Moulding Maagic 

A family of artisans who make Durga idols for the puja talk about their journey of crafting in clay
Moulding Maagic 

CHENNAI : In the heart of the city, a piece of Bengal’s vibrant culture thrives, quietly adding the essence of the East to the bustling South. As Durga Puja approaches, Bengalis eagerly anticipate their homecoming to West Bengal, but for one family of idol makers, the celebration is in a different destination.

CHENNAI : For the past four decades, 70-year-old Kishori Mohan Das, a seasoned artist from the hallowed Kalighat area, has been bringing a touch of Bengal to the city. Every year, Kishori and his team of eight-nine skilled idol makers, including his sons, leave behind the bustling lanes of Kumortuli in Kolkata to embark on a remarkable journey down south. They claim to be the only team from Bengal to be crafting idols here.These artisans quietly create magic in a dimly-lit metal shed at Thakkar Baba Vidyalaya in T Nagar. 

In July, as the festival season begins, the family arrives in trucks loaded with materials from Kolkata, and begins their craft, a labour of love that continues until November. They create idols for Viswakarma (the god of engineering), Ganesh Puja, as well as Durga, Lakshmi, Kali, and Jagadhatri Pujas.

Crafting tradition
Kishori’s journey to the city to welcome Maa Durga to her earthly abode began in 1982 when he first came to craft a Durga idol for the Madras Kali Bari. Over the years, what started as one Puja in the city has now grown to include 31 pujas in Chennai, Puducherry, Neyveli, Vellore, and beyond. 

Kishori’s artistry graces various Bengali communities, from the oldest Puja at The Bengal Association to the grandest celebration at Besant Nagar. As Maa Durga arrives with her family to spread joy, Kishori has passed on the tradition through generations. His son, Rinku Pal — who now leads the artistic legacy — describes his father as not just an artist but also the guiding force behind their creative process. “Now my father is like a principal of a school. From taking orders to guiding us through making idols, he does everything. If we make any mistake, he is the one who corrects us. Age does not affect his dedication to his work,” Rinku says.

After completing his higher secondary exams, Rinku joined his father in the intricate art of idol-making. Two decades later, he has been dedicated to his craft and hasn’t celebrated Durga Puja with his family. He explains, “For the last 20 years, I am not with my family during Puja. After joining my father’s business, I never celebrated Durga Puja. During that time, it hurts not to be surrounded by them, but this is our job, and it has to be done.”

Of devotion and dedication 
Every year, their shed comes to life with the presence of goddesses and deities, illuminated by dim lights and filled with the aroma of freshly coated mud. While preparing for the final touches, Rinku says, “This year, almost all the idols will look like replicas of the Bagbazar idol (one of Kolkata’s oldest pujas) with intricately drawn eyes and ‘daker saaj’ (tinsel dress).”

Just like the Bengalis’ hopeful refrain at the end of each Durga Puja, “bochor bochor hobei hobe” (it will definitely happen every year), these artists continue their work with unwavering hope for the years to come. 

With this hope and resilience, the artisans craft each idol, embodying the spirit of the festival and anticipating the return, year after year, to weave their artistry and devotion into the fabric of Chennai.

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The New Indian Express