As Durga puja draws to a close, the lives of those who make the ‘protimas’ or clay idols are dictated 24/7 by their work-in-progress, observes photographer and filmmaker Sonali Ghosh. In Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park, a short walk from the Shiv Mandir-Kalibari complex, Sonali finds an artistic idyll, home, hearth and workplace to both the ‘protimas’ and their makers.
IT IS HALF PAST 10 in the morning as I enter the Shiv Mandir complex in Chittaranjan Park, a place abuzz with preparations for the impending Durga puja. Stacks of bamboo poles, sea-like swathes of canvas, piles of folded tarpaulin, life-size thermocol pieces blanket the ground as men move, push and arrange them.
I walk past the chaos towards the other side of Shiv Mandir into a narrow lane where the purohit’s living quarters are. The aroma of sandalwood wafts in, perhaps from the half-made statues on both sides of the lane, which doubles up as the workshop for these idol-makers who live and work here.
These men are highly skilled, in-demand artisans doing the intense, laborious work of creating the protima or Durga clay idols, a prized and precious activity from a slow spring to frenzied autumn.
Their skills are learnt and sacred — creating the chala (the canvass in the background of the idol) is a unique family-run trade in West Bengal. Once these idols are dressed, they are bejewelled in the costliest silks, and gold and precious stones weighing up to 50 kg. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the idol-makers are idolised for the protimas they bring to life. In this workshop alone, protimas are being made for 35 pandals in and around Delhi, including Mela Ground and K-Block in Chittaranjan Park.