Kumartuli: Putting life into clay

Kumartuli: Putting life into clay
Photo Credit: Debjeet Kundu

Durga Puja is the biggest festival for Bengalis worldwide and it all starts with the idols from these narrow lanes of Kumartuli in Kolkata.


August 20 , 2014
05 Min Read

Festivals, food and football — and every Kolkatan is a happy soul. It's not been long since the World Cup 2014 concluded in Brazil and if you are wondering what Kumartuli has to do with that — it was supplying idols of footballers to the fanatics all over the state!

Durga Puja - the common 'favourite five days' in every Bengali's life - is knocking at the door. But the fun can only begin once Durga, with her four children, reaches her 'baaper bari' (paternal home). And so it's the artisans at Kumartuli who are literally on war footing now to get this entourage ready on time.
It all starts with a few strands of straw and clay from the Hooghly river that steadily takes the shape of a larger than life idol.
Although Kumartuli keeps churning out idols for various pujas round the year, it's in the month of September that the narrow Banamali Sarkar Lane comes to life.
After the scorching summer and monsoon, the festivities begin with Ganesh Chaturthi in this country. Although it isn't as big in Bengal as it is in Maharashtra or some southern states, Kumartuli still serves to the demand of Ganesh idols while simultaneously working on the Durga idols.
This one, I was told, was being readied to be packed off to Hyderabad.
Festivals, food and football - and every Kolkatan is a happy soul. It's not been long since the World Cup 2014 concluded in Brazil and if you are wondering what Kumartuli has to do with that - it was supplying idols of footballers to the fanatics all over the state!
Idol making at Kumartuli is an extremely arduous task. After the first lot of workers bind the straws, the next lot takes over to put clay over them. The master artisans then carve out the intricate details and give the finishing touches to the Durga idols.
In earlier days, artisans used to stay in the house where the puja was being performed and give shape to an idol over a few weeks' time. And there were rituals to be followed. For example, the 'chakkhu daan' - or drawing of the eyes - was performed only at the start of Debi Pakkho or Mahalaya, the day Durga is invited to descend from her heavenly abode. Some family pujas still maintain the traditions.
In an estimated figure, Kumartuli supplies nearly 13,000 idols each year, and the number is only growing. Apart from various parts of Kolkata and the suburbs, the idols reach as many as 40 countries - including those in UK, USA, Europe and even Africa - for the various Bengali association pujas there.
There are various 'gharana' of idol making. For instance, this one is an 'ek chaala' which means Durga and her family are all under one common background in a single structure. This is the more traditional way of depicting Durga.
And this one represents the Krishnanagar-gharana in which no external materials are used for Durga's saree and ornaments as these are carved out of the same clay.
This little ek-chaala would soon be flying off to Australia.
The traditions may be age-old, but technology is helping the artisans too. Many loyal customers, and even prospective ones, can now see the idols through WhatsApp or videos on their mobile phones.
From ornaments to weapons - Durga and her family carry a huge baggage of accessories. So it's busy time for those artisans too.
Before the much anticipated 'pujor chhuti' (puja holidays) comes the dreaded school exams. So while the elders are busy making idols, this little girl has no time to gape at them (idols).
An artist slowly giving life to his creation. The quiteness that usually prevails in Kumartuli is in sharp contrast to what it looks like a week from the Pujas.
Along with idols of Durga, artists create various other clay works used in decorating pandals all over Kolkata.
Theme-pujas and pandals may be drawing the numbers for organisers in Kolkata, but the saabeki (traditional) way of idol making still rules at Kumartuli.
In just over a fortnight's time, these weapon-laden hands of Durga 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.


Related Articles

Have You Seen Durga Puja...

Rangeet Ghosh 02 Min Read

The Rituals Of Durga...

Sharmistha Chaudhuri 02 Min Read

Pandal and Pujos: Of...

Sharmistha Chaudhuri 03 Min Read

Here to there

Explore Directions(Routes) and more...
to Go

Other Editions

Outlook’ is India’s most vibrant weekly news magazine with critically and globally acclaimed print and digital editions. Now in its 23rd year...

Explore All
Got a question?Ask Marco
  • Check out our Magazine of the month
  • Offbeat destinations
  • In-depth storytelling
  • Stunning pictures
  • Subscribe

Check Out Our Latest Issue