Saturday, 28 March 2015

Kumortuli, Kolkata, West Bengal: Where the Gods Come to Life

Ma Durga - Kumortuli
Source: sagarsdream.deviantart.com
In India, Saratotsav or Durga Puja, the annual Hindu festival, is most celebrated in Kolkata. The city of joy becomes busy and is all lit up for the occasion.

The shiny pandals, elegant idols, the aroma of burning incense, the chanting of mantras, the dhakis playing their dhaks, together take you into a deep trance.

As the festive season approaches, there’s a small place in the city itself, which becomes even busier. Kumortuli (a.k.a Kumartuli), or the potters' town, is the place where the beautiful idols are hand crafted, hued and adorned.

It’s been alive for more than 300 years and not only has it grown old, but also gained immense fame with the passage of time.

Durga idol in the making
Source: www.photoburst.net
Kumortuli is not a fancy place at all. In fact you’ll encounter a lot of narrow lanes and muddy streets. Most of the shops are in dilapidated conditions, with leaky roofs and dirty floors, work space poorly lit and damp.

But, if you are an ardent art lover, you’ll forget your discomfort and awe at the stupendous creations. Look around! There are idols everywhere, some as small as your palm, others as tall as 15 feet! The idols are supplied in places all over Kolkata and even abroad.

There are other shops too, which sell the weapons and other accessories needed to decorate the idols. Photography is allowed, but not without a fee. Visit any time round the year, and enjoy this unique place, especially during the Durga Pujas.

The gullies of Kumortuli
Source: www.flickr.com

Now, making idols is not a piece of cake, we all know that. The techniques of this age old practice have been passed on from one generation to the next in Kumortuli, and the fire, thus, kept alive. Long, tedious hours of labor, immense patience and teamwork can only give rise to a complete idol.

Firstly, the framework of bamboo and straw is made, upon which wet clay is applied. The clay mostly comes from the river bank nearby and the ritual is that the first handful of clay should come from a prostitute’s house.

Layering the clay is the toughest part. It has to be thoroughly mixed so that it doesn’t loosen and fall off. Cracks appear when the clay dries. So, pieces of cloth are soaked in clay and wrapped around these cracks.

The next step is the painting of the idol. An initial coat of white color is applied to the structure, followed by a yellow one and lastly a red one. All these colors are earth colors, which are found as such in nature. After this, the detailed painting session starts.

The idol makers of Kumortuli paint the eyes of Goddess Durga last, following the tradition of Chokkhu Daan on the day of Mahalaya, which is a week before the pujas. The idols are finally varnished, false hair glued, dressed and decorated. 

Goddess Durga idol
Source: www.durgapujaonline.com
And, after so much of struggle and earnest endeavors, it’s painful to watch the idols being given away to the holy Ganges on the day of Vijayadashami. Sadly, this is the tradition, which has to go on forever.

Leaving the dark side aside, Kumortuli is a wonderful place, an endless tale of history and culture and an apt destination for all the lovers of aesthetics. When are you visiting it?