One of the most talked about spots of the city of Kolkata and often visited by tourists and photographers is ‘Kumortuli’ as it is so called because of the residences of clay image/ idol makers which congregate here.
Situated in ward number 9 of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, between Ahiritola and Shovabazar, by the banks of river Hooghly, this place accommodated potters and clay idol makers after the British East India Company decided to create separate districts for ‘the company’s workmen’ as can be found in the orders of John Zephaniah Holwell who succeeded Robert Clive as the Governor of Bengal. In accordance with those orders different ‘ districts’ were formed like ‘collotollah’ (quarters for oilmen), ‘ chuttarpara’ (quarters for carpenters), ‘ahiritollah’ (quarters for cowherd), ‘kumortolly’ (quarters for potters and clay idol makers), etc.
From then on till date, many families of potters and clay idol makers, have not only been living here, but also have been keeping alive their profession of making idols and pottery items.
A visit to this place around this time of the year would be a fascinating one for any art lover or photographer.
For in the lanes and by lanes of kumortuli we could see how the artisans and clay idol makers work on to give shapes to the idols. They spend most of their days and nights in front of the idols they are busy creating. The creation of the idols, a time consuming and fully labour intensive process ( as there is hardly any use of machinations ) often takes months and most of the artisans who work there, keep on working under time constraints, around this time of the year, for come rain, come shine, they are supposed to deliver the idols of Durga and her sons and daughters within the stipulated schedule and there is no way of moving an inch away from it. So, they work on.
On my visits to this place, everytime I am left amazed by the sheer, should I say, devotion of these workers who, not by any stretch of imagination, getting hefty pays, simply work on in cramped places, often covered by tin roofs or tarpaulin. They work there and often take their naps on the floor of those tents or sheds before they wake up and start again with their works.
I have found how women folk of the area also join in their male counterparts in helping them with making ‘adornments’ made of shola or thermocol as they are called.
Though idol making had remained by and large a male bastion, in recent years, many talented women have made forays into that. With the advent of theme-based puja, the demand for traditional idols of Devi Durga have perhaps dwindled but still, many idols are being made and sent from here to different parts of the state and also outside. Kumortuli has its own Durga Puja as well which got started way back in 1933.