Kumortuli – Where Man Creates God


Kumortuli – Where Man Creates God

Ever since I had developed an interest in photography I have heard seniors talking about Kumortuli Photo Walk, initially there were very few who ventured out to the lanes and by lanes of Kumortuli but recently this has become the place for photographers to test their skills.

Not knowing what to expect I simply avoided going to Kumortuli and honestly never found a right set of likeminded friends who would come along for a photo walk here.

Off late my new blogger buddies Indrajit Das and Sumit Surai invited me for a Kumortuli Photo Walk on 26th of September 2015. The plan was to start early, this was done to avoid the crowd of photographers who throng to Kumortuli on weekends. We decided to start the walk at around 7 AM since very few would actually come at that time and our group could have a field day.

On the said day I reached Sovabazar Sutanuti Metro Station at around five minutes past 7 and soon was joined by Sumit followed by Indrajit. Got introduced to two more photographers Santanu Pyne and Dipro Jit who are well known to Sumit and Indrajit but were new to me, the best thing about photography is that you do not need to know the other person for long just the reason of photography can make you buddies instantly.

We reached Bonomali Sarkar Street which was just a ten minute walk from the metro station, the moment you enter this place you are taken aback by the sheer size of this micro industry. Everywhere you look you will find small house with attached studio where potters/artists are carving face from a stack of mud and clay. The more famous artists have a bigger studio whereas the smaller ones have just a shed from where they somehow manage to live and work.

Sovabazar Sutanuti Metro Station to Bonomali Sarkar Street
Sovabazar Sutanuti Metro Station to Bonomali Sarkar Street

I learnt a funny thing about Kumortuli, this place has been hypothetically divided into two sections, the northern side known as East Bengal Section and the southern side known as Mohunbagan Section. Logically these do not make sense but out here logic is long forgotten in the maze of lanes and by lanes. As a photographer you need to buy a photography permit which can be easily purchased from the local association office, you can buy the day pass or the season pass depending on your requirement. According to the local association office the money received from these photography permits are used for development purpose of the Kumortuli artisans.

Streets of Kumortuli
Streets of Kumortuli
Kumortuli Lanes
Kumortuli Lanes

The rules are very simple which one needs to follow while photographing here:-

  • Ask permission before entering a studio.
  • Remember most of these studio also have attached house where the family members stay thus please maintain a decorum once inside a studio.
  • Most of the studio have narrow passage thus one needs to be extra careful while moving around, especially if you have a camera backpack you have to be careful.
  • Do not use sudden flash on an artist, they might get blinded by the sudden light and can cause distraction.
  • Engage in soft conversation with an artist, most of them feel happy if you ask about their forefathers and about their trade.
  • If you do not get a verbal response from an artist do not force him, just move on to the next one.
  • If you are in a group try to fix a limit of 5 – 6 person per group, anything above that will create commotion and often will not yield any result.

We were lucky that in our group we had a member who knew a studio well, this was the same studio who delivers the Durga Idol to his locality thus were very well known to him. We could easily go around the studio and follow them painstakingly create a structure out of straw, bamboo and clay.

Artisan Creating the Hand of Durga
Artisan Creating the Hand of Durga
Artisan Creating the Eyes of Durga
Artisan Creating the Eyes of Durga
Idol inside the Studio
Idol inside the Studio
Making the Bamboo Foundation
Making the Bamboo Foundation
Finishing Touches to the Lion
Finishing Touches to the Lion

Kumortuli is more like a labyrinth, sometimes I wonder how they manage to take out the huge idols out of these studio and into the lanes from where they are loaded on to trucks. One thing that struck me were the bottles filled with Ujala (Indigo Blue) and kept outside every door, this according to the locals keeps the dog away from defecating. Surprised but according to them it worked like a charm.

Bottle Filled With Ujala Blue Acts as Dog Repellent
Bottle Filled With Ujala Blue Acts as Dog Repellent
Some Lanes like These Are So Small That Its Impossible for Me to Enter Them
Some Lanes like These Are So Small That Its Impossible for Me to Enter Them

Not only idols but this place is also famous for its sculptures of famous politicians and freedom fighters, all around you will find fiberglass casts of these. Out here the potters/artists use clay, plaster of paris, fiberglass and polystyrene so you will find these various types of artists all around Kumortuli practising their art. The best way to enjoy these creations would be to sit outside a studio and watch these master craftsman in their best form. Make sure you have time in your hand as these take time and lots of patience.

