The Heritage Gala Industry of Illambazar

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Written by Pranab Bhattacharyya.

In the opposite side of Ajoy river;  Elambazar is on the north side. Not only Birbhum, but the gateway to communicating with North Bengal is Ilambazar. Geographical location is 23.63N, 87.53E. From the very old days, Ilambazar is a ‘Ganj’ or town. There was an auction plaza there. Today in the ‘Tulatatti’ front of the old police station, although the hat is not present. But, from that ‘Nilam Bazar’ or auction plaza, now it’s Ilumbazar. Ilumbazar, from Elem bazar, is the market that has value and respect. It  is known as ganj by direct involvement of the English. In 1786, under the direct control of the English, the Illambazar (Birbhum) came under the direct control of the English. And Ajay was marked as the southern administrative boundary of Birbhum in 1806. Before that, there have been many storms on Rarh Banga. The terrible famine of 1770. Only one part of four was  alive. Most cultivated lands have fallen. Meanwhile, 1779 farmers protest against Zamindars and Company, they were looting in the day light. What to do, they were starving.34028936_10216143455289999_2054049108376682496_n

According to Sherwill’s survey, then the population was 2235. In 1901, the number was 1815. A 19-year-old Englishman, David Erskine came to the Illumbazar in 1787. Trading was in his blood. Though and got the wholesale business. Weavers of Shukbazar sow a good loom. They were good of making cotton cloth, sarees, towel etc. They also loom silk made of Tashar. Local ‘Nuri’ or ‘Lori’ were good in making ‘Gala’ (wax) and ‘laksha’ in domestic system. The raw materials were come from the jungle corridor. ‘Shawl’ wood coal was the fuel. Erskine gave a lot of attention to commercial production. The factory was ready. Large space on the east side of the village. Great ‘kuthibari’ built on the side of the road. Out house was also ready. Raw materials came from ‘Lakshamahal’ of Jharkhand-Dumka in the west of Birbhum. From the jungle mahal of senpahari pargana. There are lots of small and big boats in Ajay Ghat parked all time. There are various types of goods coming in Kathibari of Illumbazar.33992867_10216143455129995_3768927355217641472_n

Within a few years the business grew up. The famous blue trader John Cheap came here. Erskin & Co. Build up with him. After David’s death in 1837, his son Henry took the responsibility. He ran it 35 years and sold it to William Wakers Farquharson. He was a member of Erskin family. Then joined Champbell Saheb. It became ‘Messrs. Farquharson and Champbell & Company’. This company lasted till 1882. Then it handed over to an Indian. Local landlord Ray Baglanand Mukherjee bought the land from the English. Kuthi Bari, Gala factory, the factory of blue. He bought everything except the bungalow. The house of the Erskin family bungalow remains in their hands. Mrs Erskin has lived there for a long time. It is now the official inspection postal bungalow. The bungalow was in the mango garden, situated in the bank of the river. That heavenly decoration is no more today. Two or more mango trees are scattered.

Preparation of Gala : Silkworms love to eat leaves of Kusum, Palash, Pakur, Kul, shal tree. They can nestle in narrow buds. These silkworm’s (coccus lacca) bodies releases natural resin and that is natural lacca. Indigenous people of Santal Pargana, Palashasthali, Dumka, Pakur, basically cultivate this silkworm. And they collects resin and bring it to Illumbazar kuthi.33943292_10216143455009992_1672043996832071680_n

Santal, Maal, Khayra, Raa, Basudha, Nuri and other people of Jangal Mahal of Burdwan district collects resin and come to Illumbazar. The supply of the original charcoal comes from the Jungle Mahal of the Sena Pahari region. This wood coal is one of  the primary need in the gala industry. Off white resins were then sent to make dust of it. After watering it for 24 hours in large containers and doing the job of washing well, then they are left to be collected at the bottom of the jar. And this is the resin, to be collected. Then after drying it, it heats up to melt it and they are formed in different mold and they are ready as shellac, button lac, leaf lac etc.

After washing, the litter is extracts in reddish-brown colour, calls Alta. Good dye, and very useful for colouring  cloths. The girls of the Nuri are basically doing this. Hindu women wear Alta on the feet. And males from the Nuri family of the Illamabazar, they made various types of dolls, bangles, toys, etc. made of Galla. At that time about 40 families used to do this. Two of them were highly skilled craftsmen. The task of exquisite ornamentation gave them the establishment. Praised by their work the English said,”…of excellent design and craftsmanship”. It is worth mentioning that in 1855 international exhibition ‘Exposition Universelle’ held at Paris, arts of Illamazar’s gala artists was exhibited at the exhibition.34124926_10216143455249998_6366200821931048960_n

And at 2018, Illambazar is a municipal area. But glory of Silk has faded out. No one is ready to introduce themselves as Nuri or Lori. They now work as jewellery artists or have set up business of themselves. Now only thing is left, Nuripukur (Pond of Nuris’) The calendar plates of Erskin’s grave have been stolen. The ruined castle of Zamindar Mukherjee Babu stands in the middle of the village.  There are excellent terracotta decorated temples. 50 years ago, in the fourth-fifth grade text book of Geography, written their that “Illambazar is famous for the gala industry”. Although roughly by the 1920’s, the culmination of tradition has ended.34065405_10216143455410002_4767181723081375744_n.jpg

Gopal Gui was the last gala artist of Illamabazar. Sitting in his own house, he used to work in a tired heart. Later, he was taken to Sriniketan to teach. His work samples have been kept in Shilpadon. There is also in the Museum of Kolkata. His son lives in Sriniketan. Run a store. There is no relation with Gala. There is enough demand for Gala products in the country or abroad market. But in the current period, Illamabazar has lost its heritage gala industry. No effort has been made by any government to revive the gala industry here. However, this initiative could be taken to self-help women of indigenous rural women.

Photo Courtesy : Bishwyendu Nanda, Editor of Parama.

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Post Author: Udayan Majumder

Udayan Majumder
Photographer, Traveler and Explorer. Student of B.Sc pure science but more interested in Literature and Culture. Folk Culture is one of the most interesting topic to him. Loves roaming. Solo Rider.

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