“I have a day and a half on hand and it’s the month of June! This is not the right time to explore a city as mystical as Kolkata?” I reasoned over the phone. Anindya would hear none of it and promised it to be an unforgettable experience. Are there signs that the Universe sends us? Unconvinced, I hung up and sat down to watch “Kahani’. The gripping movie shot in Kolkata had me glued when the scene appeared where the protagonist needs to meet a mole in Kumartuli for information. I sat mesmerised as huge, unfinished idols of gods and goddesses loomed large on the screen. Kumartuli! What was this place? I had to go. Without wasting a minute, I booked my air tickets and got ready to devour the “City of Joy”.
After a stopover at the legendary sherbat shop, Paramount in College Street, the car wound its way into the lanes of the bustling city till it came to a stop at Ahiritola. From here one has to experience this labyrinthine potter’s locality on foot. For more than 300 years, Kumartuli has been a cultural precinct, creating the idols of deities. Every Durga Puja, the idols of Ma Durga, some mounted on a lion and slaying the demon Mahishasura are sent to different pandals from this hub. More than 450 workshops located in the vicinity, work diligently during the festive season. In fact, artisans from the neighbouring areas are called to give a helping hand. However, that day as Anindya and I walk through the area, there is a calm disposition. The artists work deftly with their skilled hands and are hardly ruffled by our presence. Figurines stand at different stages of creativity on either side of the workshops. Bamboo poles lean against the walls and stacks of hay are piled on top of each other. Some idols stand outside the workshop to bask in the sun’s rays that help in drying the clay.
The initial process of idol making involves cutting the bamboo for making the framework or Kathamo. Body parts made of straw are then tied to the framework, using thin rope. Once the structure is set up, artists scoop mounds of clay from the banks of Hoogly to mould the figurines and give it shape. Finally, they’re painted and are ready. A few years ago, only the eyes were left to be drawn on the day of Mahalaya, the no moon day which also advents the beginning of Devi Paksha but due to an increase in demand, this tradition has made way for convenience and the idols are ready before time to be shipped all over.
That evening, we stood by the Hoogly River looking at the Howrah Bridge from a distance. Kumartuli was still fresh in my mind. It is truly a womb where gods and goddesses are created to be revered all over the world. On Sashti these idols of Ma Durga, dressed in finery and bedecked with ornaments will find their way to different pandals all over the city, where they will be worshipped for five days. And on Dashmi, the devotees amidst music and joyous chants of “Aaschhe bochhor abaar hobey!” will immerse the idol into the river from where she was first picked up as clay. Besides the victory of good over evil, Ma Durga also reminds us of the “Circle of Life”.
Perhaps, I should have visited Kolkata during the Durga Pujo and not in June as I had done but the smiling image of Ma Durga in my mind assures me “Aaschhe bochhor abaar hobey” – We are coming back next year.