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The idol made by Mondal’s men for Rajbari.

(Photo: Abhilash Mallick)

Before Durga Ma Arrives for Puja, Meet the Godmakers of Kumartuli

Meet the artisans who make the idols in one of Kolkata’s oldest neighbourhood.

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4 min read

“Are you a journalist?” Krushna Mondal enquires smiling. “Come, let’s have tea and I’ll tell you more,” he adds. Sitting in front of the most beautiful idol, he was instructing his men to start dismantling the structure in order to load it on a truck and send it to the buyer.

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Sipping on his tea, he tells me how tiring it gets for the artisans of Kumartuli, one of Kolkata’s oldest neighbourhoods, who make Durga idols. This area, located in north Kolkata along River Hooghly, is a source of livelihood for many.

With only a few days left for Durga Puja, the workers are toiling hard in the narrow lanes and cramped workshops to make sure that the 10-armed Goddess and her children reach the pandals on time. The workers are often interrupted by photo-hungry journalists and tourists.

The preparation of the idol makers starts from July and continue till February – the time of Saraswati puja. However, sometimes buyers place orders as early as October or November. Mondal had received the order a year ago, and started visualising and making the idol about nine months ago. “Dam ta chede din (don’t ask the price of idol),” he says wittingly.

The shops in the area are very old.

“My grandfather set up this shop 25 years ago and now my brother and I handle the business,” said Rana Saha, while making small decorative items that he says are bought by malls and offices to decorate during the festival.

The idols are made in different shapes and sizes. Some have only Durga, while others come in a set and they are priced accordingly. The small ones cost somewhere between Rs 10,000 and 15,000. The medium sized idols cost between Rs 45,000 and Rs 60,000, depending on the artwork.

“We supply idols from here to all over West Bengal. We also send idols overseas,” says Ujjwal Pal, while mixing colour and clay.

Making the idols is only half the work. Another important and difficult step is to load the idol on to the trucks to deliver it to the buyer. The people who carry the idol work in groups. Manik Das works with one such group which consists of 27 people. The earning depends on the size of the idol. The price starts from Rs 2,000 and goes up to Rs 4,000, which gets divided between the group’s members.

While making the idols, the workshops not only become the working space, but also storage space for idols and raw materials, and the eating, cooking and sleeping space of karigars. Labourers and karigars live at the workshop too.

As you enter the workshop, you can see idols placed on either side. Most of the workshops have a temporary roof.

The recent monetary policies of the government like demonetisation and GST have impacted the work here. Some of the shops make idols for all occasions, including Kali Puja, Ganesh Puja as well as decorative pieces for marriages.

The sale of idols was affected during demonetisation due to lack of cash, while the confusion over taxes after the implementation of the GST has also resulted in the workshop owners ordering less raw material.
This new tax regime is a still not clear. The prices of materials such as false hair, kajal, arms made of aluminium and steel, and sari have gone up. Due to the confusion over GST, customers’ budgets have also come down this year.
Babu Pal, spokesperson of Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samity 

(Abhilash Mallick is writer and photographer, currently based out of Kolkata. You can find more of his work at abhilashmallick.com.)

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