Goddess in the Making


The wind softly swayed the waves of her black hair… The curls were a torrent of darkness… Her eyes sparkled against the moonlight… There was a hint of twinkle there… Was she pensive or excited? Who knows – she could be harried by both the sentiments… She was in waiting… She was in waiting to come alive…
There is a frosty silence while the artist absentmindedly lends life into a sullen lump of clay. Dexterous and swift moves mould a lifeless chunk of hay and clay into an impeccable figurine of Goddess Kali. Come Kali Puja, hordes of devotees shall throng the pandals in hopes of being amazed as well as awed at the craftsmanship of the nameless God-maker!
Situated in northern Kolkata are narrow and labyrinth like alleys that serve as the sanctum where Maa Kali is imparted life-like features. Known as Kumortuli, this area is where several potters have been making the idols for generations. Dotted along the snaking roads are part concrete & part bamboo workshops of these artisans. The humidity doesn’t get to them. Racing against time while trying to achieve perfection, these artisans have spent endless yet patient hours to cajole the art of idol-making. Although, Kumortuli in Kolkata is the vantage point for a display of supreme ceremonial idol-making; several artisans across Bengal – Siliguri, Chandannagar, Haldia, Murshidabad, Bishnupur and many other places, also uphold the legacy of idol making.
These idols are created from scratch. It is worth mentioning here. Initially the artists are collecting clay from the banks of River Ganges. After that, tying up bundles of hay together to form the basic structure is the first step. The basic structure is then layered with ‘entel mati’ (clay variety), which is adhesive in nature. The straw-bound structure is given a fine coating of clay – the proportion of water in which, is slightly higher. This process helps in filling the crevices of the structure. The final plastering is done using ‘bele mati’. The plastering is done taking careful precautions to maintain a fine texture.
The Goddess is, thereafter, painted in vivid colors – at times, the colors are also vivacious in order to cater to the contemporary demands but the black color has been used mostly to create the skin tone of Goddess Kali . She is then decked up with ornaments made out of exquisite brocade, thermocol or paper. For the hair, the artisans use jute as the raw material. The head gear, known as ‘Topor’ or ‘Mukut’, made of thermocol & paper, is encrusted with colorful gemstones, beads & sequins. The texture is eye-catching. According to the artisans, the entire process of idol-making depends on the size of the idol.
The lure of commercialism has, however, changed the disposition of the idols. In the race against time, many idols are these days made with fiberglass – unbreakable in nature. Since, most idol-makers have customers that reside outside India; this material is evidently, durable as well as easy to transport. Idols made out of fiberglass can also be reused, which seems to be the tradition abroad, where shipping in idols can be a hassle at times. The idols are painted in glossy colors to compensate the need of ornaments.
These festive days of Kali puja hint a glimmer of joy in the otherwise mechanized lives of the devotees. Streets light up, the air reeks of mirth; people everywhere dress up in new clothes to welcome their Goddess – who literally, moments ago was a muse for a polished craftsman – the God Maker.