I was rooted to the spot in front of a makeshift Pandal in Kolkata during Puja 2013. The makeshift horn pandal and display of Horn Art was spectacular to say the least. My camera could not do justice to what I saw but I will still share some of my clicks. I had to touch the majestic peacock to believe that it was actually made of horn and yes indeed it was. When I was growing up in the 80’s my grandmother was in charge of my now vanishing shiny black locks and she insisted that they be put in place with a horn comb. Ignorant about its worth and the hard work that was put in, I would often argue with her about her penchant for such stuff. Several years later, I was left speechless with the intricacy of it all.
Horn Art is found in some areas of India though it is practiced mostly in Parlekhmundi area of Odisha, Murshidabad and Midnapore in Bengal, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. The artefacts produced in each area are subtly distinct from the others from the motifs, designs and patterns reflecting the culture of the land. While in Kerala, you find lot of cranes, sticks, jewellery boxes, pen stands, in Odisha it is more of jewellery with a tinge of ivory and combined with filligree work, decorative items as well as idols of Lord Jagannath. The tradition continues in Bengal with idols of Durga and Lakshmi, decorative pieces, flowers and not to forget the comb that first introduced me to this art.
Mostly cow, buffalo or stag horns are used for this art. The horns are soaked in water for several hours and then the desired object is carved out and then heated to soften it up further. The surface is then smoothened with sand paper, blades, leaves etc and washed and dried thoroughly in the sun. For that added shine, they are smeared and coated with charcoal ash, limestone paste and coconut oil. Quite a cumbersome process and now when I hold that comb in my hand, I am filled with gratitude!! I tried meeting an artisan but it did not materialize and maybe I will need to make a trip to one of the villages someday to watch them in action.