Batadrava Than in Bordowa, Nagaon, is popular among locals and travellers. It is mainly known for significant wood carvings that highlights interesting facets of the Vaishnavite Movement. However with time, some wood carvings have begun to fade away.
Prof Robin Kumar Dutta, an expert in traditional dyes and pigments along with Prof Swapan Kumar Dolui, an expert in adhesives and polymers, both from the Department of Chemical Sciences of Tezpur University (TU) with the active support from TU administration helped restore centuries old priceless life-size wood carvings of Kirtan Ghar at Batadrava Than using Hengul-Haital (vermillion and yellow arsenic, used traditionally in Assam for colouring of wooden instruments, walls, mukhasilpa ) and other traditional pigments. The duo was helped by Dr Naren Kalita, an expert in the traditional art forms of Assam.
The work, the first of its kind, was also driven by a broader idea of reviving the unique but dying tradition of painting wood carvings with Hengul-Haital in Assam.
The largest of the wooden sculpture, a Gadur Pakhi, (a bird creature from Hindu mythology) measuring about two-meter-tall and three meters wide painted with Hengul-Haital was dated 1833. Another similar but slightly smaller sculpture of GadurPakhi and two wooden sculptures of Hanumana were set up subsequently. Though all the wood carvings were initially painted with traditional pigments, they had become dirty and unattractive with time. The older Gadur and one Hanuman were later painted with synthetic enamel paint too.
Resource persons from various places including Majuli, Nagaon, Tezpur and Tezpur University were involved in the cleaning, preparation of the paints by grinding and mixing with the gum of elephant’s apple and water, application of the paints, the final art works and application of a final thin coat of natural sap (La Charowa) in three phases.
Niran Kotoki and Prabin Bora from Auniati Satra, Majuli applied the final thin coat of sap on the sculptures after Badal Das and Dewan Singh of Tezpur had done the art work in the final phase. Chitta Ranjan Bora, Mridu Moucham Bora from Nagaon joined the traditional artists from Auniati in painting the sculptures with traditional paints with several others namely Hari Narayan Kowar and UjjalJyoti Dev Goswami from Batadrava.
A team of chemists, led by Pinku Gogoi and Rajkamal Mohan, PhD students of Tezpur University supervised the entire work starting from cleaning to ensuring safety in handling the toxic pigments. Samples of the pigments at different stages have been collected for further research.