Kumartuli, the idol-makers’ community in the heart of Kolkata, is now at its busiest. Artists are working all day and night to create the idols of Durga Puja in time. Orders come not only from all over the city and its outskirts, but from all over the country and from many foreign countries as well.
This Mecca of idol-makers is a visual extravaganza now – hundreds of artists moulding the clay with their bare hands to create magic. It is a great opportunity for photographers as well during this period of the year, leading up to Durga Puja. They throng the lanes and bylanes with their equipment, pointing their lenses to capture the best of them all – themselves in thrall as well.
The making of the idols is a long-drawn, ardous process. It takes a lot of creativity and hard labour to come out with the finished products. Detailed below is the process in 13 broad steps.
1. When an organiser comes to an artisan, the first thing he does is sketch the idols after taking inputs from the organiser. He also co-ordinates with the pandal designer as the idol has to match the overall design.
2. Building the kathamo (the bamboo structure) comes next. It is the frame that holds the idol in place. This is generally put together by young artisans under instructions from a senior.
3. Then comes the process of building the idol's outline with hay over the kathamo. The hay earlier used to come by boats, but now trucks are preferred since it is a faster mode of transport and does not need to be docked for a few days like a boat. This process has to be completed with speed since the application of mud starts soon after that and that process needs time.
4. Next is the step at which the idol gets a rough, human form. Toonsh maati (a type of clay) is applied over the hay outline. The clay has a rough texture and becomes hard once it dries. It covers the hay and acts as a binder.
5. From the arms to the fingers and feet, the figure of Maa Durga emerges at this stage. The main artist takes the help of helpers during this stage. From kneading the toonsh maati to making it soft, it is the helpers who do it all.
6. After the toonsh maati dries, it's time to apply bele maati – a fine, loamy soil – to give the idols a smooth, finish. This is a highly skilled art.
7. The intricacies of Maa Durga's face are generally created much later than the rest of the body. There are moulds of various sizes which are generally used to shape the face of the idol. It is very intricate work, since the face of the idol matters the most.
8. After the bele maati dries, a lot of cracks can be seen on the idol. At this stage, artists dip a cloth in liquid mud and apply it over the idol to fill in the cracks for a smooth finish.
9. Once the thin layer of liquid bele maati dries, sandpaper is rubbed all over the idol so that there are no flaws.
10. Next comes the painting of the idol. This part of the work takes time. Firstly, an earthy hue is applied all over the idol. Once it dries, then spray-painting the idol begins.
11. The next important step in the creation of the idols of Maa Durga is chokkhudaan, literally, ‘giving eyes to the idol.’ Earlier, this used to happen on the day of Mahalaya. But now, with the number of orders increasing every year, this happens much before Mahalaya.
12. The final process of creation consists of decking up the idols with ornaments. For those idols made in Kumartuli, the hair of Maa Durga comes from Canning, Uluberia, Aamtala. Interestingly, most of the workers in this profession are Muslims. Maayer saaj, that is, the ornaments and accessories, comes mostly from Bonkapashi in BardhaMaan district and from Krishnanagar. The saris of Maa Durga come from Surat. Decking up the idol is a huge task and it requires artistic taste.
13. Finally, the organisers come and take the idols in trucks to the pandals. At times, minor damages might occur during transit. In those cases, if the organisers call the artists, they go the pandals to rectify them.
Lead image: footlooseforever.com