The mist in the air is familiar; it is a familiar smell of wet soil and paint mixed with incense sticks. The sun shines brightly and brings in light to the otherwise dim corners. Inside, Madhusdan Pal carefully pleats a satin cloth and pins them one by one. He takes one pleat at a time, carefully folds it, compares it to the other pleat and then pins it. Once he is done with pleating, he intricately places it on Ganesha’s idol and nails the so called dhoti around the waist firmly.
Last minute touches are being given to the Durga idols at a make shift workshop in CR Park, New Delhi. Around 30 idols are lined up in neat rows, each of them incomplete to a certain extent. Artists like Madhusudan Pal are working overtime to make the idols come alive for the much awaited Durga Puja.
Hordes of artists, sculptors, craftsmen come to the capital every year to make the intricate, beautiful and grand Durga Idols. The idols which grace various Puja Pandals across the capital are made with much patience and love. Artisans are usually brought in to the city by contractors who themselves are trained in the craft of idol making. Each workshop has almost 12-15 artisans working on beautiful idols and they are paid on per day basis.
Adichitra Gor, who is working in a workshop near INA market, says, “We have been coming here for the last 8 years in a row.” How do they get to know about the job? “We just do. We are contacted every year by our Malik (contractor) and he makes the arrangements in Delhi.” The workers usually stay within the workshops and work through the day. The task to make the idols isn’t an easy one. Every feature of each idol has to be symmetrical and should look real.
Most of these artists make idols all year round. Through work, they travel to different parts of the country and make these intricate idols. Some come from Kumartuli in north Kolkata, the famous potters’ colony that houses gifted artists known for the clay idols. Madhusudan Pal is one of them. Pal, whose family has been into making of clay idols for generations, has been coming to Delhi for the last 10 years. He, along with his three sons and nephew leave their wives and kids back home every year to work in the capital during the Puja season. They work throughout the festive season and leave for home post Diwali. Some say they don’t have a choice, as this is their profession. Families are left alone back home during the most important time of the year, but they have no choice. Pal smiles and says, “What to do? It’s our profession. If we stay back at home during Pujas, we won’t be earning anything. At least this way, we can fend for our families and they can have a good time.”
Manu Baran is a convert. He is not a conventional craftsman and he hasn’t inherited craftsmanship unlike Pal. He is a farmer who works as a craftsman six months in the year. “I just had a knack for it, learnt the tricks from friends who belong to artisan families.”
The clay is procured from the banks of Yamuna. In some workshops, they get a portion of clay from Bengal and mix it with the local soil here later. Idol designs are not always at the discretion of artisans. “They (clients) get designs from the internet and ask us to replicate them,” says Tapash Doloi while putting mud on the hay figurines which serve as a base to the idols. Tapash, who had last year travelled to Andhra Pradesh to make Durga idols, says that most pandals prefer to experiment with the idol designs. The traditional ek chala (idols placed on a single structure) idols are restricted to only few pandals now. Many are willing to experiment with styles and designs of the idols.
While finishing touches are given to Durga idols, the work isn’t yet over for these craftsmen. They have to start work on goddess Lakshmi and Kali idols which are two major festivals for Bengalis post durga puja.
“It’s become a routine for us now. Every year, we come to Delhi and stay here till Diwali. For us, work is more important than the celebrations. We don’t go out to see the pandals that much, we stay here and try to finish work so that we can go home sooner,” says Tapash.
As the Bengali community gets busy preparing for the biggest festival of the year, somewhere, silently, a craftsmen infuses life into the clay models to make it come alive as Ma Durga.