Located along the Hoogly river “Kumartuli“ or “Kumortuli“ as it is popularly known as is not just one of the oldest neighborhood in Kolkata. It is a place deeply attached to the history that dates back to the British rule in India. “Kumar” or “Kumor” which means in Bengali the Potter and Tuli, the painting brush with which the potter creates magic.
It has been my long cherished dream to visit the famous lanes of Kumartuli where the artisans create wonders by making Durga Idols for the most awaited Autumn festival for all Bengalis- Durga Puja. But nowadays it’s not just Bengalis, people from all communities come together to celebrate Durga Puja. It is also during this time of the year the whole of Northern India celebrates Navaratri, nine days of celebration and devotion dedicated to The Devi.
The advent of Goddess Durga
The festival begins with Mahalaya, marking the advent of the Goddess after her victory in the battle of the evil and from Mahalaya starts “Devipaksha”. It is also said that During this time Goddess Durga visits her father’s house with her children, Goddess Saraswati, Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha and Kartika. The main festivities start from Shasta that is the sixth day after Mahalaya and the celebrations continue up to the tenth day also called as Dashami which marks the victory of good over evil. Vijaya Dashami is celebrated with pomp and glory across India.
Well, for me I was so excited about the thought that finally, I could find a way to visit Kumartuli. It so happened that I came across a very talented and lovely person who is also a professional photographer in a Facebook group. I came into touch with her after I purchased a few sarees from her online Boutique “Bolpur Vibes”. I asked her to accompany me to Kumortuli to click some pictures of me and also I shared my interest in photography in the lanes as the artisans make the idols. we fixed a day and time. It was almost 12 pm when we reached Kumortuli.
Without her company, my visit to Kumortuli would not be so enjoyable and memories of which still lingers in my mind. Not many times it happened to me that I meet a person and I feel like I know them since so many years. It was the same Gargi, I met her for the first time but I felt so connected. It seemed as if I have known her since ages. The bonus part is that I was getting to explore Kumartuli with someone who is born and brought up in Kolkata.
How to reach Kumartuli and getting your entry tickets.
We booked a cab and reached Kumortuli. The nearest metro station to reach Kumartuli is Sobhabazar and Sutanuti. You can also take a cab. The cab dropped us at the entry point of a lane and as I walked I noticed multiple lanes emerging out from the main lane. Each of them had dozens of small shops or studios where the artisans were busy making the idols.
We went to the ticket counter maintained by the members of the Kumartuli development association. If you are carrying a camera the entry fees are Rs. 50 but it is limited to only a few lanes. If you want to explore all the lanes you need to pay more and I mean it as they are very strict. They will restrict you to enter some of the lanes if you don’t show them the tickets.
The glorious art of idol making is not an easy affair after all.
The art of idol making is not just a one-day affair. It takes months, it is the process that requires skill, patience, creativity and uniqueness. According to the old traditions, the practice of Idol making begins on the day of “Rathayatra” after offering prayers to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi. To make the idols they follow three basic patterns. First, they make the main framework out of bamboo or wood with the exact required size and shape. Then they cover it with straw to give a baisc structure to the idols. Then they cover it with clay which is said to comprise ten types of Clay. The last part is painting the idols and decorating with bright coloured clothes, accessories, artificial weapons before they are finally taken to the “Puja Pandals”.
It’s ecstatic watching the artisans paint the idols
Some of the idols from “Kumartuli are also taken to other parts of our country India and also some sent abroad. As we were exploring the lanes I saw an artisan painting the miniature form of a Durga Idol, it was incredible to watch him paint the idol. It was so amazing and I literally goosebumps. I know you may think what is there so thrilling? But the sentiments and feeling can only be felt if you are a Bengali.
But one thing that I felt should be changed is space where the artisans work. There is not enough space, sometimes so little that you would not be able to stand inside, poor lighting, lack of basic amenities and infrastructure. I feel they must be facing a tough time when it rains. Some of the artisans stay there during the period of Idol making which is also their main means of livelihood and their creation leaves people of Kolkata and all those who visit the City of Joy to enjoy Durga Puja in ultimate admiration. There are around 450 workshops in Kumartuli and each year it makes thousands of Durga Idols and not only Durga Idols, but it also creates every other Indian Gods and Goddess for the rest of the Indian festivals.
The best time to visit Kumartuli
What is the best time to visit Kumartuli? If anyone would ask me, I would answer during September and October. Mainly because at that time the idols get the basic structure, the clay idols without any paint are best to click photographs and also you get a chance to see the artisans paint them with their Tuli or brush. Some get annoyed if you go too near them but some are very co-operative who would also love to give you some narrations about their profession and art.
A lady asked me “Ki ache Kumortuli te, shobai eshe photo tule jacche?” ( What is there in Kumortuli that hundreds of people are coming to take photographs? ) She was one of the owners of a workshop. Gargi told me that there is an Idol Workshop run by ladies, we visited it but there was no one to interact with due to the lunch hour. A man got so angry while I was taking some photographs of the idols since he was having his lunch at that time. So you need to be very careful while taking photographs. You should not disturb them. Do your work and it’s better to not spent much time in a single workshop. There are lots of explore all around.
The farewell of the Goddess
But every year as Durga Puja brings us happiness, it also leaves behind us in grief. Just as a daughterwho is married leaves her father’s home after her short stay the whole family gets covered in sadness as days of happiness ends with her farewell. With a similar sentiment, we feel sad as Maa Durga bids farewell to her father’s day on the tenth day which is also celebrated as “Dashami”. Ladies celebrate with the famous “Shidoor Khela” ( applying vermilion on each others face by married women and girls). But we all know after every night comes a bright and beautiful morning. There is nothing we could do but wait for that morning which comes next year with the advent of Maa Durga. In the most celebrated way, the Goddess is bid farewell by immersing her in the river.