ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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In the Shadows

The Lightmen of Chandannagar

The lightmen of Chandannagar are custodians of a dying, neglected heritage.



The author is grateful to Sridhar Das, Babu Pal, and the light vendors of Bagbazar for their time and generosity.

Chandannagar, a former French colony located in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, is famous for its light-makers. It is, in fact, the place where the lights that illuminate Kolkata are crafted. During the festive season—especially the famous Jagaddhatri Puja—colourful lights, “toonies,” and LED bulbs illuminate the lanes and by-lanes of the city, transforming it into a fairyland. Walking in the light-lanes of Chandannagar is a multisensorial experience.

Sridhar Das, today a veteran light-maker and mentor to the many who came after him, developed an interest in lights during the early 1960s. At a young age, he volunteered to illuminate a Saraswati idol at his school, astonishing everyone with his mastery. The journey began then, and gradually his fame spread to other parts of the world. In 1985, his fame reached Moscow. The Soviet government was impressed by his work with a wooden motor cylinder and strips of copper. In 2003, he crafted a seven-metre-long ornamental peacock boat for the Thames Festival in London using 1,30,000 “toony” bulbs—the local name for miniature 6.2 volt bulbs. Soon after, his fame spread around the world, and he received a slew of government honours. His work has been used in spreading social awareness too—he was the creator of Bula Di, an AIDS awareness mascot made with lights in Los Angeles. Sridhar Das emerged as a pioneer in the field of light artists and has trained many young artists under him. But today, he laments the changing times with a very low voice: “light and lighting are no longer considered art, requiring creativity and skill, but are rather looked at as only a business venture.” Moreover, low-cost Chinese-made lights have replaced traditional toony lights, which cost more and consume more power, and artists nowadays prioritise making money at the expense of quality. Sridhar Das no longer works but serves as president of the Chandannagar Light Owners Association. His legacy is carried on by other luminaries in the field like Babu Pal, Sukumar Biswas, and Pintu Das.

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Updated On : 11th Jan, 2022
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