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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Sumit Biswas is a bit preoccupied these days. His aged mother met with an accident at home that resulted in a severe hip injury. Sumit, an only child, spends most of his day in his old Central Kolkata home tending to his mother.

But looking after his mother does not mean that Sumit has forgotten his other Maa. As the festive beats of the dhak roll in every year, Sumit painstakingly crafts a miniature Durga idol, devoting hours a day to etch out the finer intricacies of the 10-armed Devi Durga.

Durga Devis in Clay

Sumit Biswas Durga defeating the buffalo (image: Umang Sharma)

His passion started young. As a young boy, Sumit would construct the ten-armed Goddess with any material he could find – paper, or even a mound of dough.

But Sumit remembers his first time creating a miniature clay idol. It was in 1991 and he was in Class 5.  He was sad because his father had to leave for a job in Tripura, while Sumit and his mom had to remain in Kolkata.

He found some silt in a pot and his young hands finessed a likeness the Autumnal Devi. The idol was six-inches high.

Sumit was drawn to Durga as a kindergartener when he would sketch her on Vijayadashami greeting cards – an effort appreciated by the adults around him.

“That somewhere stayed with me….. coupled with the beauty of idols, images of which I would cut from newspaper clippings and restore in a diary, led to my affinity towards creating idols myself,” he says.

Clay Deities of Durga

Sumit’s clay deities range between 8 to 10-inches high only because he had very practical reason for doing so.  He displayed his art in an ancient bookcase at home. Each shelf was only 120 inches high.

“So, it was a predetermined size for me.  I could store the idols I made, since I loathed giving them away.”

He keeps most of his creations, with good reason.

“The process of etching out these Durga idols is not easy. I have never learnt how to make them professionally. I carve out everything by hand and do not make use of any moulds.”

Sumit Biswas with his collection of clay Durgas (image: Umang Sharma)

The Process

Initially, Sumit would create a framework and make the base out of cotton before layering it with clay. It’s a time-consuming process that Sumit has abandoned.

“Over the last 3 years I have started making it entirely out of clay,” paying close attention to minute details, he adds.

He follows tradition by creating a tiny frame to worship on the day of Rath Yatra, before constructing the idol. After the kathamo pujo on Janmashtami, he brings home clay to start layering the likeness of the Goddess.

“On Mahalaya, while Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s iconic Mahishashurmardini plays on the radio, I paint the eyes of the Goddess (chakshudaan) during that Brahma muhurta, finally bringing to fruition after months of labour, the splendour of the Goddess.”

Memories of Durga

It’s been a memorable 32-year journey says Sumit.

“I remember each and every idol that I have created,” and the memory associated with each.

The 2002 idol reminds him of when he completed his Masters, degree. The 2003 model was the last one his father saw before he passed away.

The appreciation that his creations attracted as a child continues today – from media houses to unwitting neighbors who had no idea that Sumit was creating miniature masterpieces at home. “I am humbled by the reactions,” says Sumit.

Surprises & Miracles

Over the years Sumit has experienced his fair share of surprises, mysteries, and miracles with his art.

In 2016, a day ahead of Mahalaya. Sumit had finished his clay sculpture and was waiting to complete the chakshudaan the next day, when a gust of wind hit the idol and it crashed, shattering into a million pieces. “I was devastated,” recounts Sumit.

When he fell asleep, he dreamed that the idol was remade. He woke with a start and recreated the entire idol, readying it in the wee hours of the morning in time for the festivities.

“You can call it a stroke of luck, or maybe the works of powers that be…” Sumit reflects.

Bengalis Live for Durga Puja

“As a Bengali, Durga is a part of our lives. She is not just a deity, but rather a family member we welcome home every year,” says Sumit. One of his earliest memories of Durga Puja is sitting on his father’s lap listening to an explanation of the astras that the Goddess holds in her 10 hands.

Bengalis celebrate Durga Puja during five days of festivities that welcome the 10-armed goddess and her retinue of children.

“Bengalis live for Durga Puja,” says Sumit. “And my efforts in creating a miniature idol is perhaps a humble effort to bring her home to me as well.”

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Umang Sharma

Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader and film buff. He has worked as a journalist for over 12 years and is addicted to breaking news! He enjoys researching and writing about socio-political,...