Conversations with sculptors
Published: October 1, 2016
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.
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".
— 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.
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.