot of intricate detailing combined with a greater attention to the finishing. A doll could become a Krishna or a Mahisasura, all with a few deft strokes of paint. While the older artists would add several coats of varnish to the finished product, Taraknath`s dolls are unvarnished.  

He has recently introduced these stylised dolls to Kolkata but is yet to create them on a large scale. The dolls are mainly made in winter, before the Tushu festival, though some are also made in preparation for Bhadu, in August. Other than sales at local festivals, they have also received orders to decorate Durga Puja pandals with their dolls. 

Besides being a Chho mask and wooden doll maker, the talented Taraknath also crafts clay idols and is a Chho dancer to boot. He first learnt the dance from the renowned Gambhir Singh Mura when he was 12 years old and later continued under Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Jagru Mahato. He has performed in various programmes across the state and designs his own Chho costumes as well. He had been invited to perform abroad, but unfortunately fell prey to official red tapism.  

We hope Taraknath and his brother receive the recognition they deserve and hope that their "developed" wooden dolls will receive the same enthusiastic response as their masks do.