From primitive man to the civilized modern man… the journey of leather has been a really long one. Primarily used to cover the body, leather slowly found its usage in all walks of life. Besides clothing, leather was used to make shoes, tents, saddles, water pitchers, etc. It has indeed left an indelible mark on every human civilization. As societies became more sophisticated and developed, the scale of manufacturing and the processes involved in creating leather products widened. The leather clothing and accessories market is constantly drawing inspiration from the past due to a focus on craftsmanship and tradition. One such example is the Shantiniketan leather goods from West Bengal in India.
Depicting the rich cultural heritage of the enchanting Shantiniketan (known as the abode of peace in West Bengal), handcrafted Shantiniketan leather accessories are famous all over the world.
Shantiniketan leathercraft uses batik work wherein traditional patterns are embossed on leather thereby making the bags and other accessories different from the regular leather goods. Defining the art and culture that existed during the times of Nobel laureate Shri Rabindranath Tagore, leathercraft was started and developed as an art form wherein the craftsmen of the villages surrounding Shantiniketan were trained as a part of the Rural Development Programme of Vishva-Bharati University. Soon this craft grew and was wholeheartedly accepted across the globe. As a means of empowering the craftsmen of the area, the skill of making these leather goods is passed on from one generation of artisans to the other.
The products are made from vegetable-tanned skins of goats and sheep. These skin are peculiar of their unique property of retaining the embossed prints. The grains of the leather is made to shine by rubbing it with a cotton pad. The skin collected is first washed and immersed in water. It is taken out and flattened by pulling and later it is dried. After drying, designs are drawn on the leather and it is cut to the required size to make the desired products. They are then entirely painted by hand, making is a time-consuming process.
Earlier, Shantiniketan leathercraft was made completely using hand and simple tools. But nowadays simple machines are used for making craft items, though the process involved in the process has not mechanized at all.
A perfect example of the superior workmanship of the local artisans, these beautiful leather bags are popular in foreign markets and are exported to many countries including Japan and the U.S. Originally evolved as a result of the Art Movement, Shantiniketan leather goods are famous for their appliqué, batik and embossed work. Mixed with the dedication, commitment and hard work of the craftsmen, the products manufactured and marketed under this art form include coin bags, footwear, handbags, pouches, jewellery boxes, pencil boxes, spectacle covers, bags, purses, wallets, piggy banks, cushion covers, sandals, etc. These leather products are not just attractive but are highly affordable too.
There is a variety of leather goods available in the market in different colours, shapes, designs, and forms. To meet the demands of modern consumers, many new designs and forms are incorporated into the art. By combining the new designs with this traditional form of art, the leather industry at Shantiniketan is on the revival path. Today, a number of designers have started understanding the versatility of the leather found here and are engaged in creating chic and trendy leather goods. Besides belts, wallets, juttis and mobile covers, there are multiple things that are made with this traditional craft. The most appealing quality of these Indian leather products is the embossed traditional motifs that depict floral and geometric designs painted with natural dyes giving it a very classy yet modern look.
In the year 2007, this much-acclaimed product was listed as “Santiniketan Leather Goods” under the Geographical Indications (G.I.) Act 1999 of the Government of India.