In the narrow lanes of Kumartuli in north Kolkata, barely wide enough for a hand-pulled rickshaw to pass though, the only people you will usually meet are the Kumars – the idol-makers of the city. It is from here that idols of Goddess Durga and other deities make their way into Kolkata every year.
Karthik Paul has a workshop here, a shed really of bamboo and plastic sheets, called 'Brajeshwar and Sons' (named after his father). He tells us about the long and layered process of making an idol. Various mixes of soil like Gangamati (mud from the banks of the river) and path mati (a mixture of jute particles and Ganga mati ) are used during the different stages of making an idol.
As we talk, Paul is moulding the face of Lord Kartik with wet clay and detailing it with his expert hands. He uses a paint brush and chiyari, a hand-polished sculpting tool made from bamboo.
At another workshop nearby, Gopal Paul has prepared a glue to stick a fine towel-like material onto the clay structure, to give it a skin-textured finish. Gopal is from Krishnanagar of Nadia district, around 120 kilometres north of Kolkata. Many of the workers here – all men – are from the same district; most of them stay in quarters in the same area provided by the workshop owners . The workers are hired months before the peak season. They work in eight-hour shifts, but just before the autumn festival these artisans work through the night and get paid for the overtime.
The first potters in Kumartuli migrated from Krishnanagar some 300 years ago. They stayed in the then newly-forming Kumartuli for a few months, close to Bagbazar ghat , so that clay from the river could be procured easily. And they worked in the homes of zamindars, making the idols at the thakurdalans (demarcated areas for religious festivals inside the zamindars ’ residential premises) for weeks before the Durga Puja festival.
View: 'Journey through Kumartuli' Photo album
This video and story were done as part of Sinchita Maji's 2015-16 PARI fellowship.