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Conch shell industry decaying

Published : 06 Feb 2024 10:13 PM

The history of the sacred ritual with shankha or conch shells in the undivided Bengal dates back to the 6th century. 

The tradition of blowing shankha and Hindu married women wearing bangles still widely exist.

However, despite the rituals and high demands, many of the artisans who are engaged in the craftsmanship, handed down from generations to generations, of making bangles and shankha, are giving up the ancient profession due to lack of patronization.

Traditionally it is the Hindu community in the greater Indian subcontinent where use of shankha originated. In Hinduism, blowing of the conch shell is a tradition that's been around for centuries. The shell is also used to make bangles to be worn by married Hindu women.

In Hindu mythology, the conch symbolizes creation and is often associated with the preserver God Vishnu. 

Very sadly cottage industries linked to such spiritual and important culture and religious practices are gradually disappearing in Bangladesh due to lack of funding. 

Many artisans who have been making a living on producing bangles and shankha are either shifting to other professions or moving elsewhere to survive.

These craftsmen who handpick conch shells from bulk supplies hold real skill in making the final products from each conch shell. Purity of each shankha depends on its brightness. So, it is indeed skillful eyes and experiences that matter most while choosing each shankha for processing. Similar skills apply for the craftsmen while selecting the right conch shell for making bangles also called bala. 

Depending on the size of each shell, it can either be used as a shankha or made into traditional bangles. It is easier to make and decorate bangles with a thick and heavy conch as a small and light conch will break easily under an electric or hand-held drill. So, shankhas are made with lighter conches while heavier conches are used for bangles. 

Although many such craftsmen involved in the industry have disappeared over the years due to lack of patronization, in the recent past, bank loans indicate re-emergence of such industry to continue preserving the lost glory of conch artisans.

In light of such patronization from a national bank a good number of such cottage industries are flourishing in Jhenaidah and Magura districts. This correspondent visited several of such small industries and spoke to the craftsmen and the bank officials to know about their feelings.

Alamgir Hasan, Manager of Sonali Bank Limited at Salikha upazila in Magura told this correspondent, “There are huge potentials for growth of such industry based on fine craftsmanship. Conch artisans today represent ancient history, religious purity and symbols of harmony. We cannot simply watch and see such wonderful skills disappear.”

He also said that the bank is ready to preserve the skill workers connected to conch shells. “In fact, if we invest in the industry, we can save a lot of money on import of finished products like bangles and shankhas.”

Arpara Bazar in the Salikha upazila of Magura is a popular place for conch shell processing. Many cottage industries flourished here over the years. The place is famous for processing raw shells and producing final products - bangles and shankha.  

Anup Kumar Dutt, 39, owner of Maa Durga shankha Bhander is one of many beneficiaries who had taken bank loans to continue his business.

“I own a small factory to process conch shells and make bangles and shankha. Business was down when we could not cope with the rising expenses of production. As a result many of my craftsmen had left and moved elsewhere,” Dutt narrated.

He said, “Previously we imported finished products from India and some other countries, but with easy term bank loans made available for small traders like us, we are now able to plan and produce our own signature designs of bangles and shankha which have huge demands. 

The most important of all is that the products are cheaper yet better in quality.”

Anup Kumar Dutt received Tk five lakh three years ago from a local branch of Sonali Bank and today he expanded his business worth over Tk 49 lakh. Such an amazing journey and eventual growth inspires many of his fellows engaged in the conch shell processing business. 

Hari Kumar Datta, one of the employees at Maa Durga shankha Bhander, said, “On average each craftsman earns between Tk 30,000 and Tk 35,000 a month working in the conch shell processing factory. Our business shows an upward trend and many unemployed workers seek work opportunities here.”

A smiling Dutta also said, “We get huge orders for bulk supply of our products every day. But during puja and Hindu wedding ceremonies we often struggle to cope with the rush of orders for bangles and shankha.”