The village of Alangiri is near the town of Egra in south Medinipur. Although somewhat isolated and difficult to reach now, it must have been a prosperous village in the 19th century as evidenced by the several terracotta temples were built here then. Exceptional amongst these is the Raghunathji temple built by the Das family in 1810. Placed on a high plinth within the walled courtyard of the family’s residence, this massive navaratna temple has triple-arched porches on three sides and is nearly 40 feet high, making it one of the largest temples in Medinipur. To the north of the village is the Radha Gokulanandaji temple, an ekratna deul with an atchala attached jagamohana porch. Local tradition assigns this temple to the mid-18th century. Also in this village is the Bhairabnath Siva deul temple which can be dated to the 19th century on stylistic grounds. During my visit to Alangiri in 2013 I was only able to locate and photograph the Raghunathji temple.
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.
Iconography is a field of study that concerns itself with the evaluation of symbols and their significance in religion. It aids in establishing context and helps to link the beliefs and myths of the past to the practices of the present. Any attempt to discuss iconography of temples needs to start with a look at why icons are created. The need for religious iconography is multifold in nature. First, it seeks to make the intangible concept of the gods real through physical presence. Religious iconography has a language of its own which seeks to make the god visible through a certain set of characteristics that are predetermined by rules that originated in ancient times. Secondly, religious icons in the days prior to the industrial revolution provided a unifying effect by their occurrence in temples across a region or a kingdom. Even though the actual mode of worship may differ from region to region within India, the icons themselves are pan-Indian. Icons associated with temples may also be a sign of the wealth or social standing of the person who finances the temple building process. Removing the icons makes religion itself a vague concept which is not as easily disseminated. One other function icons perform is as a record of a certain period in history. The intentional removal of icons during certain historical events can provide clues to the socio-political climate of the time and be reflective of invasion or change of patronage.
In 1673, Zamindar Rameshwar Ray left Patuli and settled in Bansberia or Banskabati as it was known earlier in Hooghly. Bansberia is located besides our holy river Ganga, and in between Tribeni and Bandel. Zamindar Rameshwar Ray was gifted this village of around 400 Bigha of Land and its Zamindari by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who also gifted him the prestigious title of King. From this time onward many of his kith and kin settled in Bansberia.
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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