Sri Ananta Malakar (Shola Artist)

Sri Ananta Malakar
Sri Ananta Malakar
Full name Sri Ananta Malakar
Date of birth 29th January 1942
Age 76 years
Place of birth Palita village of Ketugram P.S., East Bardhaman
Father Late Aswini Malakar (A famous Shola, Jari & Baji artist of that time)
Mother Late Sarasi Malakar (An artist of Shola crafts and dolls of clay)
Brothers/sisters Three brothers & one sister, himself youngest.
Information A Legendary artist in Sholapith crafts. Won several awards from Govt.of India, including National award and Shilpaguru award. Honoured worldwide for his contribution in the Sholapith crafts. His work is kept at a dozen museums around the world and in Indian museums.
Interview with Sri Ananta Malakar, 2018
Q: Are you doing this job in your family for long ?

A: Yes, my father and his elder brother did it, my elder brothers & sister did it, I did, so is my son.
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Q: Where did your father doing this job ?

A: He was doing it at Palita village, Bardhaman, and sent to the markets of Bardhaman & adjoining areas.
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Q: When did you think of being an artist of Shola?

A: I used to do drawing very well, and create nice clay models. Our financial condition was very bad. The river Ajay is going by the side of our village. Every year it flooded in rainy season, and houses in our area was damaged. The Shola industry is connected to Bengali culture very much – marriage, Annaprasan (baby’s first rice), death, puja – but seasonal, not a continuous flow of income. Topor, Chandmala, Kadam, puja decoration, that’s all. Durgapuja, Kalipuja, Jagadhatripuja, the list ends. Topor was made and sent to the markets of Bolpur, Katwa, Rampurhat, Guskara, Bahrampur – father and uncle did it, so did I. So we were always short of funds. Then I was going to school, and having trouble giving the fees. At class nine it was Rs. 5.50, a lot at that time. I was a meritorious student. Stood first in every class. I wrote an essay at class Five by inspiration from a teacher, which stood first in Katwa District. And I got a stipend for Rs.4 per month for two years. By application, the fees were reduced to half, but money for books were hard to come by. Sometimes no lunch was there at home, so we had the rice at the evening . Friends used to help me. One of my friends was Jamsur Rahman. His last year books saved me upto class eight. At class Nine he went to Khujutipara Higher Secondary School. I was six, when my eldest brother married and parted from family. My elder sister, was married at Tarakeswar, became a widow and returned our house with a daughter. My father had now to run the livelihood with so many family members. Elder sister learnt the Shola craft earlier; she started working day and night. Father also worked and took them for delivery. I also delivered sometime after reaching class Nine. Elder sister admitted me to Koyarpu High School, three miles after crossing river Ajay. The summer was okay, but in rainy season, Ajay had flooded, its sides were under water and the school closed. Only students from rich families used to carry their provisions with them to Boarding house and do their study there. We could not afford that. When the waters were down again, the school resumed. Somehow passed class Nine to be promoted to Class Ten. But that year, a huge flood demolished our house, with my books and all. We even had to be at Flood Relief Camp for some time. Union Board distributed rice, American wheat (came for relief from USA) in the area. To turn wheat to flour, we had to go four miles walking and back. My study ended there. We were in dire situation then. My elder sister then advised me to take up the family craft. I had a new love already then, reading – whatever writings of Rabindranath Tagore was available, I read vociferously. Not so easy to understand at that age, but still finished it. Also read Sharatchandra, Jarasandha, Tarashankar, Shankar, etc. Not worked for my family business. Father sometimes became angry, but my elder sister understood my pain, she explained to my father. Then one day father told me that he’ll arrange admission to Shantiniketan Kalabhawan – the art school. Father came in touch of Rabindranath while delivering Topor to the then famous stores for these items at Bolpur. Rabindranath liked his work, and asked him to make some flowers from Shola and deliver to Shantiniketan. While delivering that, father came in contact with artist Nandalal Basu and sculptor Ramkinkar Baiz. He took me to Shantiniketan, and showed them my work. They liked it. But Nandalal Basu asked me to finish class Ten at least, since the books on Art used to be in English. But we had no choice. Then Ramkinkar Baiz said, OK, send him to my Purbapalli home. The way he is already doing, I’ll help him to advance further in modeling. I went to his house, walking 18 miles from Palita village for three years, stayed there for 4/5/6 days every time. Many other students also stayed there in his Atchala house, with lots of trees around. A local (Santal) woman, name Annapurna was also there, who used to cook for us. Many famous persons also used to come there. Kinkarda used to make models – not started the Fiber Glass then, doing Terracotta, Plaster of Paris. I sometimes prepared the clay for him. Then came back home, create some Shola article and showed him on next visit. He liked it very much. I became Ananta Malakar being in contact of these world famous artists – my work is the reflection of these learning. I am not only the Shola artist, what I’m known for, I can and do work in four mediums except Shola – Clay modeling, Terracotta, Fiber glass and Cement casting. Shola craft is in my blood. It took me to the foreign countries – USA, Russia, Europe – the Bengalees there took me there, then came the call from India Government, sending me to USA, Russia, Panama, Taiwan, etc.
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Q: First coming to fame?

