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Going beyond reverence, creating life-like formations of Maa Durga

This year, with a hopeful heart, the artists have started their work and are preparing for the grand festival.

Debanjana Banerjee | Kolkata |

Kumartuli is a famous place where various Hindu idols are made. Beginning with Saraswati Puja, which is performed in almost every household during the greatest festival of Bengal, the Durga Puja, the skilled artists of Kumartuli supply all the idols. The beauty that the devotees witness has a lot of hard work behind.

THE IDOL OF BELUR MATH :

Artist Avik Boral

Artist Avik Boral and his team are behind the formation of the age-old Durga pratima (idol) of Belur Math. Talking about it Avik Boral said, “We supply idols to Belur Math, and the Ramkrishna Mission centres. The idol of Belur Math is saveki pratima (traditional idol).

The base of the idol is made on Janmashtami and then the work starts. We don’t make it here in our studio. The idol is made in Belur Math; our artists go there. Chakkhu daan (making the eyes of the idol) takes place on the day of Mahalaya and the idol is fully completed on Sasthi.”
About other idols he said, “The work begins from the month of April. We get orders for sarvajanin barowari pujo (puja of the commoners) and barir pujo (personal household puja). As per tradition, the Durga idol formation should be started from the day of Rathyatra. Every year our team makes almost 50 idols so it’s impossible to begin the work by following the tradition”.
When asked about their production and sales during the Covid years, he said, “Surely we suffered a loss in the past two years. Many puja committees had stopped organising pujas. Many households had reduced the size of their idols. I hope the situation will improve this year.”
FOREIGN EXPORT OF DURGA IDOLS :
Artist Mala Paul

Mala Paul is genetically a skilled artist. She is not the first one to make Durga idols in her family. Her forefathers were in the same business.

“Since we export Durga idols to different countries, we need to finish them off at least 3 months before Durga Puja. We prepare the idols and arrange proper packing to keep the idols safe till they reach their destinations. The customers then take away the idols. The transportation arrangements are made by them.” Mala says.
When asked, “Do you start preparing the Durga idols, following the tradition, from the day of Rathyatra?” She replied, “Not only us, all the artists these days are making Durga idols throughout the year. When my father used to work, he generally made 10-12 idols. It was possible at that time to abide by the traditions. As the demand increases, tradition fades away.”
THE ARTIST WHO CAME DURING PARTITION :
Artist Sanjib Paul

Sanjib Paul says, “When my parents were in Bangladesh, they used to do the same job. During partition, my parents came to India and settled here in Kumartuli. As they were idol makers in that country too, they continued their work here. I was born in this country and now I’m following their path.”

He does not make Durga idols much. This year he is making 4 idols. Generally he supplies Durga idols to North Calcutta puja committees and households. “Now, I make Saraswati, Kali, Ganesha and other idols primarily. My father used to export Durga idols. For two consecutive years his idols were exported to Canada and Germany.”
Due to the pandemic, like every other profession, these artists of Kumartuli had suffered as well. The entire Kumartuli was closed during the lockdown. Very few Durga Pujas took place that year. Before the Puja, there was a rush among the artists. As they could not start their work early that year, they had to hurriedly meet the deadlines after getting orders. This year, with a hopeful heart, they have started their work and are preparing for the grand festival.