If you've marveled over the intricate beauty of the idols of Goddess Durga during Durga Puja in Kolkata, you've no doubt wondered how they're made. It's actually possible to see the idols being handcrafted. Where? Kumartuli Potter's Town in north Kolkata.
The settlement of Kumartuli, meaning "potter locality" (Kumar = potter. Tuli = locality), is over 300 years old. It was formed by a bunch of potters who came to the area in search of a better livelihood. Nowadays, around 150 families live there, earning a living by sculpting idols for the various festivals out of clay.
The majority of idols are made by lesser known artisans, who are experimental in nature. However, there are a few renowned names that make traditional idols that inspire deep devotion. One such person is Ramesh Chandra Pal, who works out of his studio at Raja Nabakrishna Street. There's always a rush to see his idols during Durga puja.
If you love art, you shouldn't miss visiting Kumartuli. But regardless, it's a place that offers a unique dose of culture. The narrow maze of lanes and alleyways team with humanity, and gods and goddesses in various states of creation. Wandering through them, and seeing the artists at work, reveals a fascinating world within a world right in front of you.
One thing to keep in mind though, is that the area can be a bit dirty and unkempt -- but don't let it put you off it!
Where is Kumartuli?Kumartuli is in north Kolkata. The main location is Banamali Sarkar Street.
How to Get to Kumartuli?It's easiest to take a taxi (it will take around 30 minutes from central Kolkata) to Kumartuli. Otherwise, buses and trains go there. The nearest railway station is the Sovabazar Metro. Sovabazar Launch Ghat (alongside the Ganges river) is also close by. Taking a walk to the riverbank is worthwhile, as you'll get to see old Gothic & Victorian style mansions. From there you can get a boat back to central Kolkata.
When is the Best Time to Visit Kumartuli?Idol making for various festivals happens mostly from June to January. Of course, the biggest occasion is Durga Puja. There's usually a frenzy of activity around 20 days before the Durga Puja festival begins, in order to get all the work finished. Traditionally, the eyes of the Goddess are drawn on (in an auspicious ritual called Chokkhu Daan) on Mahalaya -- around a week before Durga Puja starts. It's worth seeing.
Prefer to go on a guided tour? Check out the Kumartuli walking tour in this guide to Kolkata walks.
Can't make it to Kumartuli? Check out how Durga idols are handcrafted there in this exclusive making of Durga photo gallery.