A National award winner and an official at the famous Lalit Kala Akademy. He is a sculptor and artist. Amitava Bhowmick was former Director at Ministry of Small Scale Industry, Government of India. Quite influential, calm and sympathetic, he was more than eager to tell me all he knew about idol making. Here is excerpt of my interview with him.

“Tell me something about how idols are made?”
“Indian art is based on lotus sutra. That is why the eye of goddess Durga is shaped like a lotus bud. Even the lips are like two petals. The hand legs posture everything is based on lotus sutra. Many may say it is like Aishwarya Rai, or someone else. But that is not the case. Everything in idol making is based on lotus sutra.”

“The idols are produced in masses. Do you think that hamper with the quality?”
“Obviously! But the people are not exactly looking for the quality. What they want is best idol in cheap rate. If someone wants quality then they can get the idols made with extra money. The thing is both cannot co-exist. So either quality or quantity, depends on the budget.”

“Oh! Some people now want concept based idols what is your view on that?”
“Since childhood we are conditioned to some rituals. Like do not eat Prasad before it is given to god. Similarly, the idol makers are conditioned to create idols of specific kind. When the order is given to design new thematic idol they will no doubt create it. But they are also skeptic about it”

“Can you explain the process?”
“Firstly the entire bamboo structure is made. On the top of it they put straw of rice they tie it to give shape of torso, hand, leg everything. They put coating of clay mixed with cow dung. Then another coating is done, slowly they give the shape. The last coating is done with the dust they collect from prostitute’s house. Then they give coating of white colour. Nowadays plastic emulsion is used. Then the idol is painted. Recently sprays are used to colour. It gives a uniform and smooth finish.The biggest surprise of my life was to know that the final layer is done with the clay brought from prostitute’s house. The reason for this is that even a learned man, a criminal, an illiterate everyone goes there. They leave their footprint along with the dust. This is used to make the Goddess Durga to give respect to the woman. Durga is epitome of Shakti, and this Shakti is in every woman.”

“How did Idol making started in Delhi?”
“When the capital shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911, lot of Bengalis migrated along with the Britisher, as Babus and clerical staff in government offices. Initially the first Durga Puja started in Delhi at St. Stephen Hospital, near old Delhi Station. After that it was shifted to Kashmiri Gate polytechnic, from there it is now shifted to another place in Kashmiri gate itself Bengali Boys Senior Secondary School. Those days Bengali used bring the idol maker from Kumortuli (West Bengal) or from Nadia. They used to make idols as per the demand of local Bengal community, be it Dhakker Saaj or the Goddess Durga surrounded by Kartik, Ganesh, Saraswati and Lakshmi. Initially problem was faced to bring the colour so they used to do it with earth.”

“Can you tell something about the status of idol makers and ways to flourish them?
“The idol makers luckily now do not have to run after the customer. They are given places in different areas of Delhi. They come and settle there under the rampoline. The people come and buy from them. People who want different kind of concept in mind also get it designed by giving extra money.”

“What can government do to uplift the artisans?”

“Government involvement should not be there. Actually what will happen is the
money will not reach the artisans, but will get dissolved in middleman. Moreover
bribe and all is actual scenario in India. So government involvement, according
to me won’t be helpful.”

“So what can be done to help the idol makers?”
“The colonies that organize Durga Puja can come forward and together give
space to the craftsmen. So that during off season they can live together and do
some work in Delhi only.”

For more information, please contact him at 9999426182