The art of Bengal-Daker Saaj

West Bengal has a rich tradition of art and culture. Music, dance, poetry, films, food and theater course through the veins of Bengali. Among this, the handicraft ‘daker saaj’ is a mesmerizing one.

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The worshipping of goddess Durga during autumn began in Bengal in the late 16th or early 17th century. For the zamindar families, the pomp and glory grew bigger and bigger. Grand decorations began to be created for the idols of the goddess Durga and her sons and daughters – namely, Kartik, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

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There were mainly two kinds of embellishments or saaj that used to be made then – sholar saaj and daker saaj. The first was created using shola, a milky white material derived from the pith of a plant, also called shoal, growing in marshy areas. It is widely found in India and South Asia.

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As time went by, the pujas by the wealthy zamindar families became grander and the competition grew fiercer, with more money being spent. This increasing lavishness resulted in the introduction of the other type of embellishment, daker saaj.

Daker saaj – primarily made from silver foil (rangta) and enhanced with silver sequins, was not available in India in those days, and used to be imported from Germany, hence upping the cost, and thereby making it affordable only for the rich. Since it came by mail or dak – as it is called in Bengali, this type of embellishment came to be called daker saaj, that is, decoration with something which came by mail.

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Sovabazar Rajbari introduced the use of this type of silver foil for the purpose of decorating the idols of Durga and her children, as the silver gave a shiny and grandiose look to the idols or pratimas. Today, a host of other available to ornately deck up the idols, but even so, daker saaj is still widely used in decoration.

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