Natungram of Bardhaman district is the hub for wooden doll making. Bardhaman is well connected by bus and train from Kolkata. From Bardhaman station it takes nearly 1 hour by road to reach Natungram. Crafts persons from this area are traditionally practicing the art form and for most of them it is there primary livelihood. The doll makers are the Hindus, have last name Bhaskar, meaning sculptor or Sutradhar, meaning story teller.
The craft and craftsmanship were on its peak under the Bardhaman Maharaja. The honesty and the labour of this craft distinguish this art from the others. Wooden dolls to stools, each and every product can be distinguishable by their different colors and the placement of colors. Color can change the character of a same looking product.
Dolls are mainly made out of gamar wood, mango wood, shimul wood, ata wood, chatim wood. Men are cutting and carving the wood as per the requirement and women are painted the products with various color. Coloring has to be done by the female member of a family. They did an wonderful job and create various motifs and designs by themselves. They have used lots of colors in the dolls like-green, yellow, black borders and red. they used fabric colors and oil paints in decorating the dolls.
The traditional designs are based on culture and mythology, the richness of ideas, the brilliant combination of pure simplicity and glamour combined with the master craftsmanship, result in an amazing work of art. It can be said that every child born in that village, can make an owl out of the wooden cut piece. It is in their blood.
Traditionally the crafts persons are specialized in making the wooden owl; considered auspicious for homes as it is the ‘vahana‘ of the goddess Lakshmi. Though, other wooden objects are being made. But the owl, with its unique design and color, is the brand product of the village. On the white background of the owl is painted a distinctive design of red, green yellow and black lines.
Apart from these, the crafts persons used to make ‘Rashiputul’ (figures of Radha-Krishna on a single block of wood), Durga, Laksmi, Saraswati, figures of the King, the Queen. They are simply diversified and get a new form .The artisans of Natungram started their wood crafting 200 years ago .Since then the artisans making various types of wooden dolls for their livelihood. Now a days a change of color, texture, and design can be seen. Colors are more vibrant like yellow,red,blue and bold black border of each part to define. Various complex and intricate wood carving techniques have been introduced. The designs of the products are also varied from the older piece of products.
They are more attractive than earlier. Various new products have been introduced in around 5 years ago like they make furniture, lampshade, raja-rani cardholder, fusion furniture, owl lamp shades, owl sofa set, owl chairs and other similar products in Natungram style etc.
The process of making the craft is simple. The figures are first drawn on the blocks of wood and then chiseled out. However, the master crafts person does not need the drawings. The wood is cut as per the size of the block. The piece is cleaned and smoothened. The design of the toy to be made is traced on this piece. Extra wood is chipped off according to the design. Fine strokes with the hammer are made on the chisel. It is smoothened with a file and painted. Add clay and wheat with fevicol and make a paste . Next the dresses with specific designs are marked out by fine strokes of the brush. The facial features are added in the end.
The finished products are very simple and attractive at the same time. The men are skilled in the wood work and But the most attractive part is coloring part done by the women of Natungram. Even the children are also helping their parents by color the dolls with attractive designs.