A: On 1966 made a Saraswati idol from Shola. The first in the history of Shola craft. While working at Kolkata, I got a friend in Amal Mukherjee, who happened to be the nephew of Mahanayak Uttamkumar. When I went to Kolkata we used to do Adda (sit for a gossip) at Camelia Restaurant. There one day he asked me if I made a Shola idol. I said, I didn’t, but can make it if there is an order. He immediately gave me the order deciding on the cost of the idol, for his Saptarshi Club at Ganga Prasad Mukherjee Road, Bhowanipur, Kolkata. I came back to village taking the order, but father started scolding me. Those days nobody tried to make an idol from Shola, a difficult task. Father was anxious that I will fail and will lead to problems. But elder sister came to my rescue, telling him to wait and see. Few days later, I made a palm of the Idol in blessing mode, and showed my father. Everybody present there liked it and said I shall be able to make the idol. In two months I made an idol of 5 feet with a Chali of 8 feet. When the idol was finished, everybody from the village thronged our house. Friends added a Hazack Light at night. Father was happy. Two days before puja, I took the idol by train to Kolkata. Everybody was amazed. Amal asked his uncle to visit his puja. The day before puja, Uttamkumar visited the puja at night and blessed me. He told Anandabazar Patrika about it. And people came pouring in to see the idol, the place was crowded all throughout the day and night. I was only 24 then.
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Q: First Award ?

A: During this Saptarshi Club event, one day getting the news, Mr. Sudhin Bandopadhyay from D.C. Handicrafts office visited, followed by Director Prabhas Sen, who asked to club for permission to send the idol to Handicrafts board, Delhi. Saptarshi Club agreed, and the idol was sent to Delhi. Director Prabhas Sen inspired me to make another 2 feet Lakshmi idol of Bengal school, which will be sent to exhibition at Delhi. For that I got Certificate of Merit from Government of India on 1968, my first award. The Kolkata office now inspired me to make a Durga Idol of Bengal school of height 2.5 feet next year, to be sent to the exhibition again. On the basis of that I got National Award from India Government on 1970. Dr.V.V.Giri, President, presented the award at Bigyan Bhaban, New Delhi. Indira Gandhi invited me for a reception with dinner. That was the highest award for me.
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Q: What are the awards and recognition you received and memorable events ?

A: There are lots of them, I don’t have space in my house to show them all. Most memorable ones are:
a) 1968 - Certificate of Merit awarded by Government of India on a 2 feet Laxmi Idol of Bengal school.
b) 1970 - National Award awarded by Government of India for 2.5 feet Durga idol of Bengal School presented by Dr.V.V.Giri, President.
c) 1972 – Certificate of Merit and Rs.10,000 awarded by Government of India from Mrs.Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister on a 4 feet Hara-Parbati Idol at Asia’72 exhibition.
d) 1975 – America visit on invitation from Bengali NRIs of East Coast Durgapuja Festival Committee for 6 months - made 3 Shola Durga idols, Rabindranath statue and various Shola decoration items for New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C. and Toronto (Canada). There was an exhibition of my creations at Coliseum Auditorium, New York for 10 days.
e)1976 – Golden Trophy awarded by East Coast Durgapuja Festival Committee, New York, USA.
f) 1978 – Golden Choir from Russian Prime Minister Aleksey Kosygin at Kremlin Museum for a 2 feet half-bust Shola statue of Lenin while on a two-month visit to Moskow at Indian Trade Fare.
g)1980 – first recognition from West Bengal Government for Terracotta work.
h) 1986 – Three months visit to Indian Carnival and Exhibition at California Science Museum and a Commendation Certificate from the Director of the museum.
i) 1986 – Silver Plate of 300gms on a reception at California.
j)2003 - Kalamoni award from Hariana Government.
k)2004 - Shilpaguru, highest award for art, from Bhairon Singh Shekhawat,Vice President with Gold medal, Certificate and 24 carat Golden Plate.
l)2004 – Reception by Smt.Sonia Gandhi with Kasmiri Shawl.
m)2004 – reception by Bengalees of Amet (Mumbai) for creating Shola Durga Idol for Durgapuja with Honour Certificate on Silver Plate.
n)2005 – Exhibition of 15 days at Taipei city.
o)2006 – Demonstration of 11 days at High-tech city, Hyderabad.
p)2007 – Panama city, Florida, USA.
q)2010 – Exhibition of 10 days at Bangkok.
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Q: So your work is preserved at places around the world ?

