Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kumartuli Live

This will be first in a list of coverages I will be doing for Durga Puja 2010 here at AllThingsCoolKata.  With মহালয়া (Mahalaya) knocking at the door on the 7th October 2010, the stage is being set and the mood is settling in.

Kumartuli has a 300 year old tradition that is unparalleled. This past Sunday 09/19 started out as a wet morning and rain threatened to mar the puja shopping spree (and my intended trip to Kumartuli).  Monsoons have picked up late here in Kolkata and dark clouds were looming large this past weekend. However the rain gods were merciful and a wet morning gave way to clearer skies in the early afternoon hours and the trip was on !

Being only somewhat familiar with the dingy alleys of ShovaBazar in North Kolkata which houses Kumartuli and it's prized artisans, I decided to give the car a miss and hop on to the rickshaws and auto rickshaws. From where I live in Salt Lake, I had to change two auto-rickshaws which run shuttle services from point A to point B here, in this part of the world. Having never been to Kumartuli previously I only had a vague idea as of where to get off and had to ask my way through. Once the auto rickshaw reached it's final destination; almost embarrassingly so, I asked the driver of the auto-rickshaw for the best way to go to Kumartuli. In reply he turned around, looked at me bewildered,  and  asked me কোন শিল্পীর কাছে যাবেন বললে ভালো হয়, তাহলে ঠিক বলতে পারব কথাযে নামলে শুভিধে হয় (It will help if you could tell me which artisan are you going to ? So I can tell you what is the most convenient place to get off).

This time I confessed to the driver of my chariot that I have never been to Kumartuli before and I am just going there for the experience and do not have a specific artisan to name. This conversation was getting similar to the sermon served by Lord Krishna to Arjuna.  My chariot's pilot obliged and drove me into the narrow lanes from the main ShovaBazar road, and finally dropped me only a block away from Kumartuli. He very politely, added that this was beyond his normal driving range and he would charge me Rs. 2 extra above the normal fare of Rs. 8, if it were ok with me.  The man's honesty and integrity struck me. This was above and beyond the call of duty, I rewarded him with an additional tip of Rs. 2, which he hesitatingly accepted.  Now folks, you tell me for all the flak this city gets, in which other corner of the world will an extra Rs. 2 buy you an additional mile and a gentle nod of appreciation. I say, the buck stops here !

Once off the auto and now on my own, I meandered through the narrow lane that lay ahead of me, and within about a hundred meter came to a  cross road and turned right, and voila - I was at my destination. In the land where Gods, Goddesses and demons are made. Hoping to fight my own post-lunch demons here :)

I gingerly walked around and nervously took out my camera, not knowing how people in this sleepy neighborhood would react to a strange looking bald man clicking pictures. But I was to be proved wrong later in the day. I was certainly not going to be the only "shooter" in town.

Just around the bend, where the 'God' workshops are lined on either side of the road, I found a charming old house with Ramkrishna and Sarada Maa perched by the side of it.

The first workshop I came across on my left was that of - Rakhal Paul and sons.
I peeped inside the workshop and found a man sitting on a workbench, did not seem very keen to see me walking in. I tried to strike a conversation with him; he introduced himself as ভোম্বল (Bhombol) a common nick name in North Kolkata. Bhombol claimed to be a finisher - he was not a sculptor but a finishing artist, responsible for dolling up the idols and getting them ready for their sojourn.

Bhombol was one among 20 or so employees who works at this patriarchal workshop. He has been working here for about 12 years.  He also provided me with a trivia before going on his lunch break - there are a total of about 265 small and big God-makers in this town.

With Bhombol gone, I now introduced myself to the sculptor seen in this picture - মহাদেব পাল (Mahadeb Paul).

Mahadeb da said he was  40 years of age and came to work here nearly 20 years back. He added এখানে ই আমার হাতে খড়ি(this is where I learnt work).

As you can see in the picture Mahadeb was busy giving shape up to the সিংহ(Lion).

I wanted to know how long does it take to finish an idol from start to finish. He added that it really depends on the size and the design but generally something like the one he was working on could take up to 10 days to finish.  Multiple sculptors may be put to work on one idol, given their availability.

Despite all my questions Mahadeb seemed completely absorbed in his work and not risking his wrath, I  let him be. I thanked him and moved on ...

Following are some pictures I clicked at Rakhal Pal's workshop.
Sneak Pic

Moving from one Pal to another. It was now Nepal Pal and Gourango Pal's turn.

