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A colourless Kumartuli in peak booking season for Durga idols

Fervour missing: The hay-wood structures are yet to get layers of plaster cover, usually done by this time each year.

Fervour missing: The hay-wood structures are yet to get layers of plaster cover, usually done by this time each year.  

Bengal’s Durga Puja would not be the same in 2020

Somnath Rudra Pal, a young clay artisan, was sitting opposite his spacious workshop in Kumartuli, uncommonly listless: “Clearly, there is no work, you can see.” He receives orders for about 20 idols of goddess Durga each year, but in 2020, he is yet to receive any, he said.“Barring a few bookings for private household Pujas, no neighbourhood committees arrived,” said Mr. Pal, a third generation artist. Bookings are usually confirmed on the first day of the Bengali new year, Poila Baisakh in the middle of April, or Akshaya Tritiya, the Hindu spring festival in the end of April, but owing to lockdown, none of the Puja committees booked idols and paid the advance amount.

“[Cyclone] Amphan has destroyed the idols that we made anticipating a few orders,” said Mr. Pal.

Kumartuli, by the bank of river Hooghly, usually bustles at this time of year, but it was almost empty on Monday afternoon with the largest association of artisans — Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskriti Samiti (KMSS) — distributing a free lunch of rice and fish curry. The century-old potters’ colony, with about 500 artisans and their families producing over 6,000 Durga idols, is peppered with basic hay-and-wood frames of the goddess. Artisans said they usually manage to put plaster and clay on the frame by end of May.

‘Nearly nil’

The artisans’ association’s secretary said that booking is “nearly nil” this year following the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and Amphan.

“Both money flow and production ability was disturbed,” said Babu Pal, secretary, KMSS.

“Bookings did not come through, drying up the main annual income of potters. Secondly, the workers, who mainly reside in Nadia district, went home during lockdown, affecting production,” said Babu Pal.

He narrated one more critical problem. Between April and August, the artists prepare the structure of many small gods — Ganesh, Biswakarma, Lakshmi, Basanti, Annapurna — which are worshipped a month or so before and after the big puja.

“Idols of small gods provide better volume on sales, thus relatively better income. Owing to lack of funds and absence of workers, those idols could not be prepared,” he said.

Lacklustre 2020

Durga Puja generates considerable revenues in Bengal. A 2013 report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimated the size of the Durga Puja “industry is about ₹25,000 crore.” In 2020, the situation is different and everybody is anticipating a lacklustre Puja, affecting artisans.

“Funding at multiple levels will fall in terms of personal donations. I am not sure if corporates will come forward to support either. Puja will be organised but would not be the same,” said Subrata Mukherjee, the seniormost Trinamool Congress (TMC) Minister and chief patron of one of the big budget Bengal Pujas, the Ekdalia Evergreen. The other factor — like in Kumartuli — is about support for the working class which would be “absent”.

“Puja is all about participation of thousands of ordinary people. The artists who decorate the pandals, the Dhak players, the electricians, the musicians…they may not be around, making the execution immensely difficult,” said Mr. Mukherjee.

‘Artists’ survival’

A much smaller Puja named ‘Kasba R.K. Chatterjee Road Adhibasi Brinda’ has slashed budget from ₹6.6 lakh to ₹2.5 lakh, said its main organiser Satyabrata Mukherjee. Their idol budget shrank.

In this context, the artisans’ association, with about 350 members, will meet local TMC MLA and Minister Sashi Panja after the lockdown to ask for an interest-free loan for the artists with “a reasonable financial help”, said Babu Pal. Thousands of artisans, not located in Kumartuli, may benefit if the support is provided. “As it is no more a question of making idols but about artists’ survival in 2020,” he said.

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2020 7:02:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/a-colourless-kumartuli-in-peak-booking-season-for-durga-idols/article31674095.ece

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