Every year in the autumn season, a spirit of celebration of love, laughter, and life that comes into the city life of Kolkata is what prepares the welcoming notion of Goddess Durga. People fill the streets of Kolkata, both inside and outside of the city to visit numerous pandals and see Durga idols. It is a time when people honor the goddess along with various types of art, craft, traditions, and customs involved with her. And one such community that plays a vital role in welcoming this celebration is the potters without whom it is incomplete. They are the ones who work day and night to mold the clay into beautiful idols to be worshipped in the festival. These potters are only found in Kumortuli of Kolkata.
Kumortuli – a place of art & creativity
Kumortuli, in northern Kolkata, West Bengal, is a traditional place for potters where they built clay idols for worship. The term ‘kumortuli’ specifies the potter’s localities where they both live and treat it as their workspace. It is a site where potters have risen from obscurity to fame because of their artistic output. It has now become one of the seven wonders of Kolkata that people love to visit every year.
Exploring them and seeing the art forms and works provides a spectacular world inside a world right in front of one’s sight. However, how did this neighborhood come into being? To get the answer, one has to travel back to some 300 years to know the history.
History of Kumortuli
Following the British East India Company’s victory in the Battle of Plassey of 1757, the colonization power of the British had begun, and the Company chose to build a new colony in Gobindapur village, which now is known as Fort William.
The majority of the local affluent and elite class people were relocated to Sutanuti, which included the Pathuriaghata and Jorasanko, while the population belonging to the working class was divided into different districts. These districts were under the supervision of the Governor of Bengal, John Zephaniah Holwell.
These areas were then referred to as “ancient Kolkata”, where names were given as per the working class like wine merchant’s place was known as ‘Suriparah’, oilmen were ‘Collotollah’, cowherds was for ‘Ahiritola’, carpenters was for ‘Chuttarparah’ and potters it was ‘Kumortuli’.
The potters made a living by shaping clay from the nearby Hooghly River and selling it at Sutanuti Bazar. But with a decline in demand, these potters had to a flair for design evolved into adept craftspeople, and idol creation became their major occupation.
These potters now not only create idols out of clay for worship in Indian cities but also frequently export them for a range of festivals celebrated by the Indian people across the world. Not only has that, but the art of idol-making gained much popularity across the world, with Kumortuli’s craftsmen participating in art festivals and exhibitions over the world.
Stages of Making Idols
An idol-making process is no doubt a long-way process that can be divided into four stages. As you know that the clay is transported from a nearby settlement alongside the Hooghly River. What makes the tradition more intriguing is that it is said to be the process of collecting soil from a brothel and then mixing it with clay. The potters then prepare the bamboo frame called ‘kathamo’ for any idol by binding straw over it to give it a proper structure and then apply the clay to give a final shape. And then the artisans go for beautiful decoration where the classic idols are decorated with daaker saaj, which is a type of silver foil.
Reasons why this place is a must-visit
- A place with hidden gems that must be uncovered. Visiting odd locations like these provides a comprehensive picture of Kolkata. Furthermore, you will have the opportunity to meet the genuine potters who are responsible for creating these magnificent idols that are revered in Bengal.
- Can get to know the long history and tradition that the festival of Durga Puja entails.
- Can walk through a labyrinth of pottery workshops which are over 500 around this area.
- Here, you get to see the whole process of idol making from scratch till its end. The long process starts from sourcing the clay to making the idol through carving and then decorating it.
- A great way to learn about the Hindu traditions and culture of Bengalis.
- Get a unique experience and get to explore new places.
This small network of alleyways, together with humans, gods, and goddesses, present a fascinating universe to explore the many phases of creation. And especially at the time of Durga Puja, watching the artisans creating magic can be a great way to feel the soul of Kolkata.