We Bengalis love Durga Puja- it is a time for fun, frolic and laughter and beautiful puja themes. We celebrate the coming of the goddess to her paternal home with gusto by visiting her in several pandals with our friends and families and getting awed by her splendidly elegant beauty. We feel captured by the dazzling glamour and splendor of the idols. It is at times like this that we should remember the artisans of Kumartoli in Kolkata and the backbreaking toils that they go through to give shape to this form. However, we seldom do that and think about those artisans and Durga Puja Idol makers who keep working in those narrow by lanes, giving life to some bunch of clays and transform them into life like Durga Pooja idols.
Situated in northern Kolkata, Kumartuli has been inhabited by these artisans for generations. Many of the artisans have been in the tradition of making clay idols of the Goddess Durga for generations; it runs in their blood and they have a legacy to uphold. Kumartoli or Kumortuli as it is better known in Bengali, is where majority of the idols seen in the famous Durga Puja pandals are bought. In fact, their work is so well-known that their beautifully sculpted Durga Puja idols are even exported abroad to various destinations and places. These idols are generally made of lightweight materials like fiberglass and they can be kept for a long time and worshipped.
The basic process of idol-making involves tying up bundles of hay in various forms and applying coats of a kind of river clay called ‘entel mati’ which is adhesive by nature. This results in the basic formation of the shapes. After that the plastering is done by using another kind of river clay called ‘bele mati’. This process is then followed by the putting of colors and painting everything. Then the idol is accessorized. The duration of the entire process is dependent on the size of the idol.
The creation of the Durga pooja idol however, involves the observation of some customs which have been age-old traditions. The day of Rath Yatra festival is extremely auspicious and on that day, the artisans collect clay from the banks of the river Ganges. They also visit localities of sex-workers and collect some clay since this clay lump is considered sanctified. That clay is then mixed with the entire clay mixture and the idol is then created from that mixture. The whole process of making the idol- from clay collecting to decorating is considered extremely sacred.
Another very important event in the process of idol-making is the Chakkhu Daan which literally means donating the eyes to the Durga idol. This must occur on a particular day with the artist painting the eyes on the idol’s face with great care and patience. In fact, each and every body part of goddess Durga and her children is created with great care so that they give a life-like attribute to the durga pooja idols.
This process is followed to create almost 4000 Durga pooja idol sets in kolkata each year with many of them exported abroad.