Every July twenty idol makers travel from Krishna Nagar, a small city close to Kolkata, to Delhi and settle down in a compound in Chittaranjan Park. This becomes their place of residence and workshop for four months. They toil day after day making Goddess Durga idols. According to mythology, Ma Durga is the ten armed war goddess riding a lion who killed the evil demon Mahishasura. Durga Puja is the ceremonial worship of the warrior goddess and pandals (huge open tents) housing her idols are set up everywhere. The euphoria and the scale of magnificence, sets this festival apart from so many other that the country celebrates.
The compound where the mud sculptors make the idols is much smaller as compared to Kumartuli. However, the ambience and the manner of working is the same. Kumartuli, in Kolkata, is the traditional potter’s quarter that is more than 300 years old and houses 150 families who have been living there for generations. Last year when I visited Kolkata, I was enthralled by the plenitude of idols all around. You can read more about Kumartuli, the hub of idol creators here.
The Artisans At Work
It takes months of labour and dedication to create the beautiful idols. After a framework of bamboos and tying straws to it for the basic body, clay from the River Ganges is slathered on the straw structure. It’s given a life-like form and left to dry. For the perfect features of Goddess Durga, a Plaster of Paris mould is used. Another coat is added to smoothen it. Once dry, the idol is painted or spray painted for colour. Finally, the well-experienced artists add detailing to the idol.
The sun shone right above as I entered the compound located in the midst of a cluster of houses and an old cinema. Idols in different stages of completion lined the compound. Even though it was hot and humid, the artisans were at work. A couple of them were seated at a height adding finer, delicate stroke on the faces. Another sprayed colour all over the idol. Unruffled by the entry of photographers they continued their work quietly.
The Day Of Mahalaya
The first stage of completion is giving shape to wet clay and straw. It is said that on the day of Mahalaya the Goddess is invited on earth and thereby in an auspicious ritual called Chokku Daan, the eyes are drawn on the idols. It is after Mahalaya that the finishing touches are given to the goddess and she is adorned in finery. By the sixth day or Sashti, the idols have to reach the different pandals. With hardly any days left, The artisans worked arduously and without interruption.
The instruments of beautification
The Final Makeover Of The Idols For Durga Puja
While ten days of Durga Puja are celebrated with fast, festivity and fervour it is the last four days – Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami which are highlighted with exuberance and rejoice. Across the state of Bengal, devotees get emotional and excited as they welcome Ma Durga to her bari (home). The tableau of Durga also includes her four children – Kartikeya, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Till Sasthi or the sixth day, the Durga idol is kept hidden under a veil. Her face is revealed only after the Kalparambha puja. Kalparamba, which takes place at dawn is a sankalp or promise made to perform the Puja correctly, following all rituals.
Big, well-defined eyes, dressed in finery, jewels and a heavy embellished saree the idols are breathtakingly beautiful. Just as in Bengal, people in different states go pandal hopping to see the Goddess in her dazzling attire. It’s hard to fathom the transformation of a lump of clay into something that is granted utmost reverence.
The Demons That Must Be Slayed
The idol of the Goddess is typically in her form as Mahishasura Mardini which displays her killing the demon Mahishasur.
Durga Puja – A Daughter’s Homecoming
Just as I was soaking in the beauty of it all, two girls walked in, dressed in traditional clothes. For them, it was a college project on Ma Durga but I stood awestruck. Dressed in traditional saree, shiny gold ornaments, red bindi on the forehead and the bright red liquid colour, alta adorning their hands and feet, they looked every bit like the Goddess entering her bari. I watched fascinated. In that open space clay lay on one corner, and amidst plenty of unfinished idols stood these two girls smiling and depicting Ma Durga in life form.
Durga Puja epitomises the respect of womanhood and the celebration of the supreme source of power – Ma Durga. Let us all celebrate her homecoming this Durga Puja 2018 with the words “Maa Aschhe!”