This work shop seemed some what more elaborate than the previous one, it was one long dark alley lined with idols on each side. With artisan perched on ladders and work benches and hard at work even on a Sunday afternoon. I clicked some more pictures as I entered into the labyrinth ...

As I browsed through the unfinished and semi finished idols, I was about mid-way into the longish work shop. I was interrupted. My free run was over - one of the artisans busy working on the idol, talked back at me without bothering to lift his head up from his work -

Artisan - কি দাদা কথাযে থেকে আশা হয়েছে ? ছবি তুলবেন ? কার্ড করিয়েছেন ? (Where are you from ? So you want to click pictures ? Have you gotten a membership card ?).

Faced with a barrage of questions, I did not have to feign ignorance, I was ignorant.
I pulled up some courage and answered back - আমি অয়ী লিখি-তিখি, কোনো খবর কাগজ, পত্রিকা না, এমনি লিখি. কিসের কার্ড বলুন তো ? (I am a small time independent writer, and what card are you referring to ?)

Artisan - ছবি তুলতে গেলে সমিতি থেকে কার্ড করাতে হয়ে, টাকা দিয়ে. যাক যখন কুরান নী, বাদ দীন, আমাদের কিছু চা খাবার পয়সা দেবেন, আপনি প্রান ভরে ছবি তুলুন (You need a card from the artisan's guild to take pictures here. Well since you haven't done it, go ahead and shoot to your heart's content. However please remember to tip us for some tea for all of us here !)

 To which I replied - নিশ্চয়ই নিশ্চয়ই

Now with the promise of a handsome tip, I was given special access to the restricted access areas - the back storage rooms of what was an unfinished two-storeyed house, with sort of an attic to store a large inventory of gods. Have a look at the pictures below :

Done with my shoot here, I made good on my promise with  a tip of Rs. 25, which was gleefully accepted. The clock struck 3. I came out on the streets and was surprised with the number of people with cameras, lenses, microphones dotting Banmali Sarkar Street the official name of this lane. There were scribes from TV channels such as Zee Bangla, Star Jalasa, and then some kids who seemed to have just crossed their teenage years. They had fancy cameras dangling around their necks, in their trendy attire. It made for quite a sight in this otherwise modest neighborhood. The local youth who hung out at pan shops and tea stalls were not surprised. They have been seeing this for a while. I decided to join some local folks at a nearby tea stall. The strong reddish roadside tea, can fight the worst of all sleep demons. Now rejuvenated, I continued to click my last round of pictures. As the afternoon dogma wore out, there was more activity in the area - more visitors, more cameras, more god-makers at work !

Durga puja idol making is not just about Debi, Mohishashur, Kartik and Gonesh. It is also about other leading lights of the land. An old erudite artist was hard at work giving shape to a Ramkrishna bust, as seen in the pictures below.

Finally, I walked along to capture other styles of idols, a departure from the traditional.

Paint job ...

It was an afternoon well spent in the company of Gods. Below are some pics of the narrow vibrant alleys of Kumartuli.

Enough said, enough shot. Signing off now. More Pujo coverage coming up ...


  1. excellent... darun.. phataphati

    good descriptions. please continue. feeling homesick already.

  2. Your narratives with photos - that make me feel ashamed that despite living in Kolkata for 28 years I have not yet seen the real Kolkata till I saw it trough your lens with complementing beautiful simple narratives. I am literally chasing you here from where I first read about kosja manso.

    I am a prabasi aged and you have stuck the weakest cord with such nostalgic yet plain speaking about the truth about Kolkata and bengali. I have now have very high hopes that u continue and will get noticed by many home-sick Bengalies and Kolkata lovers.

    Cheers and Cheers again for really cheering my mind soul

  3. @Maitras' Life Quest - Thank you so much for your kind words, I am humbled to have found a 'connect' with you. I shall continue to 'bug' the global Bangaali :) Even though not a Bengali by birth, I am one by 'Karma'. Married to one as well, do I have a choice ;-)

  4. This is why I miss India. Lovely photos. I like 709.jpg

    Will look forward to Durga Pujo photos on your Blog.

  5. Very 'lively' article and great photographs. Waiting to read more.... :)

  6. Thanks Arghya, good to hear from you. How is 'Pandit ji' doing now ? Where you US or Bengaluru ?

  7. Vineet,
    Those were lovely shoots. I almost have the same set of pics barring some of course :). It was a lovely read, thanks for sharing the link at Cook Like a Bong Facebook page.


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