Echoes from Kumartuli: An idol-maker’s account

By Ipshita Chatterjee, Batch of 2018

It is Panchami. It is that time of the year again when the air is fragrant with shiuli and the crescendo of dhaak beats echo from every street of Shovabazaar. It is business as usual. I wave my brush lightly and in a swift motion, now, Maa Durga has a perfectly shaped brow. A long night’s work remains. Orders to be delivered, idols to be made. Pujo is here again. Our daughter is here again. Our mother is here again.

From my small, claustrophobic workshop, reeking of bidi smoke and sweat and varnish, is born the Goddess of everyone’s prayers, the Goddess who grants everyone’s wishes, Goddess Durga, on her lion mount, killing the evil demon, Mahishasura, flanked on both sides by her children, Lakshmi, Sarswati, Kartik and Ganesha. All divine Gods made by us humble kumbhars at our humble abode at Kumartuli. They call our home, the Land of Gods. I often muse whether that makes us Gods. But looking at my younger son’s tattered clothes, with textbooks missing pages and his empty eyes, I decisively change my mind. The universe indeed has strange ironies.

Molding the punya maati, soil from the banks of the holy Ganges, with a handful of soil from the prostitute’s doorstep, into figurines which are the cynosure of an ancient culture, now popular all over the world, idols which represent a historic heritage and a struggling form of art, thakurs for all those who pray. These idols signify a lot. These idols signify our lifeblood and our toil. These idols are the bread passed on to us by our forefathers, who were artisans at the court of King Krishna Chandra Rai. These idols and their pujo is an amalgamation of a culture holding on to its roots and yet liberally embracing the newer times.

As I drape a silk saree on the Mother Goddess, I wonder whether this year’s income will suffice to buy my wife the long overdue wedding present of a taant saree. I look into the Mother’s eyes, with a thousand questions in my mind. Her eyes appear peculiarly moist and her mouth is pursed in a benign hint of a smile. The Mother knows all her children’s woes.