Known as the city of joy, Kolkata holds a special place in the hearts of people all over the world due to its rich culture, traditions, festivals and of course, mouth-watering desserts! The best time to visit Kolkata is during the world-famous Durga Puja festival that falls in the month of October. As you stroll through the art galleries of the city, you will come to know the amount of sophistication blended into the artifacts. Dive into the beauty of taant (weaved) sarees and handicrafts while indulging in some guilty pleasures! The city is blessed with many great painters, sculptors, poets, and chefs and that makes it even more confusing when it comes to choosing souvenirs from the unending list of crafts. However, we present a list of what to buy in Kolkata to help you save your time.
1. Taant sarees
If you like authentic Indian clothes to paint your wardrobe colorful, get yourself a taant saree woven from the finest cotton threads which are light as feather. These sarees are extremely pocket-friendly since it is used by women in the state as a daily wear. The crafting technique came to Kolkata from the people who migrated from Bangladesh and is now widely practiced by the people in West Bengal. The major attraction of taant saree is its wide and thick borders with beautifully decorated ends that hang loose when worn. You can find glorious handloom sarees from various shops in Kolkata that reflect Bengali culture and traditions. Taant sarees are considered as a symbol of simplicity as well as femininity and is used by many Bengali women as a preferred choice of regular wear.
One should never ever go to Kolkata and not try roshogolla! This rich dessert literally sums up the food scene of Bengal when it comes to sweets. Bengalis love desserts made out of creamy milk and yogurt. Roshogolla is made from cottage cheese and semolina dough made into dumplings and cooked in sugar syrup that is rested until they absorb the syrup and become plump and juicy. This dessert is even served as ‘prasaad’- a religious offering, to the deity in temples. Get yourself a box of roshogolla from Chittaranjan Mishtanna Bhandar, that serves the best kind in the city. Your friends and family will surely fall in love with this Indian delicacy and trust me when I say this; it is definitely worth the calories!
3. Jute handicrafts
Art is blended in the soul of Bengal and handicrafts in the streets of Bengal are teeming with world-class craftsmanship. The handicraft goods in Bengali markets are being exported to different parts of the world; the jute crafts hold a huge chunk of these items. Beautiful handicraft items like shoes, bags, jewelry, etc., are made with raw jute and sold at very reasonable prices in the stores of Kolkata. These products make your souvenir super special because they are eco-friendly and biodegradable too. Most of these products hit the city straight from the farmers and hold a prominent place in the livelihood of people in the villages.
4. Terracotta items
Made with clay and baked into perfection, terracotta items are kissed with India’s soul and spirit. Pots, vases, and sculptures were made in this manner from times that date back to 3000-1500 BC. Unlike other types of earthenware, Terracotta is not polished and has a porous body that makes them lighter and more environment-friendly. They are worth adding to your personal collection of souvenirs and also make a great gift for your friends or family. Needless to say, the jewelry made out of terracotta makes a strong fashion statement when paired with western clothes too!ii
5. Putul (dolls)
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Just like their terracotta sculptures, putuls are extremely famous in Kolkata. Rani putul dolls, which means Queen dolls are made in West Bengal since ages and has indeed shaped the economy of Bengal to an extent. These are painted clay dolls that appear to wear long royal dresses which are often red in color. They are very simple illustrations of the queen that does not have a lot of detail which makes them perfect for bringing an exotic touch to your showcase. While some dolls are inspired by the fairy tales and stories that are famous among the people in the region and resembles their characteristic features, most dolls are said to be created by artisans by envisioning Queen Victoria as their muse! On your trip to Kolkata, do not forget to grab one of these dolls to add a majestic hue to your décor.
6. Dhokra craft
The artistic excellence of Bengalis are not limited to clay, they have mastered the skill of metal casting to create their art too! Dhokra sculptures are made with lost-wax casting technique that is being used in the country since 4000 years. Original Dhokra crafts are hard to find elsewhere and have great demand in the Indian and foreign markets. The name comes from the Dhokra Damar tribes who were the real practitioners of this method and are known for their magical and primitive folk motifs. There are crafts made on Indian deities, animals and birds in the form of sculptures, bowls, and wall hangings.
