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Madhumangal Malakar, Gomira, Gomira Masks, Shola
Madhumangal Malakar was an award-winning Shola craftsman and mask-maker with an exceptionally fine sense of design who delicately forms ritual and decorative objects from shola, a plant that grows in the marshy, water-logged areas of eastern Indian states. This is a centuries-old tradition, but it is only recently that shola items have received international recognition for their beauty, eco-friendliness, and superb craftsmanship.

Born into an agricultural family in 1960, the master artist learnt his craft from his late father, Tarani Kanto Malakar when he was six or seven. The death of his father when he was in class 9, compelled him to take on the responsibility of providing for his 13 member family. He had to give up his studies and look beyond farming to sustain his family. He began by supplying shola wedding headdresses to a shop in a nearby town.
It was at this time, that he met Prof Sisir Majumdar, a researcher, who introduced him to Mr Pradip Majumdar at the block cultural office. So impressed were the local officials with Madhumangal`s shola creations centered on the serpent goddess Manosha,  that they gave him a special award. It was this and the world of cinema that he had recently discovered that gave  the wide eyed youngster the impetus to look beyond his life in the village. And, it was his determination and the assistance of various well wishers who recognised his talent that launched Madhu on the path to success.

In 1974, with the assistance of Mr Pradip Majumdar, Madhu was able to visit Kolkata and also attend a Chho mask making workshop at Purulia.   Invited to attend an award ceremony for rural artisans , Madhu vowed that he too would one day receive an award and that his world would span both the village and the city.  He was all of 14 at the time. 

Later, Prof Majumdar too was instrumental in giving Madhu further exposure  by showcasing him through programs for Doordarshan and by introducing him to Ruby Pal Choudhuri of West Bengal Crafts Council at Kolkata. Then again, it was people like Pankaj Saha of Doordarshan  and theatre person Bibhash Chakraborty who helped Madhu further. With the assistance of Crafts Council of which he was made a member, Madhu gradually started visiting fairs around the country. He was now a full time shola folk artisan and his farming days were behind him. Madhu concentrated on the traditional folk crafts of his family, making  Gomira masks, ritual objects for weddings, and flowers, rather than the fine art of making Shola models that were being created, emulating the vanishing ivory art. Madhu thus became the first member in five generations of his family to have ever stepped out of his village.

He received a state level award for his folk representation of goddess Manasha (Manashar Baw) in 1989 and was included in the Crafts Council team that visited the USA for the Banga Sammelan exhibition in Texas in 1996 and the following year in Philadelphia in 1997. His shola chrysanthemums and roses were later exhibited at Philadelphia`s  National Museum of Art. In 2001, he was invited to workshop with 600 children in Scotland making shola birds and in 2004, he was invited to exhibit his crafts at the Asia Week Handicraft exhibition at Milan. In 2003, his shola ornamentation was used at the Thames festival. A series of international installations followed from 2005 onwards across San Francisco, Barcelona, Auckland, Wellington - where he decorated 14 to 18 feet high images of Kali or Ram or Ravana with his trademark intricate shola ornamentation. A Kali idol made by him can be found in Barcelona and in New Zealand,  his Ravana, decorated with shola, was ritually burnt. At Madrid, he created a 6 feet Duldul, a Muslim ritual horse. 

In 2010, he was invited to participate in a  flower show in Philadelphia, where his were the only artificial flowers on display. Even though his Mokhas (masks), made of shola, have only recently begun to find some recognition in Bengal, these can be found in various art museums in Scotland, San Francisco and Philadelphia, collected nearly a decade ago. His masks have also been used in national and international theatre productions. 

In recent years, his fame had spread to other cities in India and Mumbai in particular, was all agog at his magnificent range of shola flowers, so deftly made.  

His vast experience in his field led Madhumangal Malakar to establish a first of its kind organization with his fellow artisans across the state which would help look after their combined needs as folk artists and artisans. This organization has several thousand members today. 

The COVID induced lockdown unfortunately brought a reversal in fortune and had him return to his small tea shop in front of his home, that he had begun many years ago. At the comparatively young age of 61, the inimitable Madhumangal Malakar, succumbed to cancer on January 12, 2022.