A: Yes. My work is preserved at museums of New York, New Jersey, Toronto, Washington D.C., California, Germany, Australia, Moskow, Mauritius, etc. In india, at National Museum, Delhi, National Crafts Museum, Delhi, Chhatrapati Shibaji Museum, Mumbai, Asia Platau Panchagani, Maharashtra, Indian Museum, Kolkata (Shola Saraswati Idol and world famous Terracotta Durga idol of 7.5 feet), Nehru Children Museum, Kolkata, Ashutosh Museum of Kolkata University, Birla academy, Kolkata (Paper Pulp Durga idol). Also a lot on personal collections, including many famous persons worldwide – artwork like Mayurpankhi Bajra, Elephant Howda, Durga idol, Saraswati idol, Durga-face, etc.
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Q: Any film on your work?

A: At childhood, I wanted to be an actor, work on theatre and films. That did not happen, but Bibhuti Roy made one documentary film of two reels on my works. That was in English, but a Bengali dubbing also made with name "Ananta Swapna".
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Q: Are you doing any job on a Kolkata Puja nowadays?

A: No. Only doing for family Pujas now – one at Durgabari, another doing for last 35 years here. Another at Ajaynagar, Kolkata, at a gentleman’s house who was an engineer at Germany. I make the Saj (ornaments) here and send it over to the person making the Idol, he fits them. Nowadays Shola pith is costly, It is not grown here. It comes from Jessore, Khulna, Dinajpur and Malda. Also some defective ones come, which are red inside, of no use for us. The rates of the Karigars (worker) also increased. Overall the Saj becomes very costly, and many people don’t want to go for that cost. Now some use thermocol for decoration, nowhere near it, coarse one, but cheap, colors it. Synthetic Jari is also used for decoration. Now is the time for Theme, people run after it, so the decoration is accordingly, no use of Shola. What we are doing will go into oblivion. Nobody will make it. Those who love the old traditions are still using it.
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Q: Work of which artist inspired you the most?

A: Here it was mostly jobs of Topor, Chandmala, Kadam flower being done at that time. In Assam, the Shola pith is a different variety, quite hard compared to ours. They used to make birds, jackfruit etc. by carving it out. Then Baharampur had no Shola industry, we supplied there. Baharampur was famous for its ivory carving jobs. When Government banned using ivory for crafts, the craftsmen turned to other medium. One was Hiranmay Karmakar, famous ivory artist of that time, used to be also our wholesale dealer for Shola items. He checked up with me for Shola crafts, and decided to go for it. He used to make the Mayurpankhi Boat, Howda (seat on elephant) etc. like he did in ivory. Some craftsmen switched to Sandalwood, too, like Goutam Bhaskar. Gour Bhaskar, Nimai Bhaskar also was in ivory. Nimai Bhaskar got Certificate of Merit with me on Silver Jubilee Celebration of Indian Independence showing ivory handicraft in Asia’72 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, where work of famous artists/craftsmen from different parts of India was displayed. Indira Gandhi honoured all artists/craftsmen with Certificate of Merit and Rs. 10,000/- there. We artists & craftsmen also exchanged views and seen each others’ work. That was also an inspiration.
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Q: Who is your first Guru?

A: Father was there, learnt from eldest brother also, but elder sister always gave me inspiration and courage to try new things, learnt the craft practically from her – so she is my first Guru. Later also learnt at Kumortuli. I ran away from home to Kumortuli on 1960. Used to do Jatra those days. Came to Calcutta for that. But needed to find a way for income, so came to Kumortuli. Met with Asutosh Malakar, who used to work on Shola too. He asked me whether I know Shola craft. I said yes. He then asked whether I would like to work there. I agreed and started working for him. Sometime later, he took me to Ramesh Pal, scupltor, and asked him to try me, praising my work. There I started working on Rameshda’s studio. He used to make Durga idols for some big Pujas also. He designed the ornaments and I crafted them on Shola. Later I learnt his style of design so he could easily instruct me. And spent time looking on his models taking shape. Probably he was making Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Sharatchandra and Matangini Hazra at that time. Also seen Debiprasad Roychoudhury’s “Dandi Avijan”, now installed at Janpath of New Delhi. Ramkinkarda made Jaksha-Jakshini installed at Reserve Bank, that is also awesome. What Bengal artists did for India, probably it won’t repeat. Say, for me, what I did, not showing pride, who is there to repeat? My son couldn’t, how do I expect from outside? Central Government took a project like GuruShisya Parampara, started one here too, but how many students are turning up? Not many artists-to-be. Dr. Shyamal Chakraborty of Indian Museum, my friend, came here many times, took a project of making Terracotta replicas for all 16th Century Temples in Birbhum. I visited the spots with him, pictures taken and later I made the replicas. My Terracotta job is at Korea also.
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Q: You have worked on several mediums, which medium or form has motivated you most?

