West Bengal is well known for its rich tradition of handicrafts and textiles - from the ethereal taant, or handloom, saris of Bengal to the dokra made in Shantiniketan, or the incredibly dramatic chhau masks of Purulia. If you do not have enough time to visit various places to pick up these handicrafts, here's a quick fix. The Hasta Shilpa Mela 2023 is an annual handicrafts fair in Kolkata that showcases all these crafts under one roof. And it is being held right now and will be on till December 17. So if you are in Kolkata, head out to Eco Park in New Town.
Pick up the famous Bankura horse to grace your home. The terracotta figurine is made in Bankura district's Panchmura village and is the Central Cottage Industries Emporium's logo. The main objects of Bankura's clay modelling craft industry are terracotta horses and elephants. You might also be able to see a live demonstration of terracotta crafts.
A patachitra scroll painting is also a must-have. The narrative scroll paintings (patachitra) created by Bengal's patuas or chitrakars (painter-singers) have been designated as a GI item. You may find a patua willing to sing out the narrative they have painted. Pataus used to travel from village to village, singing a "poter gaan,"—the stories painted on scrolls, unrolling each frame by frame. Many chitrakars have switched to painting motifs on home items like kettles, and on clothing and accesories.
Do not go home without a chhau mask from Purulia. There are three different varieties of chhau dance in India, but it is probably the chhau from Purulia which has the most stunning headgear. The masks—made of pulped paper and clay and hand-painted in vibrant colours—portray characters, demons and deities from mythology. These distinctive chhau masks were given a GI tag in 2018.
The handloom saris of Bengal are some of the best in India. Choose from three handloom varieties that have been given the GI tag—the Santipuri, the Dhaniakhali, and the Baluchari sari.
The fair is being organised by department of textiles and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. Apart from traditional handicrafts, you will find several innovative takes. For instance, vibrantly coloured ice cream vans, and miniature rickshaws, or quilled figures of Tintin, Haddock, and others from the cult comics.
Go with some time in hand as there are hundreds of stalls spread over a large space next to Eco Park's Gate 1. At several stalls you will come across craftspersons at work, putting finishing touches to a mask or making a traditional shital pati mat. You can also get a sketch made of yourself with the several artists from local art colleges who are a fixture at this fair, and at the Kolkata Boi Mela. Another fixture are the food stalls serving the favourite foods of Bengalis, such as various chops and cutlets, jhal muri, and biryani.
Timings: 1pm to 8.30pm, from December 1 to 17
Tickets: Entry is free
Address: Eco Park Rd, AA II, Deshbandhu Nagar, Newtown, New Town, West Bengal 700156