The smell of wet clay from the Ganges, the dry crackling of straw beneath your feet, the criss-cross patterns of bamboo spread out within the narrow confines of a ramshackle, eight-by-eight studio blend seamlessly to create the traditional homes of the artisans where Goddess Durga takes ‘birth.’ The place is called Kumortuli. For the average Indian who is a stranger to Calcutta, the name Kumartuli may not ring any bell of nostalgia. However, Kumartuli is not just a place in Kolkata or merely a name; Kumartuli is a manifestation to Bengalis; an emotion. It is synonymous with Durga puja, which has been serving as a cultural identify for the Bengalis for ages. People staggering, crowded narrow lanes, bargaing over the price of the idols and skilled hands carefully painting the eyes of Devi Durga: this is the common scenario of a busy day in Kumartuli. After all, this is the place from where the journey of the idols starts to the pandals of The City of Joy as it prepares itself for its greatest carnival.
The name “Kumortuli” is derived from the original Bengali word ‘kumore’ meaning ‘potter’ in English. “Tuli” is a Bengali word that roughly translates as ‘a small space’ or ‘place’ where the potters stay. So the word ‘Kumartuli.’ Call them what you may – potters, idol makers or artistans, their work is the same, handed over from one generation to the next.
They are indeed a unique community: Artists and businessmen at the same time and the both by birth. From belonging to traditional potters’ family, they say, Kumartuli is almost as old as the 300-plus-year old Kolkata. It is believed that traditional clay artisans from Krishnanagar in the Nadia district of West Bengal setteled here after the introduction of community pujas.
The community pujas has been a great boon for Kumartuli. Almost every locality holds one and that means more idols. But the trend of community pujas has changed. The city hs chanced its character: its culture, people and peoples’ mindset has gone through a lot of changes. Theme pujas has replaced the age old traditional pujas. Modern art has experimented with the form of ‘ekchala murti’; metals and artificial fibers and even glass and bamboo and wood has replaced clay to cope up with the changing scenarios. The world is small and Durga puja is now global. The idols from the narrow lanes of Kumartuli have made their journey beyond borders. Idols has been placed and showcased in museums instead of ‘puja pandals’. Calcutta has become Kolkata; many of the Bengalis prefer to call themselves bongs these days. Hasn’t Kumartuli changed since its inception, with passing time and change in the city’s culture? It has.
The involvement of the clay-modellers or idol-makers in these Pujas has been reduced to a minimum. Though this is one of the few craft cultures that has experienced an influx of new artisans, the medium of craft does not follow the traditional practices but is constantly evolving. The traditional artisans who have failed to adapt to the demands of the changing popular culture of the puja, are experiencing a threat to their art of idolmaking.
These changes have also led to the breakdown of division of labour among the caste, the erstwhile limitation of women not being involved in idol making has gradually changed with the rise of female artists among the clay-modelers who may or may not belong to the potter caste. Individuals having a ritually low status like widows and artisan from other religion like Islam have also made their presence felt, though these are more of a one-off incident than a regular practice.
Thus, this changing economy and industry of today’s Durga Puja raises questions of survival and revival of people from different layers of society who depend either directly or indirectly on the extra income that is assured through the innumerable jobs required for the successful completion of the puja. This is because idol making involves thousands of artisans. While there are the chief artisans along with numerous small image-makers, there are others like the suppliers of raw materials, dressmakers and jewellery designers all of whom form a part of the larger community of the idol makers. While crores are being spent during the festival of Durga Puja throughout whole Kolkata, the question arises as to what ways are the artisans involved and how do they benefit from this annual extravaganza.
Kumartuli is the lagest idol making workshop in the whole world. It is one of the oldest surviving colonies of India. Thus, it is important to dig deep into the present conditions of Kumartuli. Its survival and revival has its own importance and a role to play in the conservation of Bengali culture, heritage and history.
Review of Literature
“Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.
The term can be applied to music that has been evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by popular and art music and it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community.
The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning the re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk-character.”
The above definition of folk music was accepted by the International Folk Music Council in 1964. However, this definition can be broadened easily to other arts by substituting the word “music” with the word “art”.
The art of idol making can be considered as a major “urban folk art” (Guha-Thakurta, 2004). The art that is nurtured within the four walls of the workshops of Kumartuli has its roots in the cultural heritage and history of Bengal. Bhattachaya (2008) points out,
“These traditional idol-makers of Kumartuli have been associated historically with the culture of Durga puja celebration in Bengal and in Kolkata for over the last 250 years or so, and have marked a niche for themselves as a specialized group of craftsmen among the ordinary potters. It is this community of people who are undergoing adaptations and innovations in their life and work in order to fulfill the ever changing demands of the Durga puja, trying to maintain that fine balance between ritual authenticity and innovative ‘art'”.
Presently there are about 500 workshops within a total area of 6.6 acres (Guha-Thakurta 2015). A typical workshop of the karigars at Kumartuli is a linear rectangular room with an entrance facing the road or the lane. The walls are of bricks and slopping roof of tin shades supported on bamboo truss system and has mezzanine floors. The height of these workshop ranges from 18 feet to 20 feet (Banerjee, 2017). These workshops comprises of working space, storage space for idols, storage space of raw materials, eating, cooking and sleeping space of karigars. It is a place where Karigars or labours work and live in the same space (Banerjee, 2017).
