Every time someone buys bright colourful designer diyas at a market in any city in India, he lights up the lives of several artisans in Chaltaberia in North 24 Parganas, West Bengal. Nearly 2,000 families in this village make a living out of making these designer diyas. The clay artisans have the talent and dexterity to copy designs exactly as sent to them as drawings through email. Most of them have been working on these for the past 10 to 15 years.
Not only Chaltaberia, the neighbouring villages also benefit from this trade. Several people belonging to the minority communities, are employed at the workshops at Chaltaberia and earn a living out of making diyas and other earthenware. Business picks up about three months before Diwali. Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Hyderabad and other major cities in India celebrate Diwali by lighting diyas made at Chaltaberia. The residents of this village design at least 100 different varieties of diyas, which include tortoise –shaped ones, three-diya sets, 12-diya sets and so on. These are painted in bright colours and embellished with glitters or artificial beads and stones to make them colourful and attractive. Apart from these, they also make the simple terracotta diyas that many like to buy as home decor pieces.
A special kind of clay used for making these diyas comes from Canning in South 24 Parganas. Five tonnes of this clay costs Rs 8500. The residents of Chaltaberia are traditionally potters who made pots, jugs and other earthenware which were in demand in Bengal’s village homes. Later these artisans diversified into making idols. For the last 15 years they have been making Diwali diyas after some traders from other states brought orders for them. Gradually, diya-making became a primary occupation and Chaltaberia has become the hub of these works of art that are so popular across India. “Businessmen from different parts of India send designs to us on email and we make the diyas accordingly. We can make nearly 100 different types and designs of diyas that are popular across India,” Swapan Pal, a diya-maker. Swapan has 14 skilled artisans working under him from three months before Diwali.
Chaltaberia will grow as a hub of diya-makers whose handiwork will light up the homes of lakhs of people across the country.