Nestled in the lap of northern Kolkata, Kumartuli - India's only potters’ town, has been the home and hub for the country’s most gifted craftsmen – also called kumars (sculptors), for more than three centuries.
On the auspicious day of the Rath Yatra, clay is collected from the banks of the Ganga, and mixed with clay collected from the soil of localities where sex-workers live. This mixture is then used for making the idol in centuries-old tradition-bound studios, where the idol-makers ceremonially add life to the goddess Durga by creating her lotus-shaped eyes on the morning of Mahalaya.
The artistic creations of these talented potters have propelled Kumartuli from obscurity to prominence the world over, making it the largest exporter of idols of Hindu gods and goddesses.
Kumartuli, which churns out about 4,000 Durga idols every year, began sending fibreglass idols of the mother goddess to Europe and the US about eight years ago, as that is the preferred material by many overseas - it being light, durable and easy to transport.
With an increasing number of idol-makers having jumped to the internet bandwagon, and Kumars Amarnath Ghosh and Prodyut Paul being among the first artists to launch their own websites in an attempt to tap into markets abroad, Kumartuli continues to be an enigmatic subject for tourists and shutterbugs – both amateur and professional, for the magnificent works of art created here.
It's good that more and more idol-makers are getting international prominence through websites. The artists indeed need to be celebrated.
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