Bengalis in India and even abroad are now in a gala preparation mood to welcome Goddess Durga. Durga Puja, the auspicious festival of Bengal in India, will commence in the 1st week of October. The key attraction of this festival is sculpturing artistic and eloquent images of the Goddess and adorning them with decorative clothes and bright ornaments. In kolkata, the capital city of Bengal, the master craftsmen and sculpturists dwell in a locality called Kumartuli. Popularly known as the potter's locality, it is a phenomenal experience to watch how they carve out the idols.
There are multiple steps involved while sculpting the idols, each with its unique value and charm. It's a pleasure to walk down the streets of Kumartuli, mingling with the artisans and appraising the immense talents in their work.
All photographs clicked by my mom: Gouri Banerjee
History of Kumartuli
In the history of Bengal, the battle of Plassey is significant, wherein the British East India Company commenced their settlement. They started to construct the current area of Fort William, which forced people to shift their homes and move towards Sutanati. The company allotted different lands to different types of workmen depending on their profession. Chutorpara was for carpenters, Suripara was for wine sellers, Collotollah was for the oil sellers, Aheeritollah was for the cow herders, and Coomartolly (Kumartuli) was for the potters.
The potters were mostly from the nearby towns of Krishnagar, Shantipur, and Nabadwip. They were proficient to make pots, urns, and other clay items but had not sculpted idols of Gods and Goddesses. It is said that when Lord Clive offered his blessings to Goddess Durga at the palatial house of Babu Nabakrishna Deb in Sovabazar, the popularity increased. The royal houses of Kolkata and the opulent rich Babus started patronizing the Puja, whilst in turn competing among themselves in excelling in their arrangements.
The potters, with minimalistic knowledge of Hindu mythological tales and religious books, carved Goddess Durga and her children in traditional Bengali images and attire. Mahisasura, the male demon, who was defeated by the Goddess, was originally sculpted in the form of a horse. The potters from Kumartuli were specially invited to the house of the elite class where they used to reside and construct the idols. Nowadays due to the increased number of pujas, the potters stay at their houses and finish their sculptures.
The Heritage and Culture
The word “Kumar” means potter and “Tuli” means locality. Kumartuli is more than 300 years old, resided now by the potters who had come to this place from generation before to settle and earn. About 150 families dwell in the locality sculpting images of the Gods and Goddesses for the various festivals. There are about 550 workshops where the sculptors toil day and night to create the idols of Goddess Durga. Many of the idols are sent abroad to different countries of the world in America, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
The idols are prepared with clay, straw, and bamboo mainly. For decorations and embellishments, various beads, strings, ornamental items, and clothes are used. Separate shops are present in the locality selling the decor items. First, the frame for the idols is made with wood, bamboo, and straw. The clay is retrieved from the bed of the river Ganges. It is brought then to Kumartuli at different workshops for the sculptors and artists. Sometimes it involves several months of effort to prepare the idols, depending on the dimensions and artistry.
A Stroll across the lanes of Kumartuli
The lanes and by-lanes at Kumartuli are narrow. You have to maneuver yourself to walk along them. And to your utter dismay, you will observe that the artists stay in those congested lanes with their families and carry on with their work of sculpture. There is no luxury at this place, no AC, and no modern amenities. Yet day after day, the artists create such wonderful and astonishing idols of the Gods and Goddesses. It is a spectacular sequence to observe the brilliant craftsmen chisel out the statues and images with mastery. And then followed by the paintings of the features of the face, eyes, and so on. It's truly an astonishing sight how the mounds of clay are converted into breathtaking images with artistic designs.
Things to do in the town
Interact with the craftsmen and potters, and learn about their everyday life. You can click photos and shoot videos showcasing their work and accomplishments. Visiting the workshops can also help you to gain some knowledge of the art of pottery and sculpting idols. You can check out the different steps and processes involved in creating the structures. If you want to host Durga Puja at your home or your locality, then you can list down your orders at any of the workshops or the individual artists. You can learn about the hardships and struggles the artists undergo and try to seek help and support. Visit the Dhakeshwari Temple nearby to offer your homage. And do not forget to taste the authentic local sweet Rosogollas.
How to reach?
Kumartuli is easily accessible from anywhere in Kolkata. It is located in between Ahiritola and Shobhabazar, two prominent locations of old Kolkata. By bus, you must get down at Rajballavpur and Lal Mandir bus stops and walk for 5 mins. The nearest metro station is at Shobhabazar and the nearest railway station is at Bagbazar. If you avail of the ferry service, then you must first reach the Howrah station. From the station, ferries are available to Bagbazar Ferry Ghat or Shobhabazar Ahiritola Ferry Ghat. You need to walk down to reach Kumartuli.
The best time to visit Kumartuli is before the Durga Puja. So if you are near Kolkata, then you must try out visiting the place before the Puja commences.
A travel enthusiast craving to explore the exotic destinations in the world, deciphering the mysteries and the thrill concealed in them.