Baishakh ushers in hope for Rajshahi potters | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 13, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:13 PM, April 13, 2019

Baishakh ushers in hope for Rajshahi potters

The art of pottery has deep roots in the sub-continent's history, going back as far as the Mohenjo-daro and Harappa civilisations. Unfortunately, today the art form is struggling for survival in Bangladesh.

As market demand has waned, people are turning to cheaper substitutes -- plastic and melamine -- and potters are finding it hard to live off their trade.

Like elsewhere in the country, potters in Rajshahi eagerly await festivals such as Pahela Baishakh when they see a boost in their sales.

There was a time, pottery items were a must in every Bengali household. Now it has been limited to colourful clay pots better known as “Shokher Hari”, toys and vases used for decoration, said Md Amirul Islam, a folklore teacher at Rajshahi University.

Rajshahi potters were known for their finesse. “Even a few years ago, people used to carry sweets inside decorative clay pots during weddings or other celebrations,” he said.

The district is home to Sushanta Kumar Paul, who earned countrywide fame for making pots that were exhibited at major national events. Photos of Paul making pots have been included in primary and secondary textbooks to teach the youth about Bangladesh's rich heritage.

During a recent visit to his home at Paba upazila's Basantapur village, 20km off the city, this correspondent found his family members busy making pots for Pahela Baishakh.

“Even a few decades ago, I used to have over a dozen workers assisting me. The business has dwindled due to cheaper alternatives. Now I rely on my family members for the work.”

He said his monthly income is around Tk 10,000. During Baishakh and Poush, he witnesses a slight increase.

For survival, the artisan has changed the way he makes pots. He said he makes smaller pots now. “These days, I make pots not for storing items, but rather for decoration,” he added. The decorated pots are being sold at Tk 20-1,000.

“I hardly make any profit. But I cannot just leave the trade. It's part of who we are -- our tradition. I learned this craft from my father just like he did from his. I also taught my sons.”

Meanwhile, potters in Rajshahi city are also passing busy days to meet the demand for Pahela Baishakh and eyeing good profit.

Like many, Tutul Kumar Dhar makes clay dolls, birds and fish among other items in Shekher Chalk area.

“Nowadays, Chinese products made of stone dust occupy the market,” he said. “I thought about leaving the profession like many others, but could not. Pottery has become a part of my life,” said the 55-year-old.

He urged the government to take steps to revive the once prominent industry.

However, potter Kajol Kumar Das of city's Sagarpara has not lost hope yet.

“One has to work with patience and devotion. Most people cannot sustain in this profession,” he said.

Das fetches a monthly income of Tk 35,000, supplying terracotta items to various showrooms. He said his sales almost double during festivals.

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