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Sumitra Mondal, Alpona
Address: Krishnanagar
West Bengal

Alpona artist Sumitra Mondal is about eighty years old, but her age notwithstanding, her energy is boundless. She grew up in her parents’ home at Baraldighi village in Nabadwip block in Nadia. Like most other young girls of rural Bengal of the time, she did not have the privilege of an education and her tryst with alpona making started early. 

She would, as a child, try to emulate her paternal aunts, her grandmother, other elderly relatives and the women of her village when they painted alponas. Making her own brushes with goat`s tail hair tied to a stick from a coconut broom, she would combine powdered rice and later, khori mati, a special kind of calcium rich white clay with easily accessible colours like laundry blue, turmeric and alta (lac dye) to create her own palette and trace out designs on the walls of her home. 

As her skills developed, she would, on the eve of occasions like Lakshmi Puja and Durga Puja, decorate the walls, windows and floors, the verandah, right up to the entrance to the home with ritual alponas. Of course cleansing the home prior to the ornamentation was mandatory. 

Employing a wide variety of traditional motifs, she, along with the other female members of her household, would adroitly juxtapose stylized creepers, flowers and other images from the natural world to objects of daily rural life, as the occasion demanded, with impressive delicacy and skill. There was no pattern book to follow : the artist drew upon received knowledge, her creativity and her sense of aesthetics. The verandah would be filled with swirls of large floral motifs while the entire length and breadth of the courtyard would first be coated and smoothened with a layer of diluted cow dung, followed by a coat of clay and then be covered with beautiful, intricate designs. 

She was also skilled at embroidering floor mats (ashon), on which she often employed her alpona motifs. Married off at age thirteen, she continued with her ritual art and continues to paint alponas to this day. She proudly tells us that there was no one in her family who could ever match her artistic skills. Perhaps the only person who has inherited her skills is her grandson, Rabi Biswas, her daughter Arati`s son, who has made a name for himself as a traditional alpona artist