An Artesian Giving Finishing Touches To an Idol
An Artesian Giving Finishing Touches To an Idol
An Artesian Mixing Plaster Of Paris for a Finishing Coat on the Idol
An Artesian Mixing Plaster Of Paris for a Finishing Coat on the Idol
An Artesian Painstakingly Creating the Eye
An Artesian Painstakingly Creating the Eye
An Artesian Mixing Clay for the Base
An Artesian Mixing Clay for the Base
An Artist Giving the First Coat of Paint to the Idol
An Artist Giving the First Coat of Paint to the Idol
Rolling Clay to Create Hands and Fingers
Rolling Clay to Create Hands and Fingers

When we were there the idols were in different state of creation, some were almost complete while some were just a bundle of straw wrapped around a bamboo structure and some were in the process of getting a second coat of clay paint.

A photo walk around kumotuli can be very tiring so remember to carry a bottle of water and a sun hat, apart from this what is most needed is tons of patience and a sense of anticipation. I am sure I am now addicted to this place and will keep visiting to see the different stages of creation.

Some Of Idols Waiting For Finishes Touches
Some Of Idols Waiting For Finishes Touches
Some Painted With A Base Coat
Some Painted With A Base Coat
Idol Heads Drying In The Sun
Idol Heads Drying In The Sun
Some Of Idols Waiting For Finishes Touches
Some Of Idols Waiting For Finishes Touches
Still A Long Way To Go
Still A Long Way To Go
Tag With The Name Of Client
Tag With The Name Of Client
Far From Over
Far From Over
Waiting For Finishing Touches
Waiting For Finishing Touches
Waiting For Finishing Touches
Waiting For Finishing Touches
Stacks Of Miniature Owl
Stacks Of Miniature Owl
Acessories Of The Idol
Acessories Of The Idol

Almost forgot, there are tons of snacks shops all around this place, I will surely recommend puri and sabzi along with hot gulab jamuns. Goodbye for now and keep visiting my blog.

My Photo Walk Buddies - Santanu, Indrajit, Sumit, Myself & Dipro
My Photo Walk Buddies – Santanu, Indrajit, Sumit, Myself & Dipro
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19 thoughts on “Kumortuli – Where Man Creates God

  1. Are the well-known Idol-makers still working from Kumartuli or shifting to new and separate studios ?
    Many art college pass-outs are getting engaged in Sharadiya Puja. New generation from traditional Idol-makers’ families pursuing such courses ?
    Any conversation on impact of this new competition ?

    I would have loved to see how Dinda, Tarun De, Bhabotosh Sutar and Gauranga Quilla work ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I did see some still practicing their art from this location. Some obvious have bigger studio now but more or less it has remained the same over the years.

      The advent of Art College Students in idol making is actually revolutionizing this art form completely. These college pass outs usually love to experiment and often bring out a complete new dimension. These are slowly becoming quite popular and more art college students are joining this trade. In fact a very close friend of mine who is also a Art College pass out is into these during season and rest of the time they are pursuing their regular day jobs.

      The same however cannot be said of the traditional Kumortuli artisans, while engaging in a discussion one of them regretted how his son has refused to join the trade and moved over to Bangalore for a carrier in IT. He is now training his sister to carry on this family tradition.

      Like

    1. Thanks, plan your vacation so that you come to Kolkata two weeks before Durga Puja so that you will see the idol making process in various stage of completion. By the way not only Durga Puja but this place is famous for other deity also so more or less you will find some activity or the other throughout the year but yes just before Durga Puja its at peak.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Subhadip for your wonderful, educative blog. Most of us see only the final product and don’t think of the hard work and artistry that goes into creating such master pieces.
    By the way, is the folk lore mentioned in the film ‘Amar Prem’ true – that the first lump of clay used in making the idol of Durga Maa is taken from the house of a coutesan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found this in Quora:

      “The mud is collected because those people who visit the prostitutes for sex leave their purity and virtue outside the door thus making the soil in front of the home of a prostitute virtuous.

      The soil is known as ‘punya mati’ and the place where a prostitute resides is known as ‘nishiddho pallis’ in Bengali meaning forbidden territories.”

      Liked by 1 person

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