Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 22 (April 1992) p. 51.

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Towards an ethno-archaeology of Bengal

Gjyotindra Jain

Gurusaday Dutt, Folk Arts and Crafts of Bengal: The Collected Papers, Seagull Books, Calcutta, 1990,136 pp., Rs. 320.

I have been most impressed by the sensitivity, aesthetic discrimination and consistency apparent in the collection of objects of the folk arts of Bengal put together by the late Gurusaday Dutt (1882-1941), the remnants of which can be seen in the newly reorganized Gurusaday Art Museum situated in a southern suburb of Calcutta on Diamond Harbour Road. Gurusaday Dutt needs to be complemented for his pioneering effort of systematically collecting the arts and crafts of a specific cultural region of India, at a time when there was little concern for the preservation of cultural heritage in this country and a gross indifference to Indian art in Europe.

I had seen casual references to Gurusaday Dutt's writings, published in the thirties in such journals as Modern Review, Rooplekha, Prabuddha Bharat, Journal of Indian Society of Oriental Art, The Studio, Calcutta Review, Indian Art and Letters and Journal of Arts and Crafts. These were not always readily available, so I was pleased when I came to know that Dutt's collected writings had been published. The uniqueness of this collection had raised high expectations in my mind about the cultural perceptions and academic sensibility of the man. Unfortunately, the perceptions of Gurusaday Dutt as a great admirer, connoisseur and collector of the folk arts of Bengal, and Gurusaday Dutt as a 'Bengali patriot', amateur scholar and enthusiastic reformist-philosopher, did not, finally, match.

Gurusaday Dutt was more suited than most of his contemporaries to establish the right parameters for the study of the folk arts of Bengal, i.e. to examine them within their own cultural context and their own historical perspective. By birth and sentiment he was rooted in the rustic traditions of Bengali arts and possessed a true zeal for them; as a civil servant posted in rural Bengal he had direct access to the living and continuing traditions of the art and culture of the area; the state's administrative machinery was at his disposal for conducting field work; he gained valuable exposure to the British endeavours to preserve their own dying traditions through his education in Britain; the

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