Maa Aaschen, Tumi Kothay? A humid afternoon amidst the magicians of Kumartuli, Kolkata

The best part about this time of the year is festivals that start end of July or early August. One after the other, we find causes for celebration – harvest season/ birthday of Lord Krishna/ arrival of Ganpati Bappa/ the relationship between sister and brother/ married couples/ the victory of right over wrong and what not?! It’s officially the party time in Hindu calendar.

Opposite to my husband’s house in Ghaziabad, there’s this one tree that I particularly enjoy the most – the one that grows the flowers of Shiuli, Parijat or Harsingar (as those are called in North India). Parijat or Harsingar is the only flower that can still be offered to Gods even after being picked up from the ground. This flower blooms at night and often falls on the ground before mornings. I remember those early mornings of August to October when I would be busy getting ready for work. Just before getting inside my car, I would look to my left and there it was – a carpet of Shiuli flowers waiting to be collected. Fragile, soft and beautiful. 🙂

The sight of Shiuli or Harsingar flowers is also a sign of upcoming festivities, the arrival of Maa, the announcement of one of the greatest festivals/ carnivals of all time – Durga Pujo.

A few years back when I travelled to Kolkata, I decided to pay a visit to Kumartuli, the traditional potters’ colony in North Kolkata.

A walk through the narrow lanes of Kumartuli:

The place is famous for its magic in clay. There exists many sculptors who give magnificent shapes and forms to clay. For years, they have been making idols of Hindu deities and sending those to all corners of the country. They often export these idols to Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Idols of Maa Durga are conceived and designed here, and then shipped across India during Durga Pujo, which is why the best time to visit Kumartuli is a few months before Durga Pujo.

I often wonder what kind of a world do we live in, where one artist receives millions for some random fruit installation while so many others continue to work hard in unpleasant weather conditions and create masterpieces in return of only a meal. How is it fair? And if it isn’t, why don’t we do something to restore balance to this world?

I wanted to sit somewhere and observe the artists while they worked those idols, ask them about their lives, where they learn the art from, where do they buy idols for Durga Pujo or do they make those themselves? And even if not that, I wanted to observe them. See them create magic from nothing.

But there was no space on the road. Plus it was super hot. My hair were prickly, my face drenched in sweat and after 30 mins. of walk in the Sun, I desperately wanted to feel some wind on my face. As soon as my Uber came, I sat inside, drank cold water and left for the next place to cover in Kolkata, leaving behind the seemingly ordinary world of the extraordinary potters of Kumartuli

If you have ever visited a Pujo pandal (which you probably have because let’s admit it: we Indians love our food & festivals. Somehow religions and regions cease to matter when it comes to festivals), you would know why I have been using the word ‘magic’ for Durga maa idols.

Navratras or Durga Pujo is celebrated with pomp and show in most parts of India. Be it the Garba nights, fasts during the nine days only to eat halwa-poori at the end to celebrate the feminine energy, kanjaks where we lovingly feed young female kids to worship the goddesses or hopping pandals in the best of our clothes while enjoying an elaborate feast, this time of the year is ‘carnival time’ for most of us.

I remember this one time, exploring Puja Pandals of Bombay and getting pleasantly surprised & somewhat influenced by the energy of people around. One of the best memories about that time is bowing in front of Thakur and saying my prayers. Those moments were private, precious and phenomenal. Thanks to the magicians of Kumartuli who work tirelessly in the background!

Durga Pujo, Powai
Durga Pujo, Juhu
Durga Pujo, Dadar
Durga Pujo, Lokhandwala

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