Kumartuli’s sculptors fear their craft may die

October 7th, 2008 - 12:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Oct 7 (IANS) They have churned out giant idols of Goddess Durga and her children for decades, but the artisans of Kumartuli - the potter’s colony here famed for its sculptures - now fear that their craft might die with them as the younger generation is shifting to more lucrative professions.The artisans of the north Kolkata neighbourhood slog for six to seven months to create idols of goddess and her children Laxmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesha as well as demon king Mahishasura that are worshipped in marquees set up across the city.

Even though the idols are in focus now as Durga Puja - the biggest festival of Bengalis - is on now, for the artisans, things are not looking up. A sharp rise in input costs has reduced their profits.

“Our business is not generating good profit nowadays due to an increase in input cost. In the past year, the input cost has gone up by 10-15 percent,” Rudrajit Paul, an artisan in his early 40s, told IANS.

“The price of hay, nails, paint, transport - everything has gone up. We only get the mud free of cost,” he added.

There are around 100 artisan units working in the dingy earthen houses in Banamali Sarkar Lane in Kumartuli. The slum area is spread across five acres.

The artisans live in a pitiable condition with no civic facilities. The drains are choked and there is hardly a tap, water kiosk or tubewell.

“We start the work for Durga Puja from March-April every year so that we can finish on time,” said Paul, a third generation idol-maker. His family migrated from present day Bangladesh 60 years ago and since then they have been engaged in this profession.

He has a three-room workshop in Banamali Sarkar Lane in Kumartuli where he has made around 35 idols of Durga this year, besides those of other gods and goddesses.

The idols fetch anything between Rs.5,000 and Rs.150,000. But given the costs, it is not enough, say the artisans.

“The next generation will definitely not join this profession. They are studying and will go for some other job. May be in the long run this art will perish,” Gopal Chandra Paul, president of the Kumartuli Mrit Shilpi Sangha or artisans association, told IANS.

Many of the idols made in the potter’s colony are exported to countries like Britain, the US, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, South Africa and Indonesia. Most bookings are done online and many of the artists have their own websites.

“This year my unit has made around 25 Durga idols and exported three. We start dispatching them to foreign countries two to three months before the Durga puja as it takes at least 45 days to reach the destination country through ship,” said Pradyut Paul, another artisan who is in his 30s.

The potters settled down in Kumartuli during the British East India Company days.
At that time they used to make articles out of clay procured from the Hooghly river nearby, and sold them at Sutanuti Bazar that later came to be called the Burrabazar.

Gradually they took to making the images of gods and goddesses that were worshipped in large numbers in the mansions all around. Later they specialised in making the Durga idols for community pujas in the city and beyond.

The more popular names among the artisans are Mohan Banshi Rudra Pal and his sons, Rakhal Pal, Ganesh Pal, Aloke Sen, Kartik Pal and Kena Pal - they are still the reigning figures of Kumartuli.

Despite the demand for ‘theme artists’, who give a contemporary look to the idols, the Kumartuli artisans are booked by major puja organisers.

The West Bengal government has taken up the task of the Kumartuli Development project as part of the slum development project under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

“We are looking forward to rehabilitation. We will be relocated somewhere while they construct building for us over here but that is not a problem. In the long run we will be benefited when the construction work is over,” said Gopal Chandra Paul, 50s.

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