Durga Puja is the biggest festival for Bengalis worldwide and it all starts with the idols from these narrow lanes of Kumartuli in Kolkata. Kumartuli, perhaps one of the most incredible places to visit in Kolkata. Situated beside the majestic Ganges near Shovabazar area, it is one of the largest idol manufacturers in Asia.Kumartuli is a maze of lanes and by-lanes where deft hands mould clay to give shape to divine forms. Every year in the run-up to Durga Puja, Kumartuli turns into a photographer’s paradise with amateurs and professionals crowding the colony to capture the idols in the making a subject too lucrative for any photographer to resist, It might be the most clicked place of whole world.
Most of the artisans are Bengali origin or work in a cluster of workshops owned by Bengali craftsmen. About 150-200 families of artisans live in this area. This has been their traditional occupation. The workshops are dimly lit. For last to month I have documented the workshop of Naryan Chandra Pal, one of the elderly artisans of Kumartuli. The whole process of Idol making is documented over the period of two month. The wooden frames on which the idols will be cast are wrapped with specially cut straw. Then clay is knead to the right consistency. The pounded sticky clay is mixed with rice husk and applied over the straw.
The idol is then left to dry. Cracks appearing on the surface are smoothed with strips of cloth and once again layered with clay. This is followed by a second application of fine-grained clay.The faces of the idols are separately cast and attached to the frames. The idols once again left to dry. Next comes the colouring. Usually, a layer of white paint is applied as the base coat. Then comes the body colouring, which can be flesh, golden yellow or pearl. Followed by the varnishing.
The hair, usually of jute, is then attached. Finally, clothes, embellishments and ornaments are added. Sadly, even though the idol makers of Kumartuli play a key role in the Durga Puja, they are a beleaguered lot. Most community organisers spend a lot on the pandals and illumination but cut cost when it comes to paying the idol makers. Sometimes, the craftsmen set a high price. But as the festival approaches and the idols remain unsold, the craftsmen have to lower the price.
The hard work of artisans and porters of Kumartuli will help Kolkata forget many of its everyday grievances for five days. While the city will be full of lights, Kumartuli will wear a deserted look. after all, Durga, in all her splendour, never stays at Kumartuli.