Friday Review: The Navaratri special

At Durga Puja pandals, the most crucial step is the painting of the eyes

Embellishing the deity: An artist giving the finishing touch

Embellishing the deity: An artist giving the finishing touch  

Devotion meets environment conservation at the Durga Puja pandals in the Capital

The sight of Goddess Durga, elegant, graceful, in all her splendour astride a lion slaying the muscular Mahishasura, is spellbinding. Standing tall on the dais (11 feet in height), she is flanked by Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati and Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya. This is the scene at the Cooperative Ground Durga Puja Samity’s pavilion at Chittaranjan Park this year. Young, old, men, women and children, all stand in awe of these huge life-like idols, with their bowed heads in deference and prayers on their lips.

Behind this grandeur is unending toil and sweat. Commencing 40 days before the Durga Puja, artists begin by constructing wooden frames for the idols, asura, lion and buffalo. On these frames, secured on a wooden platform, hay and straw moulded in shape of different body parts are tied. “Straw is used because it is flexible, strong and light,” explains Niranjan, the main shilpkar (artist). Layers of clay are then put on them, while carefully and dexterously shaping them with bare hands to outline the body and limbs. Wooden chips are used to shape the joints and curves. Cracks appearing during drying are covered with clay and cloth pieces. “A painstaking job, it requires tonnes of patience,” observes Govindonath, chief shilpkar of Chittaranjan Park’s Kali Mandir. Interestingly, the faces, hands, feet, fingers and digits are made using moulds, which are then attached to the images, using clay and securing them with cloth strips.

The most crucial step is the painting of the eyes, especially that of Goddess Durga, which is called “chakshudan” and done on Mahalaya. “Viewed from anywhere in the puja pandal, it should appear that Maa Durga’s eyes are looking at you. Hence, it is necessary to have steady hands, concentration and fortitude,” explains Niranjan.

Although, the clay from Ganga riverbank in Kolkata is preferred, artists in Delhi make good by mixing a part of that with soil from paddy fields from neighbouring States. “Paddy soil is soft, malleable and great for finishing,” observes Govindonath. With the images ready, starts the colouring. Several coats are used to give them lifelike appearance. Dressing the idols with saris, dhotis and artificial jewellery and flowers is the final stage.

Exuding happiness with Samity’s idols, its secretary Kallol Acharyya, is proud of something more. “This time, both the idols and their immersion will be completely eco-friendly.”

Eco-friendly idols

Elaborating, he states, “all the raw material that is hay, straw, wood, bamboo and clay are bio-degradable and can be reused as is the decoration material like paper and cloth. The idols are painted with watercolours, which are eco-safe. Further, the idols will be immersed in a pit dug up for this purpose at the venue, instead of Yamuna. .”

Making an important point on the eco-friendly issue, Govindonath observes, “The traditional method of idol-making with clay, hay and bamboo, is environment-friendly. For decoration, sholapith (Indian cork) is used, which is biodegradable.”

According to Niranjan, “this method entails no extra effort or expenses. In fact, it gives immense satisfaction that we are not harming the nature.” While the idol-making process may not have changed, some rituals associated with it have. The tradition of collecting soil from outside a sex worker’s house is no longer a common practice. Likewise, fasting before “chakshudan” too is not strictly followed. “Observing such rituals is not possible at present because each shilpkar is commissioned to make several idols,” avers Govindonath. What is worrisome is the dwindling number of new craftsmen taking up idol-making. “The remuneration is low and the work limited for a selected period, so youngsters don’t find it lucrative,” says Niranjan.

Consciously wanting to go green the Kali Mandir too has taken several steps. Its president, Ashitava Bhowmik says, “We have used no plastic and no thermocol this year for our puja. All decorations are created using paper, cloth and sholapith – all decomposable.” One wonders how will bhog or prasad be served? “In plates made of eco-friendly areca leaf,” replies Acharyya. Bhowmik goes on to add, “Steel spoons have replaced the plastic ones while papers cups are being used for drinking water and beverages. Environment conservation must be part of devotion.”

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 2:44:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/the-eyes-have-it/article29584319.ece

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