The men who make god

The men who make god

They travel over a thousand kilometres every year to give shape to devotion that will be at the centre of a celebration that goes on for days.
Shomini Sen sculpts this story of Delhi's idol makers.

Conversations with sculptors

Shomini SenShomini Sen | News18.com shominisen

Published: October 1, 2016

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THERE IS a certain smell in the air that signals that autumn is knocking at the door. The days are bright and with a slight breeze. The smell of shiuli (night flowering jasmine) engulfs the air and sight of kash phool welcomes you at the most unsuspecting of places. And as hoards of Bengalis in the national capital gear up for another year of grand Durga Puja celebrations, craftsmen in dilapidated, make-shift workshops work overtime to create beautiful structures of Durga to deliver the perfect idols, just in time for the festivities.

  • Durga idol

    Photo: Siddharth Safaya

Situated in Delhi's Bengali hub, Chittaranjan Park, two make-shift workshops become the home of 20 odd artisans every year from July onwards, where hundreds of small and large Durga idols are created from scratch. The idols are then sent across the city, to various Durga Puja pandals that have over the years mushroomed across Delhi and its suburbs. And with only a few days left for the grand festival to begin, these sculptors have no other option but to put in extra hours daily to meet the deadline.

"Before Panchami, all orders have to be dispatched", says Govind Nath who is head of the workshop that is located at the back of CR Park's famous Kali Bari Temple. "Some of them will be sent on the first day of Navratri because there are orders that have come from Meerut, Sonepat etc. I'll have to send some of my men there to give the finishing touches at the pandal".

I haven't learnt anything other than this.

— Govind Nath, idol maker

As we approach Nath on a September humid day and request him to give us a few bytes for the camera, he agrees immediately but insists we make it quick as a lot of work is pending. While Nath speaks to us and explains us the hard work that goes into making grand, beautiful Durga idols, his co-workers go on doing their job with diligence.

Two men are busy making figures out of hay, while one nails bamboo sticks to keep the figures erect. At a distance, a man intricately carves flower patterns out of wet clay that are to be used as ornaments for the idols. Another one can be seen covering the figures with a coat of clay. At a distance, one can see a bunk like structure where clothes and other daily items have been kept neatly stacked. Beneath the bunk an old man sits and cuts vegetables and occasionally stirs a pan placed on a stove.

  • Durga idol

    Photo: Siddharth Safaya

At Nath's workshop, 12 workers have been deputed with the herculean task to finish 35 idols. Just like Nath, most have come to Delhi in June or early July to work on the idols. Most of them have come from Krishnanagar, Kolkata – home to many such craftsmen.

A similar workshop, set on the campus of now defunct Chanderlok cinema hall is situated a kilometre away from the Kali Bari. There, Manik Pal and his team are busy painting eyes of the idols. Aren't they too early, we inquire. Because according to the rituals, eyes or netra daan should be done on the day of Mahalaya – which marks the end of pitrapaksha or shraaddh and beginning of Navratri.

"With so many orders in hand and so little time, we can't follow these rituals", says Manik Pal as he swiftly strokes a line across Ganesha's face.

Who will carry forward the legacy?



Both Pal and Nath belong to a legacy that inculcates the art from a young age. Both belong to families who have been in the business of making beautiful idols for generations.

"I haven't learnt anything other than this", confesses Govind Nath. "It was a passion earlier to make such idols, that people would see my creation, love it. Now it has become my livelihood". Both Pal and Nath have been coming to Delhi for many years. First as assistants to their fathers, and later with age and maturity, they took over. Manik Pal's brother and father work in the same workshop with him.

With so many orders in hand and so little time, we can't follow these rituals

— Manik Pal, idol maker

Ironically, both men believe that the art is slowly dying and that the new generation is not keen on taking the tradition forward. Nath admits that there is very little money in this profession and if his son later wants to take up a regular job, he would not mind it. "The hard work that is required in this profession is too much and the money is not sufficient. If my son wants to learn he will but I won't force him to take up this profession".

