Kolkata: Resurgence of traditional idol designs at the clay modelers' quarter in Kumartuli, school students replicating a centuries-old plaque of goddess Durga slaying the buffalo-demon at the prestigious Indian Museum and a Kolkata community puja introducing 3D printing technology: This year, West Bengal's biggest festival is a mixed bag of techniques.
Veteran sculptors and artists at Kumartuli, the largest hub of clay modelers in West Bengal, swear by the malleability of the yellow straw and the fluidity of the sticky alluvial soil or entel maati that gets deposited on the river banks.
On the other end, there are craftsmen in quest for methods like 3D printing to create visually dynamic life-size models from material such as paper.
At India's oldest museum, for the first time in its 200-year-old history, a group of school children are helping to scale up a post-Gupta (dated 7th-10th century) period 6 inch by 4 inch sandstone plaque (Mahishamardini) from Bhita in Bodhgaya, into a six foot by 11 foot structure. It is being fabricated out of clay and straw at an idol-making workshop that kicked off Sep 16 in the Museum's courtyard.
"This is the first time that we are replicating and scaling up the plaque. The children were given a basic understanding of how to do the straw armature and the various layers of clay. Now, they can appreciate the work of the clay modelers and when they grow up they will have something to say," N.C. Mondal, the head of the modeling unit of the museum who is guiding the students along with this team, said.
Her fingers smeared in the grey-blue entel maati, Varnika Gupta, a participant at the workshop, echoes Mondal, saying she was "unaware of the sweat and toil" of the artists.
The plaque came to the museum from the Indian government March 21, 1912. The final product will be on display Sep 26.
The museum has also planned a variety of activities and cultural programmes to celebrate Durga Puja and also as a part of the bicentennial celebration and the Intangible Heritage Programme.
"The idea was to involve the public in the process in the same way communities earlier used to help in puja preparations and the idol-making makes them feel that they are part of the celebration," the museum's education officer, Sayan Bhattacharya, said.
At the other end of the city, the Jodhpur Park community puja is hosting a digitally sculpted goddess Durga and her family courtesy the application of 3D printing technology on paper. The idol stands tall at 8.5 feet and 14 feet wide.
"This is a computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing process. We are trying to open up an opportunity for the traditional craftsmen to learn this skill and gradually switch to digital work," Ujjal Mitra, director of Printz Worldwide, the brainchild of the project, said.
The digital models can be replicated multiple times using a variety of material and 3D printers anywhere in the world and the process will help the craftsmen too, Mitra said.
Kaustava, the artist who was trained by the organisation to design the image, said the procedure also allows designers to "undo" an anomaly and retrace a few steps to start all over again, something which can't be done with normal sculpting.
"Initially it was a bit difficult to work with a completely new technology, but once you get to work with the software, it is an easy process and I hope I can teach it to others. We have retained the essence of the Durga idol," Kaustava said.
Meanwhile, far away from the world of software and swanky computers, in the dingy, meandering Kumartuli alleys, things are moving at a frenetic pace inside the cramped workshops of the artists.
"This year, we have observed more demand for the traditional ekchala frame (single frame with Durga and her four children). People want to see the familiar lotus-shaped eyes and full face of Durga, flanked by her family. There is a markedly less demand for lone Durga idols in modern designs," Babu Pal, spokesperson of the Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskritik Samity (an artists' forum), said.
For him and his group, 3D printing is an alien world. "We don't know of this... but will it retain the aesthetics of the hand-crafted ones? Our living depends on our dexterous fingers and each of us have our a unique style. This is reflected in the idols. Be it 3D or clay, Durga in any form attracts crowds and community participation if people can relate to it," Pal reacted when quizzed by am agency, adding around 5,000 models have been made this year for the Durga puja.
An expert on the subject, Tapati Guha-Thakurta, director and history professor at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences here, said the traditional forms have "never gone out completely".
"Though there are all kinds of experimentation going on in different media, they still retain the basic form of clay idols," Guha-Thakurta said.
Durga Puja begins Sep 29.