7. Conch shell bangles
These are the famous red and white bangles you see in the Indian movies! Usually worn by married women from the day of their wedding, these bangles are considered as a symbol of a happy and sound relationship between the husband and wife. The white bangles of conch-shell are shakha and pola are red-colored bangles made of bright red corals. The locals believe that if the bangles don’t break in one year of the marriage, the bond will grow strong between the couple. Apart from its cultural and religious significance, these bangles are very beautiful and make wonderful souvenirs.
8. Solapith handicrafts
Solapith handicrafts are sculptures made from dried milky-white spongey plant matter from Aeschynomene species. This extraordinarily light plant that grows lusciously in the marshes of Bengal, has a great role in pushing the creativity of the natives into making beautiful sculptures by casting them in molds for different shapes. The craftsmen are known as malakar which means ‘garland maker’. Each sculpture may need a minimum of one month to make as the work is immensely intricate. Even though these handicraft items are mostly white, you can find colored ones also.
9. Kalighat paintings
The culture and art of Bengal are intertwined with the legends of goddess Kali - the goddess of death, time and doomsday. The depictions of Kali are all over the art and craft paradigm of Bengal. These simple paintings usually depict Hindu gods-especially Kali and other mythological beings. This genre of art expanded into a distinct school of painting called the Kalighat School of Painting and have expanded their horizons beyond deities and gods. This painting is a perfect souvenir that sums up the traditional and religious vibe of Kolkata. You can find them near the Kali temple in Kalighat.
10. Nolen gur sweets
Another delectable component in the sweets of Kolkata is nolen gur- dark palm sugar. During the winter season- from December to February, sweets made from nolen gur start appearing in the shops. Some chefs prefer adding palm jaggery instead of normal refined sugar due to its distinct flavor. Sweets like chom chom, shondesh, paayesh and roshogolla are made with nolen gur and taste delicious! Get yourself a box of these sweets and treat your loved ones back home with some authentic Bengali treats!
11. Kantha, Baluchari & Tant Sarees
India’s West Bengal is filled with a ton of interesting trinkets and souvenirs to buy for your friends and families. Sarees are common clothing for locals in India and are sold in various prints, and colors. The Kantha, Baluchari, and Tant sarees are specialized Bengali embroidered sarees that are worn all over West Bengal on several different occasions. Kantha, Baluchari, and Tant sarees boast color, silhouette, and also intricate designs that make a casual look stand out. Great for your fashionista friends!
12. Dokra Craft
Dokra Craft is a unique trinket to purchase for a souvenir. It’s made of mold brass and bronze historic figures in Bengali history. Tribal groups of Santhals and Bhumiji are molded into golden brass sculptures and figurines that aren’t just a great way to support local, but also make a standout piece of decor in a home or office space. These figurines are found all over West Bengal in stores like Rural Craft Hubs of West Bengal, which start at 6.99 USD for a small Dokra craft, with bigger ones that go up to 27.94 USD.
13. Darjeeling Tea
For a great R&R gift or souvenir to purchase is Darjeeling Tea which is basically everywhere when traveling around India. The uniqueness of Darjeeling tea is in its aroma and flavor, a calming sensation that fills the mind, body, and heart of locals. Darjeeling tea is one of the most demanded products by Bengalis and has evolved into a world-famous type of tea that is found in various parts of India and the world. Darjeeling tea comes in green and black and are great to have with biscuits and some honey for those who wish to have more kick in it.
Cheers to a wonderful trip
The city of Kolkata never disappoints! As you shop, eat and dream through the streets of Kolkata in a sugar-rush, make sure you have all these goodies packed and ready! Be sure to keep the terracotta items, and other breakable things wrapped safely to bubble wrap. Even though you will dearly miss all the fun you had and the delicious food, one cannot stop being excited about showing off these amazing things bought from here. And once you have tasted those roshogollas, you are bound to come back!
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