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Kumartuli, Potters Town

Photos By Manish Sinha

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Nestled in the lap of Kolkata, India's only potter's town, Kumartuli, is furiously churning out over 12,300 clay dieties of the supreme mother goddess Durga for shipment by September 2006 to meet the demand of overseas Indians as far flung as the United States, Canada, England, Australia and other parts of Europe.

 

Starting a half century ago, this potter's town of about 250 "Kumar" (makers of clay images) families began shipping idols overseas - initially 129 Durga idols to a handful of foreign countries, primarily England and USA. Some of these "Kumars" trace their family history before Job Charnock, the agent of British East India Company, who founded Kolkata.

 
Emerging virtually as an independent international brand of Durga-image makers, Kumartuli continues to remain an exclusive exporter of the idols of the goddess to NRIs settled in different nooks and corners of the globe during the Durga Puja held annually. The potter's town popularized the puja of Durga in clay images some four centuries ago.

 

Though Kumartuli has been sending images made of clay on the hay structure of Durga, her children and the demon Lord Mahishasur overseas since 1954, the demand for idols during Durga Puja in September or October every year started soaring after 1963 following the exodus of a large numbers of Indians to different parts of the world. 

The centuries old tradition-bound studios of the idol makers ceremonially add life to the goddess Durga by creating her lotus-shaped eyes that mutely tell volumes of life divine. The finishing touch to Durga's eyes, known as "Chokhhu Daan" (gifting of eyes) in Bengali, is done by the oldest "Kumar" of the family.

 
This potter's town supplies images to nearly 93 countries worldwide with new nations joining the list every year, especially many from the former East European and Soviet Union countries, where religious ceremonies were previously banned.

A spokesman of Kumartulik Shilpi Sangha (KSS), an association of the craftsmen, said the NRI's of countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia, Austria and Poland, now throng to the village to select the images. U.S. based NRIs, including the
 
Bengali Association of Southern California, 
Bengali Association of Greater Chicago, Dakshini, Sanskriti, Garden State Puja Committee of New Jersey, East Coast Durga Puja Committee of New York, come to Kumartuli to select dieties to ship to their cities. Additionally, hundreds of agents in Kolkata service NRIs seeking idols from the village. The Tourism Department of West Bengal estimates that almost a million foreign and NRI
tourists visit the potter's town annually.


 
Kumartuli was close to Raja Man Singh, the general in Emperor Akbar's army who conquered Bengal in 1572 for the Mughal Empire and who came to worship Durga. The mighty Rajputs not only installed idols of the supreme mother goddess in different parts of Mewar, or today's Rajasthan, but also created a chain of temples of Chandi, Tara, Sherawali, Chamunda, Dashabhuja and Kali, all different manifestations of Shakti or the ultimate women power mainfesting its
 
supreme form as Durga. The Raja of
Rajputana popularized the festival of Dussera or Durga Puja in different parts of India during the Mughal period.

In Glimpses of the Raj, Pran Nevile writes that an English woman Maria Graham found that in 1811 people in the Imperial capital Kolkata carried clay images of Durga in massive processions for immersion in the river Hooghly, with "musical instruments, banners and bare-headed Brahmins chanting shlokas in Sanskrit." At the time, Maharaja Rajkrishna Bahadur was a great patron of the "Bisarjan-Yatra" or immersion procession of idols of goddess Durga made in Kumartuli.

The October 20, 1814 issue of Calcutta Gazette (now defunct) portrays the importance of the potter's town vividly. Some 182 years ago, the newspaper reported that the famous "Babus" of Kolkata, such as Raja Krishun Chund Roy, Joy Krishna Roy and Neel Mony Mullick competed with each other in a show of pomp and grandeur on the occasion of "Vijaya Dashami."

The Asiatic Society of Calcutta estimates that the first formal "puja" of Durga was held around 1606 A.D. at the present Baghbazar area in Kolkata by a zamindar Pran Krishna Halder. Four years later, the Kumartuli's "Kumars" started making the idols of "Maa" (mother goddess) Durga in clay for the neo-rich feudal lord Laxmikanta Roy Mazumder, who is the first patron of Kolkata's potter's town and initiator of the "puja" of Durga in clay idols.    

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (4 posted)

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Aidan Neale January 2, 2013 at 1:03 AM
ayayay! having a great time reading your blog post. you know what your readers want. Keep posting.

Aidan Neale
www.brfe.net
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Dipak Kundu February 26, 2007 at 6:57 PM
We are looking for a craftsman to make Durga idols in paper pulp in Cardiff, UK during Oct/Nov this year. If any one is iterested, please contact us. Thanks
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julie October 6, 2006 at 9:50 PM
nice researched story,well connected to Indian link "hat's off" to Amlan...//and photographer's eye captured all segment of making of the Godess..
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prashant ravi September 17, 2006 at 2:33 AM
excellent topic and photographer's best efort to put life in them.
total: 4 | displaying: 1 - 4

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Magazine | India | September 2006

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