Kolkata: With dexterous and swift moves of their fingers, the potters in Kumartuli are now working at a frenzied pace, giving finishing touches to the idols of Goddess Durga as they try to keep pace with changing times and the increasing demand for adding contemporary touches to the traditional clay idols.
It is not only the devotees who are decking up. Their goddess is also in the fray as the artisans get busy in one of their final tasks - drawing the beautiful eyes of the goddess and readying the images for being transported to various parts of Bengal and even other states. Those destined for puja celebrations overseas were flown out weeks ago.
In a race against time - that has been markedly reduced due to the monsoons wreaking havoc - the artisans have effectively woven in new-age concepts into their craft at Kumartuli, the traditional potters' quarter.
The area in north Kolkata is the place where the life-like idols of Durga and her family are impeccably sculpted using clay and straw and virtually brought to life with paint, sarees and ornaments .
Be it the paints, the accessories or the sculpture, changes in customary practices are noticeable as one snakes one's way through the labyrinthine alleys dotted with part concrete-part bamboo workshops of the Pal community who have been in the business for centuries.
Trendspotting through the rows of canopied clay idols, conspicuous are the semi-ready ceramic models of the goddess and her children: glossy with golden- lacquered, purple and brown tints, the ultra-smooth texture is an eye-catcher.
"This year there is a huge demand for the ceramic-finish idols. The glazy sheen reflects lights and therefore looks brighter. It is basically a type of paint that we are using to cover the clay base," artist Sontu Dey told IANS.
According to Hindu mythology, goddess Durga, accompanied by her four children - Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati - descend to the earth each year to visit her parents, occasioning the celebration of Durga Puja.
Durga is believed to stay for five days to eradicate evil - buffalo demon Mahishasura - from the earth before returning to her husband, Lord Shiva, at Kailash on Dashami (the 10th day).
The craftsmen who now have moved from obscurity to prominence thanks to their ingenuity are also inspired by Bollywood this year.
With six-pack abs sported by stars like Salman and Shahrukh Khan, clients have ordered models of the Mahishasura displaying chiseled abs and arms.
"That look is being used in very expensive models as the sculpting of the anatomical requirements takes time and intricate craftsmanship. Many of our clients (the puja organisers) have asked for the particular style," said Babu Pal, the spokesperson of Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskriti Samity.
For the goddesses, hair falling in soft waves instead of the trademark ultra-curly style, is making a splash.
"Some of our customers have ordered idols with shoulder length hair. Others have asked for brown tinted hair," said Dey.
"Though the majority of the Durgas are in keeping with tradition, some have asked for a slimmer version of the models. It is the television effect," said Moni Pal.
In terms of headgear, said Dipak Dey of Lokenath Shilpalaya (a store specialising in accessories for idols), there is a preference for the tapering crowns or 'topor mukut' inset with pink gemstones.
However, one thing that refuses to evolve is the use of eco-friendly lead-free paints.
Lead-based paints, which are hazardous to both human health and the environment, have been the staple of the Kumartuli artists for decades and despite strong concerns voiced by environmentalists, are still in widespread use.
"If the government fails to lower prices of the rather expensive lead-free paints then how can we incorporate it on a regular basis? We mostly use the normal lead-based ones," said Pal.
Durga puja will be celebrated Oct 10 to Oct 14 this year.