Nestled in the lap of Kolkata, is a potters’ quarter called Kumartuli which is indeed one of the seven wonders of Kolkata. Durga Puja has become almost synonymous with Kolkata and Kumartulli is the place where the idols of Goddess Durga and her family are made each year and are sent to Pandals across India and to 90 countries across the globe. Interestingly, these idols are not sold off the shelf but are made to order. A guided walk in this potters’ village not only offers an experience of Kolkata away from the ordinary but also enlightens you about a way of life that has not changed much over centuries. On the outside the village has no clear façade; it is just a maze of cramped and rickety structures, mostly, made of bamboo, wooden planks and plastic sheets providing the shade from sun and rain, but the beauty of it lies on the inside where you see hundreds of finished and unfinished idols being worked upon by the dedicated artists who work for long hours creating the wonders that adorn the pandals of Durga Puja. Seeing them work is an interesting sight to capture in your cameras, though the artists seldom look up in curiosity and some of them do not like to be disturbed in doing the task they perform with such concentration and dedication. Infact, some of them are so devoted that they still use water from River Hoogly to mix the clay and make the models, which is not the easiest things to do since the have to hire water carriers, but they continue follow this tradition.
Another tradition still followed is that 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. You learn about these ancient traditions and the interesting history of these artists and their village, as you walk through the narrow lanes and bylanes, watching the artists at work and listening to stories from your tour escort. From handful workshops almost half a century ago supplying only about 150 idols in Kolkata and nearby regions, the beauty of these works of art has spread rapidly, so much so that today there are about 450 workshops in Kumartulli creating almost 12000-13000 idols each year supplied all over the globe, making it emerge virtually as an independent international brand of Durga-idol makers. A walk of Kumartulli, is surely one of the most enriching experience of Kolkata!