Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kolkata Kaleidoscope : Kumartuli

Durga Puja is round the corner and this time I took the initiative to visit Kumartuli (for the first time), the home and workshop of the famous clay model makers of Kolkata. The name of the place has its origin (quite evidently) from “kumar” (pronounced as “kumor” in Bengali), which means potters. These potters can be traced back to Krishnanagar, the haven of clay modeling in Bengal. Some potters from Krishnanagar shifted base to Gobindapore, around three hundred years back, in search of a livelihood and later on moved to Sutanooti. The city of Kolkata (earlier known as Calcutta) was formed with the three villages of Gobindapore, Sutanooti and Kalikuta in the late seventeenth century.

For those who don’t know what Durga Puja is, they should not be allowed to live :-). On a serious note, it is the most renowned and celebrated festival of Bengal that takes place for five days in autumn. The mythology is that when the demon Mahishasura let loose a reign of terror and the gods were unable to overpower him, they prayed in unison and the energy emanated from their prayers created goddess Durga, who had supreme powers and who was entrusted with the task of defeating the demon army of Mahishasura.

The artisans portray the Mahishasuramardini image of Durga in the idols they make where the goddess (sitting on a lion and with ten weapons in her ten hands) is seen to subjugate the demon Mahishasura who has come out of the trunk of a decapitated buffalo.
The goddess who is revered as a mother and referred to as Ma Durga, is also seen with her children (Laxmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartik) by her side. According to some other purana, she is perceived as Uma, the wife of Lord Shiva. In Bengal, this representation of her is more popular over her warrior aspect and the five days of Durga Puja are believed to be the time when Ma Durga, along with her children, makes a visit to her paternal home every year. So, even if Uma was the daughter of the Himalayas, she has made the plains of Bengal her own home and all of us Bengalees, her children. This is unique to Bengal, as far I know, since the goddess, though may be depicted differently in many puranas, is not worshipped in this form in any other part of the country.

The crafsmen at Kumartuli use straw and jute strands to form a shape of the deities on a skeleton of bamboo sticks and wooden planks and on a wooden pedestal, and then they cover it with a thick layer of clay. The delicate modeling of the figures is curved out of the clay by expert artisans. Modeling the face is the most difficult part and is left for the more skilled ones. The surface of the figures is smoothed with a wet piece of cloth and when they dry up they are whitewashed with a chalk solution before applying the base colour. On the last stage, after the colouring is over, a layer of varnish is applied to have the glossy look. More often the figures are decorated with gorgeous dresses and dazzling ornaments.

Idols are almost ready at Ramesh Chandra Pal’s studio. See those white tags, they carry the names of the Puja committees that ordered them. Ma Durga is waiting for her wigs to arrive.

The lion is closing in on the demon Mahishasura. The Khans would have been proud of such a body :-)

The artisan is working at another studio. Much more work to do. The Pujas are only a week away.

Work has just started in some other studio. Way to go.

Not sure if these deities would find a home or not. They are still in nascent state.

This Mahishasura is all cracked up.

A series of Ganesha (the elephant headed god, eldest son of Durga).

Shutters are down on goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth). But I thought India is coming out of recession :-)

Gates are closed on Durga too, but this time to keep off enthusiasts like us.

An unused stranded Viswakarma in front of electric meter boxes. Viswakarma puja was in September.

Don’t spread rumours! Kumartuli is very much at Kumartuli. The craftsmen are not moving out to any other place.

If you still have any doubts, just see at the long list of artisans working here.

Even the walls here are covered with beautiful graffiti of goddess Kali.

Wooden planks and bamboo sticks separate the good from the evil.

The labourers are enjoying a sleep before they embark on the duty of carrying the gigantic idols to the respective puja pandals.

At last a finished goddess. Just give her the weapons and she will be ready for the fight against the evil.

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