Every year, in the balmy month of July, three artisans from Bengal pack their bags and head towards ‘Madras’. They do not come alone with their bags and belongings; they also carry clay from the banks of the Ganges, considered the most essential ingredient in sculpting the Durga idols. It’s been 23 years since Jiban Pal from Baidyabati, Hooghly district,West Bengal has been coming to Chennai.The first time he came here, there were only two pujas organised in Chennai.What’s new this year? “For the first time we have got an order from Kochi, Kerala. The idol is being made,” he smiles, while he ties a
bunch of hay and straw together to mould a basic shape for the idols.There are nine
orders for Durga idols, for the ones to be held in T Nagar, Anna Nagar, Korattur,
Besant Nagar, Madras Kali Bari and the Bihar Association…and now, there’s this
order from Kochi. One set of idol,that includes Durga, Saraswati, Ganesh, Lakshmi
and Vishwakarma, takes a week’s time to sculpt. “We come in July, and it takes us three
months to finish our jobs here. By the time we return home to our families, the pujo will be over.We do miss our family during this time of the year,but it is okay, nothing feels greater than seeing the excitement in the eyes of our children when we reach home,” he shares, washing his hands clean of clay and soil.
For 20-year-old Nilaoy Pal, it is his first time in Chennai. He is here to contribute his artistic skills to crafting the idols.Previously he used to go to Chhattisgarh.
They have brought 50 sacks, each loaded with 40kg of clay, from the bank of Ganges,along with clothes and decoration materials from Kolkata. “It’s difficult to find the same kind of material and designs in Chennai,” says Amit Kumar Pal, another
artiste who has been coming to the city for the past three years. He adds, “The hay and straw that we find in Chennai is different from the ones that we use to make the idols.We have to put extra effort because these are not long enough.As we don’t get fine bamboo sticks to shape and support the idols, we have to use sticks obtained from local trees.So, the finishing won’t be as great as the ones in Bengal.” Apart from idols of Durga, these artisans are also busy crafting 22 idols for Vishwakarma Puja, which falls on September 17. The Bengal Association in T Nagar is celebrating its 84th year of Durga Puja and has planned a series of events to mark the festival. “There are three parts to our celebration
— Durga Pujo, bhog and cultural programmes. The main celebration starts from September 25 and will go on till September 30.Away from home,organising this mega festival every year requires a lot of preparation.We make sure we follow and perform all the rituals exactly like it is done back home in Bengal,”shares Moloy Kumar Roy, secretary of the association.
“The members of the association will be staging Dampati, written by popular Bengali theatre, film and television artiste Manoj Mitra. Women will be participating in a ramp walk contest, the theme of which is ‘Mothers of India’.They will be walking down the ramp in regional costumes, and also present a folk dance performance,” informs Suramya Dasgupta,executive member of the association and director of the play.
A musical programme by reality show winners Debjani and Nirjhar will be one of the highlights of the celebrations. Madambakkam Kali Temple Association has also been celebrating Durga Puja for over two decades now. Uttam Kumar Malakar, coordinator of the association’s puja committee, says, “A cook and dhaki (traditional drummer) from Kolkata come here every year to help us organise the puja. We bring the idol from Guindy, where a group of artisans from Bengal come every year during this season to craft them.They rent a space in a primary school and make not just the Durga idol, but also idols for Saraswati Puja, Kali Puja and Lakhi Puja.”