A: The South Indian style of art motivates me most. All mythological pieces I do, I do in South Indian style. Bengal’s own style is the round-shaped Chalchitra of Goddess Durga, which came from the round shape of roof made in huts and houses in rural Bengal. This style continued till Gopeswar Pal, who broke out from a single Chalchitra to individual Chalchitras. Rameshda changed the Goddess to Realistic Woman, Mother Durga came closer to people. People gathered in crowds to College Street, to see that. College Street still attracts crowd, but the population has increased many-fold compared to 1960. His Mahisasur was also realistic muscleman. Not like today’s drawing four coloured bars to display eight-packs. The then “Mr.Universe” Manohar Aich (nicknamed “Pocket Hercules”) used to visit Rameshda’s studio, pose for him like Mahisasur, and Rameshda studied the postures, muscles and made models. Both honoured each other’s work and admired each other. An artist should be of pure nature - not only artist, anybody – otherwise he cannot rise to the top. And education, education is important also.
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Q: As an artist what are your likes and dislikes ? For example, do you think a copy can make a great art?

A: My son gets some features of mine, like eyes, nose, face, etc., same for the student. He first follows his Teacher, naturally he follows his style too, but later he must create his own style, which makes him lasting. Guru’s work shows him the path, later he has to create his own path, may be a branch from his Guru’s. I saw, studied Rameshda’s work, but I adapt it in my style. Ramkinkarda created a model with sand and chips, I try to make it in another medium. Change is inevitable, that is the rule.
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Q: What type of lifestyle you prefer, which helped your long journey in the art?

A: There are two types of lifestyle – disciplined and undisciplined. The road of an artist is a thin slippery road, unless you are balanced, you ought to fall. You only create by fine thinking, and fine thinking comes from “Sadhana”. I worked with big shots, where in the parties there were drinks in abundance. I never touched it. Very rarely, in foreign countries, on pressing requests sometimes, I took it, but a very light “Ladies wine” version. Sadhana is meditation with your work, only that takes you to higher levels. Rabindranath was a Sadhak, that is why he created that quality. So the world knows him. Why do you come a long way to visit me? To see Ananta Malakar ? No, to see my Sadhana, my work of art.
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Q: When talking about Sadhana, have you ever felt the “Yoga”, the divine feelings of creation?

A: Yes, of course. The Yoga sashtra came from Maharshi Patanjali, he said – “Yoga Chittabritti Nirodhak”, i.e. all mind activity stop. If the mind stops functioning, how do I create? Again Anandamurtiji said – “Yoga Sanjoga Atma Paramatma”, i.e., Yoga is linking Atma to Paramatma. It’s not 2+2=4. When this one (me) adds to that One (Paramatma) it becomes one and creates divine results. We all came from Him, with atomic mind activity (Anuchaitanya) and out there is working Ultimate mind activity (Mahachaitanya), we only have to connect to that. Sadhana is the way for that. When one reaches there, that creation becomes eternal – people remember him forever.
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Q: What is your message to the new generation art students ?

A: I feel now people thinks about money first, even when in learning process. You should give top priority to learning. Because unless you excel, money won’t come to you. One more thing, I think, as the world is moving to more mechanization, more computerization, the value of work of art will increase day by day. As I have seen in America, people get astonished how I slice out a thin layer of Shola pith from the raw material and make a flower in two minutes.
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Q: What are you thinking about carrying forward your style of this art form?

A: India Government, Handicrafts Development Commissioner has taken up project GuruShiya Parampara to keep alive all the handicraft traditions by opening training centers pan-India, where the art is carried out and experts train the newcomers into the skill. Our tradition will continue in them. But the students have to take it from us and do the proper Sadhana to enrich the skill.
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  • Sri Ananta Malakar

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