Kolkata and Bengal is known for its rich culture, heritage and arts. Not only in Bengal but also in India, Durga Puja is one of the most significant festivals. Have you ever wondered how the idols of the Gods and Goddesses are created? A little neighbourhood in North Kolkata is home to a group of potters who are renowned for their skill in creating these idols out of clay. The name of this location is Kumortuli or Kumartuli.
If you want to explore West Bengal in a way that is genuinely different and authentic. Then, you must go to the Kumortuli clay statue village in Kolkata!
You can observe Kumortuli’s traditional heritage and learn about Hindu culture while watching the potters, or “karigars,” at work.
I realised I had entered a different universe the instant I entered the lanes and alleyways of this neighbourhood in North Kolkata. The god-makers of Kumartuli or Kumortuli, steeped in customs and history, are subtly crafting the divine.
A wonderful city is Kolkata; despite its modernism, Kolkata still tenaciously protects its tradition. Kumartuli will only be a name for those unfamiliar with Kolkata or Durga Puja. However, Kumartuli is one of those places, in my opinion, where history, culture, and religion have all melted together.
About Kumortuli and Its History
The Bengali traditional word “Kumore,” which is roughly equivalent to the English word “Potter,” is the root of the words Kumortuli and Kumartuli Kolkata. It eventually evolved into the name Kumortuli.
Joseph Holwell, an employee of the East India Company during the British Raj (1858–1947), divided the areas to the north of Kolkata according to their level of competence.
So, in Chitpur, also known as “Black Town,” he built several bazaars. The Potters neighbourhood was referred to as “Coomartolly” during that period.
Although in the northern part of the city, numerous tradespeople have come and gone over the years. The potters or Karigars of Kumortuli have always remained. They have been selling their clay pots and statues for centuries at Burrabazar.
Over 500 workshops that create clay statues of Hindu idols are currently spread out among a network of streets.
Despite being present all year, the most incredible time to go is around Durga Puja, when the streets are crowded with statues for the holy celebration.
Process of making the idols at Kumortuli
The craftsman typically performs a rite before placing their hands on dried bamboo sticks to create the structure of the first idol they will manufacture on the final day of the Bengali year, Chaitra Sankranti. They then carry on with their job to create several clay idols. Finally, the artists of Kumartuli Kolkata invoke the powers of the feminine goddess by painting the eyes of the Durga idols, popularly known as Chokkhudaan or bestowing of the eyes, on the auspicious day of Mahalaya that marks the commencement of Devipaksha (the start of festival days).
There are several steps involved in creating the idols. The idols are formed of sun-dried clay, which is not baked, rather than terracotta or baked clay. The name for this is terracotta. The framework is initially constructed from dried straw and bamboo. That provides the idol’s basic shape. According to legend, a unique kind of straw is carried from the Sundarbans to build the idols.
The framework is then covered in several layers of soft clay. To hold the clay in place and preserve the shape, layers of clothing may occasionally be inserted between the clay. Entel mati (sticky black clay) and Ganga mati (soft white riverbed clay) are typically the two types of clay utilised to create the idols. The idol is kept together and given a smooth appearance using a mixture of these two kinds of clay and homemade adhesive. After that, it is sun-dried.
The first coat of white paint is applied to the idol after it has had time to sun dry and take on its final shape. Once more dried, the idol is painted with various body colours. At first, only natural colours were utilised. Craftsmen even created paintbrushes. However, ready-made paints and paintbrushes have recently begun to penetrate Kumartuli’s artisan districts.
In the past, Daaker saaj was performed using unique, thin silver sheets from Germany via post (daak). Therefore, this decoration was given the name daaker saaj (daak means post, and saaj means decoration). Today, we don’t need to look to Germany for these embellishments; they can be purchased here in Kolkata.
Thin, beaten gold sheets were used for Rangtaa Saaj. Although neither silver nor gold are utilised today, the name has endured. By covering the idols in a white shoal or pith, Sholar saaj is completed.
How to reach Kumortuli
An affordable and effective method of transportation in Kolkata is the underground metro. The nearest metro stop for Kumartuli Kolkata is Shobhabazar Sutanuti, a 10-minute walk from there via Abhay Mitra Street.
Another fantastic method of transportation in Kolkata is the yellow ambassador cab.
You can cross the Hooghly River on local river ferries in the area.
The BagBazaar ghat is the closest stop for Kumortuli. They leave every 15-20 minutes, and it’s a fun and friendly way to go around the city.
Each ticket costs 6 rupees, and they run until about 8.30 p.m.
Kumortoli’s Importance to Kolkata
Kumartuli Kolkata is more than just an area; it physically represents Kolkata’s cultural heritage. It is a crucial component of the city’s cultural landscape since it represents the artistic prowess and devotion of the community. The complex handicraft handed down through the generations is evident in the narrow lanes of Kumortuli. The craftspeople, known as “kumars,” work endlessly to mould clay into divine forms that capture the spirit of numerous gods.
Kumortoli’s Connection with Durga Puja
Kumortuli and Durga Puja are deeply connected, with art, religion, and community all connected. It is an emotion for people. Every year, Kumortuli transforms into a hub of activity during the time of Durga Puja. Goddess Durga and her companions are skillfully sculpted into idol form by artisans, who use their deft hands to give the clay life. The chiselling sounds, the earthy clay aroma, and the collective devotion of the artisans influence throughout the area.
The magnificent festival of Durga Puja, which symbolises the win of good over evil, would be nothing without the exquisite idols made in Kumortuli. These large idols, which frequently stand over 15 feet tall, are carried through Kolkata’s streets before submerging in the river to represent the goddess’s journey back to her heavenly home. The idols’ minute details, expressive faces, and elaborate ornamentation are proof of the craftsmen’s unmatched skill.
Top tips Before visiting Kumortuli
Early in the morning is a wonderful time to visit.
As you move around, wear an easy outfit and comfortable shoes.
Please be cautious when using your cameras and other technology to avoid damaging or breaking any of their work.
Before entering any workshop and taking photos, it is always advisable to get permission.
Please treat the craftsman and their work with respect.
Kumortuli’s Popularity Among Photographers and the New Generation
Kumortuli has become a haven for photographers in the digital age, where visual storytelling is king. It is a photographer’s dream because of the vivid colour palette, the play of light and shadow, and the unfiltered emotions painted on the features of the idols. International photographers travel to Kumartuli Photography to capture the sense of tradition blending with modernity.
Additionally, Kumortuli has a special appeal for the younger generation. Kumortuli is a strong representation of continuity in a society that is changing quickly and where cultural roots occasionally appear. It bridges the generational gap by providing young people with a concrete connection to their ancestry. Many aspiring artists and fans travel to Kumortuli to learn from the master craftspeople and absorb their passion and artistic principles.
Maintaining Traditions in a Changing World
While Kumortuli’s relevance is still relevant today, it also faces difficulties in an urbanising and technologically advanced society. The craftspeople who have maintained these ages-old customs frequently struggle to balance contemporary needs and the labour-intensive technique of clay sculpting.
Kumortuli is more than just an area; it represents a living history of Kolkata’s diverse cultural heritage. It offers a tale of determination, devotion, and superior artistic ability. Kumortuli expresses Kolkata’s spirit due to its flawless fusion of history and modernity and its important part in the splendour of Durga Puja.
It is a place where clay is transformed into gods, dedication is transformed into art, and generations come together to maintain the torch of tradition. Kumortuli is a timeless reminder of this prospering city’s past, present, and future, even as the world changes.
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