Once upon a time long long ago the East India Company won the battle of Plassey and entered Calcutta. They decided to set up colony on the river banks of river Ganga. It was decided that a separate district would be allotted to the works-men collecting people of similar profession at one location. Hence Coomartolly or present day Kumartuli was born.
Today Kumartuli is home to potters from all over Calcutta. They furnish idols of Gods and Goddesses, primarily Durga idols. Their creations are not only the backbone of Durga puja celebration in India but also around the world. The idols are made mostly from clay and straw which is environment friendly too.
Kumartuli is also on any photographer’s map visiting Kolkata. The artisans are lesser known hard working souls who toil for many hours a day for months at stretch to make a decent living. Be sure to tip them if required and get the photo clicking permit for rs. 10 and rs. 60 from one of the offices.
It is an intriguing experience to see these idols being made. We are used to seeing the intact human form in everyday life. What makes a stroll through a potter’s studio exciting is the sight of life like separate heads collected in one corner. Headless bodies being crafted at a different place. Straw made statues being layered with clay. Painters working to color the skin, then the clothes. Elegant dresses being draped on these life like idols.
It almost felt like one of those heads in the artisan’s head was smiling for real. Like those idols would move when no one’s watching. Like the asuras were actually froze while being killed by Durga ma. And the smile and eyes of Durga idols nothing less than hypnotic.
I was lucky to have been there around Mahalaya, the first day of Durga puja. It is a very auspicious day for Bengalis. Its also the day when eyes of the Durga idols are painted. It symbolizes breathing of life into those idols. Certainly the idols did feel lifeless so far, but spookily real once the eyes came to life.
I’ll leave you with my favorite pictures from the walk.
Your’s truly being a cooli…! 🙂