Krishnanagar Clay Dolls | A visit to Ghurni

By April 21, 2015Travel Exclusive

Sharing my experience at Ghurni(also known as putul patty), home to the world famous Krishnanagar Clay Dolls and a conversation with President’s award winner and Gold Medalist, Artist Subir Pal.

Let’s start with a question

What’s common between Laxmi-Ganesh, Radha-Krishna, Devi Durga,a farmer, a weaver, Amitabh Bacchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Mahatma Gandhi, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Jadoo ( of Koi Mil Gaya fame)?


Don’t be .. Just Read on 🙂

Clay Dolls of Ghurni-Krishnanagar (12)

Once at Ghurni, you can find all of the above mentioned and a lot more at most of the clay workshops or workshop-cum-studios that are present here, all perfectly crafted out of clay down to the minutest details.

Ξ Time for a little history lesson !!!

What started as a conglomeration of potters brought in from Dhaka(in East Bengal) and Natore(in North Bengal) and settled in Ghurni(then a village) by Maharaja Krishnachandra in the year 1728, slowly increased in number and gave the world some of the finest artisans and doll makers who would make their mark in the history of Indian as well as World Art.

Ξ So what sets apart Ghurni from Kumartuli (the potters lane in Kolkata)?

While artists at kumartuli are primarily experts in idol making, the dolls makers at Ghurni have their unique style of bringing in realism to their art with real life like finishing and minute detailing.

Kumartuli-Kolkata Clay Dolls of Ghurni-Krishnanagar (3)

Interesting Fact !!!

The ‘Kumartuli’ artists of Kolkata are believed to be mostly the heirs or kins of the Krishnagar ‘Pauls’

Exhibitions of Krishnanagar clay dolls, as they are popularly know as have been held at numerous places around the world including London, Paris and Boston.

Ξ Did u know ?

In India, the largest display of Krishnanagar Clay dolls is at Shankar’s Doll Museum in New Delhi.

Statues of prominent personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, built by Famous Krishnanagar clay artist Kartik Chandra Pal have found pride of place in Washington DC and Moscow, inaugurated by Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, respectively.

A number of artists have been winners at International Exhibitions and a handful of them recipients of the President’s Award.

One such artist is Mr Subir Pal – Presidents Award Winner 1991 and Gold Medalist. In his mid forties, son of one of Krishnanagar’s most famous Clay Artist Biren Pal, the first person to win the Presidents Award (in the year 1982)

Artists Biren Pal and his son Subir Pal

Father and Son – Biren Pal and Subir Pal ( in his 20’s)

Clay Dolls of Ghurni-Krishnanagar (5)

Entry to the studio


Interestingly, currently all the 4 Presidents Award Winners from Krishnanagar are from the same Pal family – ( in chronological order of being awarded) – Mr Biren Pal, his maternal brother Mr Ganesh Pal, Mr Subir Pal(son of artist Biren Pal) and Mr Tarit Pal(son of artist Ganesh Pal).

Clay Dolls of Ghurni-Krishnanagar (9)

Busts of great personalities and clay made ornaments.

Clay Dolls of Ghurni-Krishnanagar (10)

A 7 foot model of Lord shiva inside the studio

Clay Dolls of Ghurni-Krishnanagar (7)

Ma Durga to Amitabh Bachhan … everyone finds a place here


Artist Subir Pal at Ghurni-Krishnanagar

Ξ The picture on the left is of the table top model depicting a typical Bengali Haat(an open market spread across a large area) that won him the National Award (President’s Award). In the backdrop you can see the picture of him collecting the award from the then president Shankar Dayal Sharma.

Ξ The picture on the right is that of an installation work at the recently open Terminal2 or T2 at   Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

Titled “Krishnagar Studio” it depicts 3 generations of the Pals – Subir Pal, his father and his daughter engaged in their workshop.

Clay Dolls of Ghurni-Krishnanagar (11)

Krishnanagar Studio

Well that was the brighter side of the story.

Now the harsh reality.

With very few members of this generation taking the art of doll making seriously and with the emergence of cheaper fiber glass models flooding the market, the art and business of clay dolls is feeling threatened. As per some of the veterans here, it is not as flourishing and economically beneficial as it was a decade ago.

Clay Dolls of Ghurni-Krishnanagar (4)

This is forcing many artists to embrace other mediums like sculptures and fiber glass molding.

Although assured of a museum at Krishnanagar for a display-cum-sale of their creations, artists are not very optimistic about it as they mostly rely on sales outside the city, state and country.

Bengal is home to a numerous such distinct art forms, which due to negligence are slowly fading away and if not properly nurtured, may vanish in the course of time.

We do not need to turn Bengal into another London or Paris or in that case any other place.  All we need is to preserve and sustain our uniqueness and make our distinct mark in the cultural geography of this world.

What do you think?

Feel free to share your thoughts as comments.


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