The Making of Durga Idols

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Mother Goddess Durga Idols from Calcutta's Finest Artisans

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti The clay body of the mother goddess is ready to be painted and clothed in bright colors. © Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

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 idols in completion, 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.

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Kartikeya, the Hindu God of War

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti Durga’s ferocious lion and the sinewy demon king Asura fight it out in a scene from ‘Mahishasura Mardini’ signifying the annihilation of the evil by the Mother Goddess. © 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 Genesha. 

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Goddesses Being Hand-Painted

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti The first coat of paint – bright azure blue – being applied on the 'chaala' and 'bheet' that form the backdrop and base of the ensemble of statues of Durga and her cohorts. © 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. 

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An Idol Starts With It's Skeleton

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti An artisan creates the series of effigies while clay is being readied to be cast on the bamboo and straw structure of the statues. © 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. 

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Durga Idols Being Completed

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti An artisan works on tirelessly as dozens of clay models in the making look on. © 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. 

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Completed Idols Awaiting the Festival

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti Several clay models of the mother goddess, her family members and cohorts are assembled under one ‘chala’ or backdrop to create the complete ensemble of idols for the Durga Puja ceremony. © 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. 

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Hand-Painting the Idols

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti A veteran artisan makes a list of his artworks – miniature models of Mother Durga and her family of deities – ready to be taken to the market for sale. © Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

Here we see 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. 

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Genesha Gets His Final Touches

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti An artist puts the finishing touches to the eyes of Ganesha – the son of Mother Durga – that forms the part of the ensemble of idols for the Durga Puja ceremony. © 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.  

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Durga in All Her Manifestations

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti Newly cast clay statues wait in queues and rows to get decked up before the Durga Puja festival in the artist colony of Kumartuli. © Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti

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

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A Finely Detailed Classic Durga Idol

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti A beautiful white clay statue of the mother goddess sans her weapons stands ready to be shipped - perhaps to a foreign land for an expat's Durga Puja celebration. © 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. 

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The Fertility Goddess

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti Clay idols of goddess Durga being painted and clothed in satin before the finishing touches are applied on the statues. © 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.

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Brightly Colored Idols in Preparation for the Festival

A Photo Gallery by Himadri Shekhar Chakrabarti A complete ensemble of Durga and her cohorts cast in clay get their first coat of paint in Kumartuli, Calcutta. © 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.