Beyond the bustle of T Nagar, in a quiet, dimly-lit metal shed, 67-year-old Kishori Mohan Pal and his team of eight men are applying the finishing touches to a large idol of Goddess Durga. One of them carefully fixes her nose ring and tears open a pack of golden-yellow ornaments. Reverently, he attaches them to the towering idol’s wavy, flowy mane, and then takes a step back to admire it, a gentle smile spreading across his face. At nine feet, this is the tallest idol this group has made this year.
The shed — nestled within the premises of Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya — is filled with 29 other idols of the goddess and her family, comprising deities Ganesh, Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Karthik. With their fresh coat of paint, each of them glows under the tubelight. These are the result of three months of labour. “I came to Chennai from Kolkata with my team to create idols,” says Kishori, who has been coming to the city for 32 years now. “The first time I came here was in 1982. I made a murti of Durga for the engine factory in Avadi,” he recalls. Now, he also has clients in Puducherry, Neyveli, Vellore...
The mud with which everything is made, is taken from the banks of the Ganges. It has been transported all the way from Kolkata by road. “We normally bring a truck full of it,” says Deven Pal, Kishori’s youngest son who has been accompanying his father and older brother to the city every year, ever since he was 12. He is 37 now, and though a master at this art form, still drops his voice and says, “If I make a mistake, my father scolds me.”
Despite their numerous visits, these men say they have not had a chance to explore the city. “We work 14 hours a day, sometimes till 1 am,” says Sushil Kumar, who is visiting the city for the 21st time this year. It is 5 pm and he has just emerged from a quick afternoon nap. Two of his other team mates are still resting inside their mosquito nets that are pitched at the far end of the shed. “We stay here... this is home for now,” he adds.
Ironically, the men who give shape to perhaps what is the most essential feature of Durga Puja, do not get to celebrate the festival with their families back home. “I will be here till just before Deepavali, fulfilling orders for Kali Puja and a few other festivals.”