Hands that breathe life into Durga idols

Navarathri: Kumartolis Gen Next turns market savvy

Yet what strikes most is the craft that earned Kumartoli its place is slowly giving way to changing times. This year, too, as before, nimble fingers worked relentlessly over months to put finishing touches to Durga idols, worshipped across the state during the Navarathri.

Artisans at Kumartoli have always looked forward to the Durga Pooja days to make it financially big. A new visitor may find it difficult to gauge how the crammed little corners of the houses in the area could house huge Durga idols. And when the idols are taken to glittering pandals to be worshipped as the divine, faint rays of prosperity cut into the dingy, dimly-lit houses of the artisans to keep their hearth burning till the next festival.

Kumartoli has its own tale to tell, which are still fresh in the minds of some of the elderly here like 90-year-old Ashok Pal. To Pal, this part of the city is where “idol makers” live with weary dreams. Kumartoli came into existence when a group of Patuas from the bank of the Ganga came to reside in the small hamlet. Born out of the faith that god would save its residents from the clutches of the plague, Kumartoli’s claim to fame took several decades though.

“Once plague broke out in this area, the superstitious locals started offering puja to gods and goddesses. Gradually, a group of ‘patuas’ came to reside in the area that shortly became famous as ‘patua para.’ The artisans earned their living from idol-making,” Ashok Pal said. “I’ve been working here since childhood. My father used to be an idol maker but age doesn’t permit him to do so much of hard work these days,” he pointed out.

While he kept his family tradition on, Ashok Pal isn’t sure if his grandchildren will do the same. “The profession of idol-making carries less social recognition and monetary benefits,” he said. Government subsidies could have, however, bettered the situation.

Also, traditions in the making of the idols have given way to the wants of time. Blame it on the lure of commercialism, the new-generation idol makers now decline to adhere to many of the age-old traditions.

“Earlier, Chakkhu Daan (painting of the eye) was done only on Saptami. Now, owing to huge demand, we usually do it according to our convenience,” an idol maker at Kumartoli confessed. “The clients need delivery early and we’ve no option,” he added. Indeed, the times are changing at Kumartoli.

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