Artistes from West Bengal say idols take a long time to dry

The exceptionally heavy monsoon rains in Bangalore this year has affected the work of idol makers from West Bengal. “Generally around this time, we concentrate only on painting the idols, but this year some of us are still engaged in making the idols that took an unduly long time to dry because of the weather,” rues Tarun Pal, an idol-maker.

At his workshop in Cox Town, the idols of Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati wait to be cured in the sun. “We still have to finish the idols. Then comes another layer of clay, paint, and finally the decoration,” says Sushanta Pal, as he works on the Lakshmi idol.

Mr. Tarun Pal’s team has tickets booked for a train back home on October 10. “We will finish all the Durga idols by Wednesday as the puja kicks off on that day. But as for the Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati idols, a couple of us will have to come back to finish the work in time for the festivals that are scheduled later,” says Mr. Tarun.

Working day and night

With the deadline approaching, the idol-makers are working day and night to ensure they deliver the idols on time. “We work for more than 12 hours a day. We take rest between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and work goes on well into the night till around 2 a.m.,” says Somnath Pal, as he gives the final strokes to Durga’s eyes.

Commercialisation

Mahalaya Amavasya, which marks the formal beginning of Durga Puja, is also traditionally the day on which the eyes of Durga are painted, known as Chokkhu Daan (eye donation). But commercialisation and deadlines have rendered this tradition obsolete, says Mr. Tarun. “We draw the eyes whenever we are done with the rest of the work. If we had to wait for Mahalaya, we will have puja organisers breathing down our neck,” he says.

While most of the idols at Tarun Pal’s workshop look the same, three stand out.

Special demand

“They are based on different folk arts and organisers have specially asked for these designs,” he says. Many do not prefer idols based on a certain theme as the cost is high.

“Idols based on themes are a rage in Kolkata where organisers only need to concentrate on the idols and the pandal. But here in Bangalore, the puja serves the purpose of also entertaining the visitors along with free distribution of bhog (prasad),” says Dr. Shyamal Biswas, president, R.T. Nagar Sarbajanin Durga Puja Samiti. The samiti is spending Rs. 52,000 on the puja idols alone this year. “The design for idols is based on the Odiya Pipli art,” says Mr Biswas.