02 August, 2021

Look Ma, Asura Is The Lesser Evil

A photo-essay on artisans of Kumartuli, forced to rein in their creativity in the time of Covid

Look Ma, Asura Is The Lesser Evil

Pottery, as every archaeologist would agree, is a building block of civilisation. Along with arrowheads and numismatic evidence, shards of clay are signs of ancient endeavour. In a culture where religion is  embodied in idolatry, there is an unbroken line of tradition in the fine art of modelling clay figures of gods. If goddess Durga, who emerges from her mountain abode with her children in early autumn for a few days amongst earthly devotees, represents the grand panoply of the divine family, Calcutta is the city where she gets the most fulsome homage through numerous offerings. To shape, then animate with near-life, idols for 4,000 Durga Pujas in the city, the expert artisans of Kumartuli toil for months. There, along the Hooghly in north Calcutta, in narrow, mud-splattered lanes and tarpaulin-walled workshops are fashioned the enraged agony of Mahishasura, the snarling lion, the fierce-eyed majesticity of Durga and the beatific Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartik.

Here are snatches from the last stages of their finished craft: as a turbaned karigar ministers to a...

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