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Durga Idols of Kumartuli: Surviving Oral Traditions through Changes

Dr. Lopamudra Maitra, Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC- UG), Pune

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Introduction

As the torrential rain gushes down the plastic and tarpaulin sheets of the narrow alleys in Kumartuli, covering the half-made clay idols, the smell of wet earth emanates, reverberates, encircles and rises up to announce the arrival of the auspicious occasion— Durga Puja. Finally, as the dawn of Mahalaya announces the arrival of the Devipaksha and the last ablutions are offered to seek blessings from one’s forefathers on the banks of the sacred river Ganga, the artisans of Kumartuli pronounce the occasion through invoking the powers of the female goddess by painting the eyes of the idols of Durga, famously known as Chokkhudaan or bestowing of the eyes. A popular and annual sight in the region every year, this relatively small, yet largely famous and well-renowned region of Kumartuli stands tucked within the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Sovabazar area of the northern region of the present city of Kolkata (West Bengal, India) and the relatively recent construction of the underground metro-railway station of the same name.  A busy place for idol-makers, the kumbhars, their small and narrow workshops, aligned against their crowded tenements, hum with the buzz of activities at most times of the year, especially during the time of the Durga puja. Over the years, the region has experienced a surge and witnessed changes in the style of the clay idols, their expression and depictions, especially the ones made for Durga puja. Carrying forth a string of history within itself, as these depictions represent a strain of continuity of the famous worship of female deities of the region, the changes and alterations in visual depictions of the idols made in Kumartuli also help to reflect new ideas and ideologies in the age of new-media, forming an important part of Visual Anthropology. Based on an extensive fieldwork in the region of Kumartuli and various parts of Kolkata throughout the month of Aswina (September-October) between 2011-2012, this paper tries to look into the significant aspects of the representations of the idol-making formats of Kumartuli, their changing presentations and new reflections and how the local history, oral traditions and lores still manifest themselves through these changing representations.

In the Footsteps of Hsüan-tsang, in karnasubarna

Sumit Soren

Independent Researcher


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 In those days when there was no discovery channel or BBC; people learnt about distant lands through the travels of brave travelers who undertook perilous journey across thousands of miles. Travelling was certainly not easy in those days when there were no airplanes, motor vehicles or diesel powered ships. Travelling was also not possible through personal endeavor only; often travelers undertook voyage under the patronage or sponsorship of religious institutions or funding from Kings. For these travelers who mainly travelled on foot, caravans or by ships, India was always a favored destination for number of reasons. Stories of the great wealth of India had reached far and wide, the abundance of Buddhist literature and monasteries also invited the travelers to come to India. So we may say India was an attractive destination because of both material and spiritual reason, and thus we find a number of travelers visiting India at different times. Hsüan-tsang, Ibn Batuta, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Francois Bernier all visited India in different times and left for us a reliable picture of life in India in those times.

The Mystery of Indian Floor Paintings

Swarup Dutta

Dean Academics, Indian Institute of Crafts and Design


 As a child one of my fondest memories is of Lakshmi Puja. The whole household seemed transformed. There was activity all around the household. I could sense a joyous mood in everyone. But the most remarkable reminder of this day to me was alpona – the beautiful floor decorations which my mother and sisters made on the threshold of our household, on the doorsteps leading to the prayer alter…”, remembers Narayan Sinha, a renowned sculptor, who has spent his childhood in rural Bengal.

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