Hands that make god

As a Bengali, this particular project has been very close to my heart. Durga Puja is as bengali a tradition as it could possibly get. The project itself was a very interesting process, meeting new people from different walks of life, understanding tradition, travelling to different places and locale, talking to a lot of people and most of all eating interesting food.

All of this took a good 5 years of planning and executing, after which I spent the most of last year trying to find someone to would want to publish this essay in either print or digital form. Quite sadly I did not find a single taker for it.

Finding myself at a crossroad between trying to find a publisher for another couple of years and directly putting it online, I decided to do the latter. Yes it did mean giving up on my hopes of ever getting published or having a coffee table book in my name, or getting a worthy remuneration for the time and effort I had put into the project. At least the photographs were going out there and that is all I need to make me happy. Cheers.

Saccharum spontaneum also known as 'Kaash', exposes the white flowers in its top as the monsoons retreat, ideally marking the onset of Durga Puja.
Saccharum spontaneum also known as ‘Kaash’, exposes the white flowers in its top as the monsoons retreat, ideally marking the onset of Durga Puja.

 

Most Bengalis are used to waking up the Morning of Mahalaya and listening to the 2 hour long broadcast of Mahisasurmardini. This tradition originated in the 1950s and carries on to this day.
Most Bengalis are used to waking up the Morning of Mahalaya and listening to the 2 hour long broadcast of Mahisasurmardini. This tradition originated in the 1950s and carries on to this day.

 

Mahalaya marks the beginning of the Pitri Paksha. The performance of Shraddha by a son after his father's death during Pitra Paksha is regarded as compulsory by Hindus, to ensure that the soul of the ancestor goes to heaven. The shraddha is performed usually on the bank of a river or lake or any water body.
Mahalaya marks the beginning of the Pitri Paksha. The performance of Shraddha by a son after his father’s death during Pitra Paksha is regarded as compulsory by Hindus, to ensure that the soul of the ancestor goes to heaven. The shraddha is performed usually on the bank of a river or lake or any water body.

 

Wherever Durga Puja happens, months before the actual Puja begins, makeshift tents are made and the work on the idols begin. Though it may look like an assembly line for the gods, all artisans have to partake in rituals, as only then are they allowed to sculpt the idols.
Wherever Durga Puja happens, months before the actual Puja begins, makeshift tents are made and the work on the idols begin. Though it may look like an assembly line for the gods, all artisans have to partake in rituals, as only then are they allowed to sculpt the idols.

 

Arun Pal, originally a resident of Nadia in West Bengal gets booked by the Organisers in Delhi to build idols for them. Idol making used to be enough to feed the family earlier, but now he resumes working as a farmer once the Puja ends.
Arun Pal, originally a resident of Nadia in West Bengal gets booked by the Organisers in Delhi to build idols for them. Idol making used to be enough to feed the family earlier, but now he resumes working as a farmer once the Puja ends.

 

Montu has been painting idols for as long as he can remember. He followed his father into the line of work and he still isn't allowed to work on the bigger idols, so he practises his skills on the smaller less important ones.
Montu has been painting idols for as long as he can remember. He followed his father into the line of work and he still isn’t allowed to work on the bigger idols, so he practises his skills on the smaller less important ones.

 

Haldar Uncle is one of the most sought after artisans in Potuapara, Kolkata. He has labored over these idols for almost his entire life and now only picks up the brush for the most minute and detailed work, that no one else can be trusted with.
Haldar Uncle is one of the most sought after artisans in Potuapara, Kolkata. He has labored over these idols for almost his entire life and now only picks up the brush for the most minute and detailed work, that no one else can be trusted with.

 

Sushil Pal from Midnapore is more of a nomadic worker. He takes up work in different corners of India every year, this is the only way to travel, he explains
Sushil Pal from Midnapore is more of a nomadic worker. He takes up work in different corners of India every year, this is the only way to travel, he explains.

 

Kumortuli is a traditional potter's colony in North Kolkata. Kumortuli’s clientele has extended to America, Europe and Africa, among the Indian communities living there. Each year they supply 12000-15000 idols
Kumortuli is a traditional potter’s colony in North Kolkata. Kumortuli’s clientele has extended to America, Europe and Africa, among the Indian communities living there. Each year they supply 12000-15000 idols.

 

Painting the Goddess and adorning her with Jewellery and other paraphernalia is performed by different groups of people. Madan Ghosh is a specialist in attaching the wigs.
Painting the Goddess and adorning her with Jewellery and other paraphernalia is performed by different groups of people. Madan Ghosh is a specialist in attaching the wigs.

 

The idols are kept under wraps until the 6th day of Ashwin when the worship of the Goddess officially begins.
The idols are kept under wraps until the 6th day of Ashwin when the worship of the Goddess officially begins.

 

Durga Puja is never quite complete without Food just like the quintessential Bengali. Ram Manohar, though not Bengali sets up a stall every year selling Candy Floss in one of the many Puja's in Chittranjan Park.
Durga Puja is never quite complete without Food just like the quintessential Bengali. Ram Manohar, though not Bengali sets up a stall every year selling Candy Floss in one of the many Puja’s in Chittranjan Park.

 

People dress up in their finest and take to the streets visiting one Pandal after another, enjoying the festive atmosphere and the coolness of the winter seeping in.
People dress up in their finest and take to the streets visiting one Pandal after another, enjoying the festive atmosphere and the coolness of the winter seeping in.

 

As it is with all things, the festival comes to an end. On the 10th day of Ashwin, the idol is immersed into the waters of a river bringing the festivity to an end
As it is with all things, the festival comes to an end. On the 10th day of Ashwin, the idol is immersed into the waters of a river bringing the festivity to an end.

 

The structures are slowly dismantled and the people move on with their lives, the artisans go back home to toil on their farms, the festival goers resume their workdays but in everybody's heart lies the greatest hope, that another year approaches and the festival shall come again.
The structures are slowly dismantled and the people move on with their lives, the artisans go back home to toil on their farms, the festival goers resume their workdays but in everybody’s heart lies the greatest hope, that another year approaches and the festival shall come again.

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