Jiban Krishna Pal sits in T. Nagar, miles away from his hometown in Hooghly, crafting deities with clay, hay and perseverance.
Come Durga Puja, these idols will be venerated amidst a festive fervour in the city. Cooks, dhakis (traditional drum beaters) and purut moshai (priests) from West Bengal have arrived and Bengalis in the city are gearing up for the most-awaited festival.
Mr. Pal says he takes orders before he visits the city and procures materials accordingly. “I took more than a decade to learn to make these idols, because they are made only once a year,” he said. Some of those he has trained go to Bihar, Delhi, and other places.
“Earlier I used to make just two murtis (idols), but now my idols go to Korattur, Manali, ICF, Kalpakkam, Anna Nagar and Besant Nagar among other places,” he said dipping his brush in red paint.
“We come around three months before Puja and begin work. Since the Puja is done inside buildings, unlike in Kolkata where there are Pandals, the idols are relatively smaller. We use bamboo to make the frame in Calcutta because it is stronger, but here we use locally available wood,” he said.
On a pleasant Sunday afternoon, around 20 members of Dakshini Society in Anna Nagar, were rehearsing lines from ‘Gorai Golad’, a play in which a person goes to heaven and has a conversation with God. Jayashree Ghosh, president of the Society shouts amidst the rancour, “We use in-house talent and start practising almost two months in advance.”
Shubhro Chatterjee, vice-president of South Madras Cultural Association, was elated as he announced that this year, they have a budget of Rs. 21 lakh and grand plans to celebrate Durga Puja differently.
“Every year, we keep Mother Durga and the other deities in one hall and host our functions in the other. It felt as though sitting in another room, she was becoming a second priority. So this year, we will place her outside to infuse the spirit of the festival better,” he said.
Anjan Prasad Chakroborty, president, The Bengal Association, T. Nagar, one of the pioneer pujo committees in the city, said that the festivities are not confined to just the 400 members. “Other than two dhakis and purut moshais, we are bringing in 15 to 200 cooks from Kolkata, because hundreds come to the association’s premises to eat bhog, the traditional meal,” he said.
He feels that while the festival is celebrated in Kolkata on a massive scale, here it is a more closely-knit affair. “We are emotionally attached to the festival, and during the festivities, our association is thronged by those in the neighbourhood, and non-Bengalis, who have stayed in Kolkata come here too,” he said.
The one-of-its-kind Madras Kalibari is abuzz with preparations for kolu and Navaratri along with the customary Durga Puja. The only place to have idols of the traditional Bangal style, intead of the more preferred gol-mukh which is more human-like, the Kalibari has been celebrating the festival for the past 30 years now.
“We want to keep tradition alive and have continued with the traditional Bangal style,” said P. K. Majumdar, secretary of the pujo committee.