The festivities are back again. Diwali can be felt in the air, what with the weather, the smog and the firecrackers hinting at the fast approaching festival of lights and prosperity. Durga Pooja and Dusshera having just concluded, still linger on in our minds.

For so many years, I used look at the beautiful Pandals with a mixture of joy and happiness. Durga Pooja was a time when literally the Goddess morphed into a tangible form and came down to earth to bless us. But for me, Durga Pooja this year was special. This year was nothing short of a revelation.

I had gone with a friend to Chittaranjan Park, the delightful Bengali dominated yet cosmopolitan area in South Delhi. The visit was intended to be a short one with a quick dash to the Kali Mandir there. Little did I know that I would end up spending a significant chunk of my time there with a desire to go again. Right next to the main temple, inside the compound of the Kali Mandir, was a small semi-open area, closely resembling a tool shed. Packed inside it were rows and rows of almost finished idols getting painted and completed by artisans.

Rows and rows of semi-finished idols

Striking conversations with these hugely skilled and talented artisans proved to be quite a challenge though. For one, the language seemed to be a barrier as they had come to Delhi for a period of three months from Bengal and didn’t know Hindi. Secondly, they were so completely engrossed in painting the clay idols that they barely gave a second glance to the awestruck trespassers.

They painted. We watched. As they painted the face, the clay idols slowly started assuming life. As I saw a completely painted face of Ma Durga, it was as if divinity itself which was being tangibly infused into the molecules of clay and Plaster of Paris. As the eyes got painted, the idol started expressing a sense of destruction, a sense of anger and yet a sense of complete benevolence and serenity at the same time. Stuff of God, I tell you.

The idol assumes life

I finally managed to talk to the head artisan who knew Hindi and took out time to tell me that it takes about three to four months to make all the clay idols. It is a century old skill which he learned from his grand-father at an extremely young age. Hearing him explain the intricacies of the process, I couldn’t but marvel at the patience required for the back breaking work. The working conditions need mention too. It was a small, cramped room with almost eighty to hundred towering figurines of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in it. The artisans would reach up to these idols by way of temporary made plywood ladders, which were precariously perched against the idols. A second makeshift wooden structure had a bulb hanging at one end which acts as the source of light for the intricate painting required on the idols.

Govindji, the head artisan has been in this profession for decades now. Yet, quite tellingly, he doesn’t want his son to get into this profession. It is not a story which should surprise many of us. Lots of centuries old skills in the handicrafts sector are languishing in our ancient country. However, it seems surprising to see this for a skill which exists at the intersection of religion and sees huge buy-ins from people who throng in thousands to the Pandals every year.

The head artisan, painting and talking to us at the same time!

I had never thought about these numerous invisible artisans when I used to look at Ma Durga in a Pandal every year. This year as I bowed my head in allegiance in front of Ma Durga, I also gave a silent bow to the power of the humble artisan who had played a part in creating the tangible divinity towering over the hundreds of people. A sense of beauty and aesthetics, it is said, is a God given gift. This couldn’t be more true for the thousands of artisans across the country, who create these idols. This Durga Pooja and for every subsequent Durga Pooja, I fervently hope that they at least get to know how much we appreciate their work in giving us our beloved Gods.