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Panpatti: ‘KumarTuli’ of Silchar, Bearing Century old idol making Tradition

Dr. Ganesh Nandi

"More than hundreds of years back many idol makers used to come to Panpatti from various districts of present Bangladesh to work and they supplied idols to the Silchar people. They used to return back during the off season. But after the partition some of them settled themselves in the panpatti area permanently and gradually the place is converted and became as the main idol making centre for Silchar. Not only for idol making, there is another important reason by which Panpatti is always in discussion, is that one brothel situated at the adjacent area. Near more than thousands of commercial sex workers (CSW) are living with families.. "

Durga Puja is one of the religious festivals of India which is celebrated throughout the country with great zeal and enthusiasm. It is the main festival of Hindu Bengalis. Barak Valley in Assam is another abode of the Bengalis in India. This place is considered as a third world for Bengalis apart from Bangladesh and West Bengal. The Valley is a historical place presently covering three districts Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi which is situated in the Southern part of Assam state. Silchar is the main city of the valley. And like all places inhabited by the Bengalis. Here too Durga Puja is the main festival of Bengali people dominated Barak Valley.

Actually, it is said that Durga Puja started in the valley during the rule of Dimasa king Suradarpa Narayan and by the patronization and support from the Dimasa Court of Cachar, Durga Puja gradually gained great popularity in the Valley after 1745-50s. Dimasa king appointed maniram Deb laskar of Barkhola as Revenue officer in 1736 and from 1790s Deb Laskar family is bearing their household Durga puja legacy till today. So in Silchar, the hub of Barak Valley, the history of Durga Puja is more than 250 years old. In the beginning of 20th century community Durga Puja tradition was started and it became very popular during the course of time. House hold puja of late Durga Shankar Dutta’s, Bhuiya’s are counted as between oldest pujas of Silchar and Janiganj puja organized by the businessman community, Jahaj Gudam (Godown) puja etc are counted in the list of oldest community Durga pujas. Presently the Silchar town is dotted with more than three hundreds of community Durga Pujas; there are a few household Durga Puja too.

Every year in Silchar, Durga, an icon of unfathomable power is worshiped with great honour and fervor. In the month of September- October when the season ‘Sharat’ brings a tide of white clouds in a sharp blue sky, and the Silchar people get ready to celebrate Durga Puja. The wave of enthusiasm flows in the textile, jewelry market, in the art field and the wave flows with a spirit of togetherness and enjoyment to peoples minds. During the four days of Durga Puja more than 300 exhibits, known as pandals, decorated with lights, sculptures and other art forms are created. It can be considered as the largest religious open air art exhibition of this locality. People use to roam around from pandal to pandal to get a glance of Devi Durga and they are flooded with joy, happiness and art satisfaction.

Presently Durga Puja is not only a religious festival of Bengali Hindus, it is an apex manifestation of various art practices and it provides an amount of employment opportunity
to the many people. Some of them earn only during this season such as ‘mritshilpi’ (clay artists and idol makers), ‘Dhaki’ (Drummer), Pandal artist etc. But the centre of attraction of puja obviously is the idol of Durga.

mainly the Kumbhakar community is engaged to the idol making profession. This is a very tough profession which has been continued generation wise in the valley. Actually history tells, in Barak Valley first idol making practice was started with the hand of Grahacharya. They built idols of Shani, Kali, Shitala, and idols of ‘Nava graha’ in the purpose of ‘Grahapuja’. Other than Acharyas Sutradhar community were also used to make idols. But with growing demand for the various idols, the kumbhakar community who were experts in pottery making gradually took the charge of the idol making profession. And Acharyas confined themselves mainly in astrology.

Bengalis are always very famous for their idol worship and rituals. So there are huge number of the kumbhakar family available who serve this purpose in the Bengali dominated valley. The busiest part of there is schedule during Durga Puja season. But the most famous place of the valley for idol making practice is undoubtedly Panpatti, Silchar. It is situated in the heart of the Silchar city where a huge number of idol makers are living with their families and practicing generation wise. For more than a hundred years they have been the biggest supplier of Durga idols to the valley, apart from idols of ‘Kali’, ‘Saraswati’, ‘manasa’, ‘Viswakarma’, ‘Ganesha’, ‘Lakshmi’, ‘Shiva’ and other idols which they make occasionally. It is a known fact that Kumartuli, a place situated in West Bengal is very famous for idol making all over the world, Panpatti is resembled with this place and is popularly known as the Kumartuli of Silchar. In the pre-Independence era, skilled idol makers from Dhaka and other side of present Bangladesh came regularly to Silchar for idol making. Sometimes they were hired by the rich or sometimes they came of their own accord searching for a lucrative scope. more than hundreds of years back many idol makers used to come to Panpatti from various districts of present Bangladesh to work and they supplied idols to the Silchar people. They used to return back during the off season. But after the partition some of them settled themselves in the panpatti area permanently and gradually the place is converted and became as the main idol making centre for Silchar. Ruhini Paul is one of the important names of first generation idol makers.

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