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Durga Puja: Celebration of art & Creativity
Partha Mukherjee & Priyanka Mukherjee

Contrary to what many may believe, Durga Puja is more a celebration of art than a religious festival. It is a carnival of creativity that enfolds when magic touches of fingers add life to a lump of soil. Durga Puja is above all, a way of earning a moderate living for more than two thousand artists and craftsmen across West Bengal for a year.

Idol making is the most popular art form practised in Kolkata and the suburbs around here. Not only clay modellers, even those who supply straw; bring sticky mud (Entel mati) from the river bed of the Hooghly near Uluberia in Howrah district – courting risk of life – are directly involved in the idol making industry. many ancillary industries have formed to supply props like decoration pieces, tufts of synthetic hair, imitation arms and weapons which the mother Goddess holds in her ten hands. Artists, efficient craftsmen and their helping hands, even some members of their families earn their daily bread from this profession. When we visit pandals, we become speechless at the aesthetically brilliant sculpture of idols, innovative designs of decoration of the pandals, dazzling lighting arrangements and other creations of a group of artists. As we indulge in an aesthetic appreciation of the sheer poetry created out of wood and clay, we seldom spare a thought for the silent workforce making it all happen.

Artists are found to have put up tents on either side of Banamali Sarkar Street in North Kolkata. Here, they build structures of hay on wooden or bamboo frames, followed by covering them twice with clay interspersed with cloth over the basic framework of bamboo and straw to bring extra smoothness to the complexion of the idol.

The initial white paint is applied over the clay-built structure and on the white-colour coated torso of the figurine, and then the final colours are applied. As the clay model of the deity attains its Godly shape gradually, decoration starts with setting of ornaments. This involves the fixing of arms and weapons to the Goddess’s ten hands and arranging of the hair-style on the head of the idol. Then it’s time to make the models of the carriers of the five deities – Lion, Peacock, Swan, Owl and Rodent – and ornamental brush-work adorns each of them.

It is a mix of experience and artistry, which enables an artist to choose the right texture of the wet earth (clay). The artist can achieve the desired
effect only when he has chosen the most appropriate clay depending on the size and the form or shape of the idol. Larger the size of the idol, larger is the quantity of the stickymud, otherwise cracks over the body of the image remain exposed.

Idol making is a continuous process throughout the year. Though it would start every year on the auspicious day of the Chariot festival (Ratha Yatra) through worshipping the main framework of the mother Goddess, the tradition is no longer followed by the Puja committees, considering time crunch, as most of them want idols, before final touches, to arrive in pandals by the day of mahalaya, which falls about a week or so before the Puja begins.

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