Art that thrived through mediation of Kumbhakars
The principal location of shora painting was spread over a 110-kilometre area along both banks of the Padma. Even to this day, eight tenths of the site of its origin can be found in this area.
The Padma has divided Bangladesh into the north and south parts. Having entered the country from the west, the river mightily flows eastward until it converges with the Jamuna on the south; on the eastern end, however, it joins with the Meghna. In between these two confluences lies a vast expanse, both banks of which still remain to be the main location of the proponents of shora painting. Rajbari, Faridpur, Madaripur and Shariatpur are situated on the southern bank, while Munsiganj-Bikrampur, Dohar-Nababganj and Manikganj are on the northern bank of this wide area. (Just about two and a half decades ago, these northern areas were considered part of Dhaka and the southern areas part of Faridpur).
Even though the shora producing villages are situated in the east and west sides, spreading parallely with the Padma, market of these produces has expanded mainly over the northern and southern regions. Kustia and Pabna in the west, and Chandpur, Lakshmipur and Comilla in the east do not virtually have any market for shoras. Shoras produced along the northern bank do have a market there, which is nonetheless confined to a 15 to 20-kilometre area. Conversely, the Faridpuri and Shariatpuri shoras enjoy a fully developed market in the south, extended to the farthest end along the bank. Perhaps, it was made possible by a large-scale migration from Faridpur to the new landmasses in the south that had emerged from the Bay of Bengal. And it was with the shora-producing hands of the migrated people, either by choice or out of necessity, that the market grew larger in those parts.
Faridpuri shoras have a market in Old Dhaka, Munsiganj and Narayanganj, although designs and patterns of this type show a difference from the original produced in the southern part. For the buyers of Dhaka and its adjacent areas, the Faridpuri potters produce a different breed known as Dhakai shora. This fact confirms that one of the reasons behind the expansion of Faridpuri shora's market is steeped in its good quality. It also explains why shoras from other localities could not have created a viable market in Faridpur. However, in several villages of Sirajdi Khan upazila in Munshiganj production of Dhakai shora has considerably increased for quite a long time now; for the very fact of a long-term existence its quality has taken a turn for the better. As a result, demand for Shariatpur's Dhakai Shora has declined while Munshiganj's has increased in Dhaka. Nowadays, mostly locally produced shoras are seen in Dhaka and its nearby districts. Hence, unlike the case along the southern bank of the Padma, no particular style has gained popularity in these areas. It is precisely because of this reason that many obscure styles have survived in Dhaka and are available to this day. Such obscure styles might well have existed in the Faridpur region, the existence of which, having been marginalized by the predominance of the Shureshwari and Faridpuri genres, has died out over the years.
In order to better the understanding of the influence that the economic structure has exerted on the style and meaning of shora, the point to begin is the basic financial activities or the mode of production in a given area. The commercially enthused Narayanganj, Munshiganj and old Dhaka had a lot of wealthy as well as enthusiastic buyers of the comparatively expensive shoras. On the other hand, people in the agrarian economy of Dohar-Nababhanj, Manikganj, etc were farmers with barely any hard cash in their pockets which is why they would have had to depend on the inexpensive one if they had wanted to offer worship (puja) with a bought shora. And it was the locally produced substandard shora which could have been bought at a low price. Had they been rich like the trader class of Narayanganj and Munshiganj, they would have hired the famous Faridpuri kumbhakars/potters to get their customary shora painted in a more artistic flourish.
A visibly better commerce-based economy has brought about not only a qualitative change but also effected a nuance in the subject matter. Commercial enterprises in this region saw a boost because of improved navigation facilities by water. That is why the goddess Lakshmi has been portrayed as boarding the Mayurpangkhi (a boat shaped like a peacock). It is presumed that this Lakshmi shora is the portrayal of the proverb which goes 'Banijya Bosote Lakhhi' meaning Lakshmi inhabits the treaders' residence.
Narayanganj as a river port has always been a renowned business hub. There was a time when the river ports of Bikrampur-Munshiganj also enjoyed a similar status and a number of canals are known to have been dug in these areas in order to expand business through the navigable waterways. Conversely, the same goddess in the shora of agro-based Nababganj-Dohar-Manikganj areas has been portrayed as standing on the red texture of burnt clay; that is to say, the original colour of the soil is not coated with white in order to cut down the production cost. More importantly, by depicting the goddess on the clay it has been clearly manifested that earth is the most precious and sacred thing to people having an inseparable connection with soil for their bread and butter.
Another remarkable difference between the two types of shora lies in the depiction of the sheaf of paddy. The sheaf of paddy held up by the Mayurpankhi-boarding goddess in the Dhakai shora are small and their detail is left unattended. On the other hand, all the styles available in Dohar-Nababganj-Manikganj clearly show a predilection for embellishing the sheaf of paddy as well as enlarging it as much as possible. At times, so much stress is laid on the paddy sheaf that the goddess appears to be of less importance. Furthermore, the goddess Lakshmi is scarcely given an exclusive representation in shoras from these areas. In most cases, Lakshmi and Sharashwati are represented together imparting an equal importance to both. This type is called Jaya-Bijaya shora. The way Lakshmi is distinguished from Swarashwati in the paintings is also interesting. Lakshmi is identified with the yellow of the ripe paddy whereas Sharaswati with white. In this regard, we should keep in mind that women of this region offer worship to Lakshmi not only for an abundance in riches but also for a completeness in their womanhood. Perhaps that is why they have preferred a coalescing of two goddesses with equal importance in the same shora. (Worship of Lakshmi by means of shora is a ritual undertaken by housewives and once the offering ends, the shora is hung inside the house for the rest of the year.)
NISAR HOSSAIN is an artist and researcher, and teaches at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University.
Translated by RIFAT MUNIM
PHOTOS: NISAR HOSSAIN
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