The Musical Village Of Bengal That Changed The Craft Of Sitar-Making In India

The Musical Village Of Bengal That Changed The Craft Of Sitar-Making In India
Kaahon Kocktail

Dadpur village in Uluberia, about 40 km from Kolkata, is a quaint, old locality which boasts of a century-old music trade started by Tarapada Halder, a native of the village. In the middle of the 20th century, when the music industry was going through a major change in India, Tarapada had come to Kolkata, where he worked at a tea stall in Girish Park. During his stay in Kolkata, a chance meeting with the owner of Radha Krishna Sharma & Co, a music shop, landed him a job as a daily wage labourer at a sitar shop, where he picked up some basic skills of making the sitar. Eventually, he became so adept at his trade, that he was sent to Lucknow, where he spent the next 9 years honing his craft. On coming back to Dadpur, he started manufacturing instruments himself and trained other youngsters of his village as well. Eventually, they started exporting their instruments to the markets of Banaras and Lucknow. Some of his disciples later became famous craftsmen themselves and took advantage of the market of musical instruments that had almost become a dying trade in the country.

Presently, Dadpur, has more than ten factories and a large platoon of trained craftsmen skilled in the trade of making musical instruments. It exports to all the major markets in India, and is one among the few suppliers of musical instruments in the country. In the last few decades however, Dadpur has primarily started exporting string instruments.

Shyamal Halder, Tarapada’s older son, along with six workers, makes up to 30 instruments including sitars, tanpuras, and travel sitars (which have a flat sound box or toomba, making it easier to carry) every month. Most of these instruments are sold to retail outlets in Varanasi, Mumbai, and Kolkata. It’s been 17 years since Tarapada passed away, and Dadpur now has about 15 families besides independent instrument makers who earn their living through making string instruments. This is in sharp contrast to the Dadpur of the 1950s and 60s, when daily wagers worked under extremely high temperatures, humidity, fumes, and dust to manufacture Mangalorean tiles for a paltry sum of ₹ 2 per day. Besides Tarapada, what has worked in Dadpur’s favour is the availability of Calabash or hard-shell gourd and the Toon (Toona) wood, which are used for making the musical instruments.

Artists from across India, including renowned sitar players like Partho Bose, Dilip Chatterjee, Arijit Das, and public and private music schools in Benares, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, Haridwar, Dehradun, and Mussoorie directly get their instruments made by famous artisans of Dadpur village. Samaresh, a renowned artisan of the village says that their instruments are also bought in large numbers by foreigners, who start coming to Banaras and adjoining areas at the beginning of December.

It is a cause of wonder that the artisans of this musical village has thrived without any support from the government, and has transformed the legacy of Tarapada Halder into something even bigger and better.

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