Team Blank Slate reached the alleyways of Kumartuli in the sweltering heat of a Kolkata autumn afternoon. It was the day after Mahalaya, the first day of Debi Pokkho, and yet, many of the idols were yet to be completed.
“The rains delayed everything this year. We are always done before Mahalaya. Now, we will have to work through the nights to meet all our deadlines”, said Pashupati Rudrapal, the artist we had gone to meet, lifting his gaze momentarily from the eye of the Goddess he was painting.
We spent the next four hours roaming the narrow streets, watching busy men work tirelessly, to get the beloved Durga idols ready before Chaturthi. The streets buzzed with the passion of the artisans. We spoke to a few to understand the business, the art and the labor.
“It is a hard business, Didibhai”, said Pashupati, with a sigh of exhaustion. “Work begins in April – by Poila Boisakh, and continues till Jagadhattri Puja in November. We are working late into the nights, and then doing heavy lifting through the day. It wears us down. To be honest, I am not sure I would want my children to join the business”, said Pashupati.
Pashupati, one among the many famous artists of the area, is filling orders for 25 idols this year, each varied in their style and presentation.
“Sometimes the organizers give us a design they want, especially if there is a theme to be followed. It is easier to make an idol that has been pre-designed. Sometimes, a group would ask me to create as I wish. Then, I remain anxious till they see and approve of my work. Personally, I prefer the classical look of the Goddess“, remarked the artist.
It was fascinating to watch one completed idol being carried by dozens of men, on to a boat, to be transported across the Ganges to Her designated pandal, where scores of Bengali hearts would be waiting in eager anticipation of Her coming!
We thoroughly enjoyed our time among the creators of Durga’s earthly avatar. Hope you enjoy the visuals of our mesmerizing experience.
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