Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A visit to Kumartuli during Durga Puja, a unique Kolkata experience

Kumartuli , the potters precinct in North Kolkata is where the Gods and Goddesses are created. We all know that Ma Durga comes from Mount Kailash, but it is here in the narrow lanes of Kumartuli, and at the hands of the potters whose last names are ‘pal’ is where she takes shape.
Images of half painted Ma Durgas and potters hands deftly carving out the Goddesses eyes , were images I had often seen and admired on social media as well as magazines. The potters at Kumartuli not only make the idols for the city of Kolkata , but also export the idols to durga Pujos around the world, from Australia to USA, and even to Dubai, almost every NRI Bengali pujo gets its Pujo Protima from Kumartuli.
come , join me on a walk through Kumartuli 

 But, the idols of Ma Durga and her children are made before Durga pujo, so is it still worth while visiting Kumartuli once Durga pujo has begun?

Yes, it is ! Read on to find out how we saw the creators, the craft and the creation , all at Kumartulli, this Durga Pujo.

A brief history of Kumartulli
After the british colonisation of Bengal and India, in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey , Holwell, under the oeders from Directors of the British East India Company, allotted separate districts to the company’s workmen.  Thus, suriparah – place of wine sellers, chuttarparah – place of carpenters, Coomartolly – place for potters. It is this Coomartolly that later became kumartuli or kumartulli.
Mostt of the artisans and workers from these districts dwindled or vanished with the rise of the Marwari settlements and the coming in of Burrabazar. Except for the potters. The potters, who up until then were making clay pots and pans using the clay from the river bed of Hooghly , took to making the idols of Gods and Goddesses for the neighbouring mansions around Kumartulii.
Kumartulli was home to a number of renoened homes during the Bengal renaissance, like Nandram Sen the first collector of Kolkata in 1700, and Gobindram Mitter who had a sprawling house spread over 16 acres.
These famous houses of Kolkata , along with several other ancestral homes, got their Pujo Protimas made by the artisans of Kumartuli, and then many community pujos also supported them, and today the artists and artisans of Kumartuli have a life long association with puja around the world.

the creation and the creator. different avatars of Shakti

Kumartuli is a photographers haven , these large green doors were calling to be photographed, and me in my pink n orange gamcha sari worn the traditional shadharon bengali style couldnt help being photographed.

half finished dieties at Kumartuli

Turn left here, to be transported to an ethereal land of calm amongst the chaos, the potters lane in Kumartuli during Durga Pujo

What you can expect to see at Kumartuli during Durga Pujo
While it is true that Kumartuli is most famous for the Pratimas and the pandals they create for Durga Pujo, they also make the protimas of Lakshmi for Lakshmi Puja which is celebrated in West Bengal 7 days after Saptami. And so you will see half finished idols of Lakshmi, or even completely dressed and decked idols of Lakhsmi depending on which day of Durga Pujo you visit Kumartuli.
We also saw the beginnings of the making of Ma Kali, for the Kali pujo which would be on the night of Diwali. The dynamic Ma Kali idol, complete with a garland of beheaded heads, and a hand dangling around her waist make for eyecatching visuals.
You can also see the artists and workers hard att work, or just catching a siesta . A peep into their world and you see the simple life they lead, among their creations, a two storey house being held up by a half finished idol, or the remnants of discarded pratimas, which didn’t make the cut to the standards of perfection these Kumars put their work to.
Apart from this , Kumartuli, as I said is home to some of the old world rich Bengalis, and just a walk down the many lanes of Kumartuli gives you a glimpse of the glory of yesteryears, the aristocratic charm of Kolkata is best seen here , as the homes are still well preserved . we didn’t have much time to explore because the place is teeming with people, but there are so many lanes and roads and narrow passage ways in this place that it is easy to lose yourself here.
The residents of Kumartulli make idols for the entire city, and for most of the pujos around the world, so you can imagine the idols that their own pujo pandals would have.
We visited two pujo pandals in Kumartulli and the art and ethos of both of them were mesmerising.

idols of Lakshmi, ready for Lokhi pujo, which falls on Sharad purnima, or kojagiri purnima. 

idols of Ma Kali, with her Garland of heads makes for dramatic visula at Kumartuli

Ma Durga on a Boat , one of the Pandal Protimas at Kumartuli

Large eyed South East Asian influences in this Ma Durga Protima at Kumartuli

How to get to Kumartuli
We went by our own car, but taking a taxi or Uber/Ola is the best way since parking is a hassle during the crowded days of pujo. Otherwise, buses and trains go to Kumartuli. The nearest railway station is the Sovabazar Metro. Sovabazar Launch Ghat (alongside the Ganges river) is also close by. Taking a walk to the riverbank is worthwhile, as you'll get to see old Gothic & Victorian style mansions. From there you can get a boat back to central Kolkata. You don’t need special passes to go there, but its best you respect the people who live and work there,so if they ask not to take pictures, don’t. the place was surprisingly clean when we went.
Kumartuli , a unique experience during Durga Pujo

A unique experience

The chaos and cacophony is an integral part of Durga Pujo in Kolkata, but once in Kumartuli, we took a left, and then a sharp right behind a house, and all of a sudden were trasnsported to an ethereal world; where Gods and their creations, idols and their creators lived. It’s quiet here, so quiet that some of the potters were sleeping. While in the pandals we were all jostling for space, here in the potters lanes of Kumartuli we were the only family. The feeling that this is where it all begins, the planning and creation of the idols, for Saraswati puja, for Lakshmi Puja, for Gurga puja and Kali puja, is truly an other worldly experience.

Just outside of the pujo pandal are food stalls selling everything a Bengali foodies heart desires . the foodietrails couldnt end a travel blog post without mentioning food :)

kolkata meetha paan ; must have the foodietrails recommends

phuchka , must have kolkata street food. the foodietrails recommends

cheene badam , peanuts dry roasted over sand. kolkata street food must have

mutton biryani, with a side of potato. kolkata street food must have

egg chicken roll, must have kolkata street food. the foodietrails recommends

chowmein and kochuri, must have street food in Kolkata. the foodietrails recommends.

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