  • Durga idol

    Photo: Siddharth Safaya

Manik Pal, who started helping his father in making idols when he was 12 years old, believes that the interest of the younger generation is diminishing. But he is hopeful that someone in his family will carry forward the legacy. "If not my son, my nephews will take this tradition forward. Work won't stop". A thought that young Raghunath Pal also echoes.

  • Durga idol

    Photo: Siddharth Safaya

All of 26, Raghunath has been making idols for the last 8 years. A craftsman at Govind Nath's workshop, Raghunath Pal belongs to that generation who are now being blamed by veterans for not taking up this profession. "The money is less for sure. But I have an interest in this as my father, my brother, all have been doing this".


Raghunath Pal, idol maker

An optimist, Raghunath believes that everyone is not blessed to be an artist and this is a profession that has interested him since childhood. "This art of making idols won't die, work will continue", assures Pal as he tightens the hay around the frame.

How the idols are made



The clay that is used for idol making is usually extracted from river banks because of its fine quality. "A lot of the clay is sourced from Kolkata and Kanpur area. "Chikni mitti aur khet ki mitti istamaal karte hai," says Raghunath. Other raw materials like hay straws and paint is also sourced from areas in and around Kumortuli, Kolkata.

The main and the first step is to create a mould or framework. This is mostly created out of hay straw. The torso is created first and then legs are created and attached to the torso. Once the hay figure is in place, it is coated with first level of clay and put to dry. "The clay eventually dries and cracks appear. Those cracks have to be then covered up by putting a layer of cloth over it", explains Raghunath.

  • Durga idol

    Photo: Siddharth Safaya

A fresh layer of clay is applied over the cloth to make it look smooth. Face, palm, and feet are added separately to the clay figure. At least two layers of paint is added on the idols to give them that 'human touch'. Eyes are painted and clothes, hair and ornaments are added in the end. The shastras (weapons) are added to each of the idol after the first ceremonial puja is done on the sixth day of Navratri.

On an average, it takes 10 days to make one idol.


Govind Nath, idol maker

All three men state that the demand of making something 'different' comes their way every year. "Earlier clients would be happy with a traditional idol. But over the years, more intricate designs, experiments with the idols are encouraged," says Manik Pal.

Pal also lists out that some of the basic styles never lose their charm. "Daker shaaj and Krishnanagar style are always in demand. Then there is the oriental style and the Bangla style."

Govind Nath says sometimes the clients have a detailed plan in place. "They give us the design and ask us to replicate. Sometime they give us the liberty to experiment by giving us a brief."

On an average, it takes 10 days to make one idol.


Manik Pal, idol maker

An idol can cost anything between Rs 20,000 to Rs 60,000. The more intricate ones, with specific designs can cost Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. "It also depends on the kind of ornaments that these idols are made to wear. That can increase the cost as well". The artisans insist that all the idols that are made are eco-friendly.

A year of work



Work doesn't end for Pal or Nath as Durga Puja begins. They then start working on idols of Laxmi and Kali who are worshipped in the Bengali community post Durga Puja.

  • Durga idol

    Photo: Siddharth Safaya

"Even when we go back home in December, our work will not end. Chalta rehta hai kaam", says Manik Pal. "The faces, the dye that we use – all these things are to made once we go back". "We work all year round. We don't get any leaves", Nath says.

Yet, year after year Nath and many like him throng to Delhi, make these dimly lit shanties their home for 6 months and create the gods. The ones who are worshipped by lakhs every year in beautifully adorned pandals.

  • Durga idol

    Photo: Siddharth Safaya

The striking contrast in the grandeur of the festivities and the dilapidated workshops where these beautiful idols are created is glaring and we wonder if all this will fade away in the coming years.

"Puja will happen every year. No one can stop festivals from being celebrated, so someone will continue doing this work", says Raghunath with a bright, optimistic smile.

(Produced by Soumyadip Choudhury)

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