Clay dolls once were a great favourite for children. On lazy afternoons, vendors would sell these earthenware figures made by artisans in the villages and towns. Women along with their children would buy the dolls, clay elephants, horses, birds, butterflies and so on. They were the chief attraction at the fairs on Pahela Baishakh and pujas.
Clays dolls are now a popular home decor item. Reba Chakrabarty, a Dhaka-based singer who has decorated her home with clay dolls, said her parents were enthusiastic about the artistic earthen toys and often bought these from market and fairs. She reminisced potters would sell the earthenware items door to door. These were exchanged for rice.
"We used to play with the dolls throughout the day. We would bathe them, marry them off and what not!" Reba said. "My fascination for dolls grew at that time. I've grown up, but I still treaure these as essential elements of Bangali culture. I collect dolls everywhere I go."
Reba has a rich collection of dolls and uses them for various purposes. She uses 'tepa putuls’ made by the potters using their hands only as paper weights.
"Burnt clay dolls always add to the beauty of interior decoration," says Farah Diba, owner of Sketch Interior Designer. "People tend to turn to Bangali tradition nowadays. People of aesthetic taste appreciate such traditional clay pots and dolls."
Farah Diba suggests that 'tepa putuls' can be dispalyed on an embroidered mat on a corner table of a drawing room while clay chimes can be hung on the wall and the 'dokras' (metal dolls) can be placed on a wooden surface. Bedside tables, too, could be decorated with the clay items. Place two big dolls and a number of small others on an earthen plate amid the greenery of your balcony, she suggests.
Farah said the dolls must be taken care of to ensure they last long and retain their glaze. Soft brushes could be used to clean the serrated designs. Since clay loses its sheen with time, one should avoid using wet cloth and be careful to choose the spot to place them as they break easily.
Shyamol Chandra Saha, owner of Ideas Crafts in Dhaka, says the market for clay dolls has dropped for the prevalence of plastic and stuffed toys. He has a passion for traditional Bangali handicrafts and collects terracotta items from across the country and from abroad too. Ideas Crafts has dolls on various themes including mother and child, woman grinding spices and sorting rice and so on.
Clay dolls are available at Aarong, Doel Chattar, and at various fairs, prices ranging from Tk 300 to Tk 400.
*This piece, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo’s Naksha page, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.