Kumortuli, where the Gods are made.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Kumortuli is where the the Goddesses and Gods of Kolkata's famed pujo are born. It is here at the hands of the skilled God makers that they take shape and are dressed till they are ready to be worshipped by the world.   I had spent the last 3 important Pujo days nobomi, dashami in Kolkata, the festivities and especially the fervour with which Ma (as everyone calls Durga) is worshipped, clothed, loved and fed, made even someone like me, a non Bengali feel rather attached to her. Then followed the immersion. Having grown up a Bombayite all my life, I am reminded of the inexplicable sense of loss that plagues one on visarjan day, to come back to your galli, to see the empty pandal after 10 days of your entire teenage life revolving around it, gives you a taste of detachment that does not linger despite its annual dose. Gatam Gatam Sarvamupekshaneeyam. Detachment is a lesson Hinduism places great importance in, which is probably why the annual immersion of favourite Gods and Goddesses in water so we may be better acquainted with it. A visit to Kumortuli definitely pushes this envelope.
It is just as well that the time we walked into Kumortuli, it was evening. Kali Pujo is round the corner and to walk into a place where the Kali idols are in various states of creation - so all versions, headless rough hewn and ten armed figures to clay moulded and unclothed and bald mannequins are clustered together under blue tarpaulin covered sheds. It is a rather potent dose of reality, after worshipping an all powerful revered goddess who stands in towering isolation and opulence for many days, it is like seeing her before she becomes god, perhaps I was being unusually sensitive, but there was a strong sense of  - "I should not even be seeing this". It almost seems a violation to see that an object of worship is indeed made of straw, and yet I had wanted to see this, unspoken, it was my deepest wish to have this experience. I realise it is important that this reality that is left unprotected and open to anyone who wishes to see it, and open to interpretation says a lot about truth and an intrinsic piety that cannot be touched by physicality or by the cyclical process of creation and destruction. And this may well be true of all forms of life and not just clay idols we worship as Gods.


50-year-old Cynthia Siegel an award-winning sculptor from the US, who was at Kumortuli to learn the special unfired clay technique, is not bothered that Kumartuli is no visible match for her world-class studio in California "I instantly knew that I had to live and work with these artists and started my own research. Finally I applied for a Fulbright scholarship and titled my project 'Clay, community and collaboration' because I knew that I would be a half-baked sculptor till I learnt the art of modeling with unfired clay," Cynthia said. "Our style is to create permanent installations, but here, hundreds of self-taught artists work to create grand idols that find their culmination, rather fruition, only after immersion"
 "Every morning as the kumor started his work, we children gathered around him and gaped in awe as he gradually turned a fistful of straw and a huge mass of clay into a perfectly formed, larger-than-life figure. And then came the most intriguing part — the painting of the third eye of the goddess. The artisan would sit in meditation sometimes for hours and then suddenly in one swift stroke of his paint brush, it would be done.” - Sunil Gangopadhyay

Maho-Ghora-Raavaa Su-Damssttraa Karaalaa |
Vivastraa Shmashaana-[A]alayaa Mukta-Keshii
Mahaakaala-Kaama-[A]akulaa Kaalikeyam
 I am very grateful to Dithi Mukherjee and Diganta (Dizzie) Gogoi, without whom Kumortuli would not have happened for me. I also made this post because Dithi is working on her new Baul Kali Linocut. And her work inspires me beyond belief and brought back Kumortuli memories back with such force. You can check out her Baul Kali here.
Image credits: Vineeta Nair.

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