Learn the History of the Durga Idols in Kumartuli, Calcutta

Durga
The goddess Durga is a potent member of the Hindu pantheon. Photograph by Jayati Saha / Getty Images

 

Enjoy this gallery of images from Calcutta photographer Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti, depicting how clay idols of the mother goddess Durga are made before the Hindu festival of Durga Puja by the finest of artisans of Kumartuli in Calcutta, India.

Some images show completed idols, while others will reveal the steps that go into the creation. Although the Durga Puja festival, the creation of the sculptures begins months before the festival, and the entire process carries with it great ceremony.

01
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Kartikeya, the Hindu God of War

Durga fighting a tiger

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

In the Hindu pantheon of deities, Durga is often depicted riding a tiger, and in her manifestation fighting the forces of evil, she may be depicted as a warrior goddess, with weapons in each hand. Here we also see Kartikeya, the Hindu god of war. 

The statues are usually sculpted over a framework of bamboo, and the choice of clays and soils is highly selective. The soils used in the clay come from regions far and wide, and the process of actual construction begins with a prayer to ​Ganesha. 

02
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Goddesses Being Hand-Painted

Artison painting Durga idols

 Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

The process of hand-painting the statues of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, Kartikeya, lion and the buffalo demon begins in August. The goddesses may be dressed in fine saris and ornamented in jewels. 

In this gallery image, we see many of the characters, including several different manifestations of the goddess, as well as other characters from the Durga legends. 

03
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An Idol Starts With It's Skeleton

The first steps to creating an idol. A man working in a studio.

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

Here we see a craftsman in the process of forming the inner structure of the statutes. This base level consists of clay mixed with straw and applied over a framework of bamboo. This will be heated in order to harden the base, much as any clay pot would be set, in anticipation of a top, smooth layer that will be made from a layer of fine jute fibers mixed with clay. 

04
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Durga Idols Being Completed

Inside a sculpture studio in India

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

Here we see a variety of Durga idols in various stages of completion. The young craftsman seems to be forming limbs for the statues from bundles of straw.  

It is normally on the seventh day of the ten-day Durga Puja celebration that the idols are installed in temples and become the focal point for the next three days of intense ritual and celebration. 

05
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Completed Idols Awaiting the Festival

Storage for the Durga idols

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

Here we see a storehouse of completed idols. Note the smooth surfaces resulting from the final coating of jute and clay having been applied. The heads of the idols are often created separately due to their more complex nature, and are attached only just before the idols are prepared for painting. 

06
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Hand-Painting the Idols

An artisan hand painting smaller idols

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

This is an artisan hand painting smaller idols, likely for sale to tourists and devotees. The larger idols destined for temples will be painted by skilled artists who take great pains with their craft. 

07
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Genesha Gets His Final Touches

An artisan painting details on an idol.

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

In this gallery image, we see an artist putting some of the painstaking final details on a Ganesha idol. Traditionally, artists use paints and other materials that are biodegradable to ensure they do not pollute river waters during the final ceremony.  

08
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Durga in All Her Manifestations

Many Durga idols in a storage room

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

Durga idols are created in many of the different manifestations of the Goddess. They may include idols of Kumari (Goddess of fertility),  Mai (mother), Ajima (grandmother),  Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and Saraswati, (goddess of arts).  

09
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A Finely Detailed Classic Durga Idol

A highly detailed Durga idol

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

Here we can see the enormous detail that goes into a classic Durga idol, shown with the eight arms typical of the iconography. Many months of effort goes into the creation of the more elaborate Durga idols, even though most are sacrificed on the last day of the festival. 

10
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The Fertility Goddess

A nearly painted Durga idol

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

Here we see Durga idols in the form of the Fertility Goddess, receiving their final dressing in colorful saris prior to being moved to temples for the festival. As you can see from these examples, the idols give artists great latitude in their art form, some choosing to create classically elaborate idols, while others may be simple or even abstract.

11
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Brightly Colored Idols in Preparation for the Festival

A stylized photo depicting the colors of the idols on a black and white background.

Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

In this stylized gallery image, we see the bright paints often used to color the Durga idols.  On the tenth and last day of the festival, the clay statues will be ceremoniously walked to the river or ocean coast and immersed to dissolve the ​clays and return the gods and goddesses back to nature.