Origin: The enriching heritage of West Bengal’s shell craft dates back to around 400 years. A band of 26 artisans from Persia were invited by Akbar to beautify the tomb of Salim Chisti, his preceptor at Fatepursikrj near Agra. These talented artisans added sparkle to the shrine using tiny bits of polished mother of pearl and shells. Even today, craft lovers around the globe are in awe of its splendour.
Since ancient times, Bengal has been the forefront of couch shell industry in India. Shankhabaniks play an integral role in the trade of conch bangles. Married women buy these bangles from Shankhabaniks and wear it as a symbol of good fortune.
Hiralal Mehta is the mastermind behind the flourishing shell industry in Calcutta. He established the foremost manufacturing shell unit. For this manufacturing unit the machines were imported from Germany. With eyes on the blooming foreign shell handicrafts market, he picked clues from Burma’s shell craft. His dream took the shape of reality and he captured the foreign market. Very soon, similar manufacturing units started mushrooming.
Present Day: Today, a wide spectrum of products are made from the shell craft such as door curtains, ash trays, paper weights, aroma stick stands, costume jewellery, table lamps, , mirrors, mats, wall hangings, toys, hangers, flower vase, etc. Even today, most of the Bengali married women wear conch bangles
Procedure: The tools and raw materials required in the making of seashell craft are natural seashells such as clamshells, cone shaped shells, small snail shells etc., adhesive, plywood, reflective glass sheet, mud pot, glue, thermocol, tooth picks, handsaw, oil based colours, scallops etc.
The first step is to cut the plywood sheet using handsaw. This is done keeping in mind the desired design. This step is followed by gluing plywood sheet to the pre-cut and shaped glass sheet.
The plywood surface is painted with a thick layer of Fevicol. Now, each and every shell is dipped in adhesive to glue clamshells. To add up the fashion quotient coloured shells are added in between. This step is followed keep in mind the design structure. To enhance the crafts appeal, varied decorative items are added to the shells. LED lights, bells, flowers etc become part of this craft.
Bring Home the Shell Craft of West Bengal: Kolkata is filled with market selling gorgeous shell crafts. You can also buy them online from various handicraft market places.