Kolkata, India is celebrating the biggest autumnal festival known as Durga Puja where the entire city gets the look of a huge art museum for 5 days which happens to be between 26th September 2017 and 30th Septemper 2017. In Bengal, Durga is the Goddess who is worshipped as the mother or daughter and understanding her essence is key to understanding the power she bestows on us. It is believed that she graces earth with her 4 children (Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh) during this time bringing happiness and good cheer in the lives of her devotees. The beautiful idols are housed in equally beautiful and intricate structures called pandals and worshipped with flowers, incense, fruits and clothes. Her worship is incomplete without the beats on the dhak drummed up by the quintessential dhaki
But what goes in the making of these idols? Surely they cannot be made in a jiffy !! The artisans work long hours often in crammed up studios giving shape and breathing life in these idols.
A bamboo is worshipped during Ratha Yatra day (Carriage Festival) in the month of June/July which goes into the making of the framework of the idol. The main body is made with hay which is tied and stuffed together before the clay is applied. Traditionally, some amount of clay used to be collected from the houses in the red light areas which was mixed with the clay from the river beds and prepared to the right consistency for making an idol. The whole idea was to explain that the mother goddess resides in every woman irrespective of age, colour, caste or profession. The idols are then painted or embellished with clothes, hair, ornaments and weaponry. The eyes are drawn on the day of “Mahalaya” which is the no moon day in the month in the Sep-Oct (21st Sep-2017) amid chants to awaken the Goddess and invite her on earth.
The idols are then transported in trucks or by boats to the places of worship. The next 9 days are of prayer, hope and faith on her to destroy evil forces externally and clear our inner demons and purify our soul. The idol is nothing but an external manifestation of our inner soul, for us to focus on the immense strength that lies within us to face every situation in life. On the 10th day, the idols are immersed in nearby rivers with a prayer to welcome her the following year!!
The idol making artisans work out of crammed studios in Kumortuli area of Kolkata. Most of them are in this profession for generations but the younger generations are slowly moving away due to lack of financial stability!! Apart from the regular idols for worship they also make statues with Plaster or Paris and clay. I caught up with one such artisan to get a glimpse into their work.