Das (2009) observes,
“A majority of the establishments operate out of kuchcha construction and are therefore susceptible to water logging, poor sanitation and fire hazards. The area has a very high ground coverage of 90% which prohibits the entry of light and causes poor ventilation. The drainage, sewerage, solid waste management system and water supply system are inadequate to say the least. Accessibility is extremely poor and any circulation within the area through whatever narrow roads are available is impeded by encroachment and unauthorised structures.”
Most of the people in this are area running their businesses generation after generation, so there are businesses found to be older than 200 years.
However, after even a couple of centuries the business has remained mostly within the boundaries of hindu religion and more precisely within the cast of potters. Banerjee (2017) points out, “The artisans are mostly Hindu (88%) but 8% Muslims were also found along with remaining 4% other religion.” The potters of Kumartuli belong to the Kumbharar caste, which is now considered to OBC in West Bengal.
However, it is not only limited to a certain religion and caste but also the division of labour is note worthy. Banerjee (2017) even points out that the Idol making industry is mostly male dominated, only 37 percent of the total workers are found to be female. Das (2009) writes,
“The Kumartuli is an idol making industry in which the division of labour is based on sex and age. Here the women mainly engage with house hold activities. But they also engage with the business work indirectly. They cook for the laborer which is a part of the business. Some females also hold their father business. Women are mostly engage with the stages of idol making such as preparing the coloring the idol, face of idol, eye drawing, wearing cloth and ornament to the idol etc. Some years ago for the male dominancy the women only engage in house hold activities. They haven’t the permission to do other outside work. Their work is to stay at home and do only house works. Earning money is completely a male work. Some old persons still think that “Mayera Mayer Jat” (the girls are as similar as mother) so it is good for them to stay in the house and do the house work more than doing a job or higher education.”
He further writes,
“There were also some division of labour on the basis of work and experience on the work. On the basis of that there were 3 types of laborer such as- Main laborer, Medium laborer and Patel. Except these there were some artisans who draw eyes and some is expert to wear cloth to the idols.”
Bhattcharya (2008) observers that the population in Kumartuli is now no more a homogenous group and can be divided broadly into three major groups: the master artists of Kumartuli, The educated, Art College graduate artists, who are not necessarily from potter caste and The numerous small artisans, mostly belonging to the potters’ caste but also from other lower caste groups, there are even Muslim potters among them. She further writes that apart from these three distinct categories, the entire industry is supported through the labour ofinnumerable wageworkers or karigars as they say who are engaged in the various stages of production. These labourers are, unskilled, semi-skilled or skilled and derive their livelihood from this work. They might have formerly belonged only to the traditional potters’ caste but now are a heterogeneous mixture of many castes – higher and lower in the hierarchy.
Though not a cottage ‘industry’ as such, idol-making constitutes a craft-based occupation which is gradually taking the shape of an industry, can be identified as having a ‘cottage craftsman mode’ of production, wherein the members of the family and kin group, i.e., domestic group control the manufacture and sale of the product (Goody 1982).
The production of idols is a commodity production, which involves a direct exchange and has a specific use value. The consumers are scattered throughout the world in almost all places where there is a concentration of Bengali population. Though the market is chiefly concentrated within Kolkata and the other parts of Bengal today the idols from Kumartuli reaches the corners of the world. Mukherjee (2017) writes,
“A spokesman of Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samity, an association of the craftsmen, Babu Pal told UNI that the NRIs of countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia, Austria and Poland, come to Kumartuli to buy images. US based NRIs, including the Bengali Association of Southern California, Bengali association of Greater Chicago, Dakshini, Sanskriti, Garden State Puja Committee of New Jersey, East Coast Durga Puja Committee of New York, come to Kumartuli to select deities to ship to their cities. Additionally, hundreds of agents in Kolkata service NRIs seeking idols from Kumartuli, he said. With the internet expanding exponentially, Kolkata’s traditional idol makers launched a community website for Kumartuli so that they could reach potential overseas buyers of Durga idols. More than 15 idol makers have already launched their websites till now. They have already secured direct offers from around the world, said Mr Pal.”
However, Banerjee (2017) shows,
“Annual income varies a lot in this businesses some studio (shop) owners those who export a good number of idols to foreign countries they earn better profit than others. But the income of the idol makers are not very satisfactory, whatever the owner earn they get ¼ percentage of that or more or less among those 18 percentage those who earn more than 60 lac annualy they export durga idol to foreign countries like United Kingdom, America, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Nepal, various countries of Europe etc.
Like other industries an ancillary industry formed based on this idol making industry too, mostly their products are decorative artifacts, jewelleries, pottery works, garlands, floor drawings etc. Profitability of this ancillary shops highly dependent on idol making industries, 26 percentage of these shop owners annual turnover is 1-20 lacs, 20 percentage of those earn less than 1 lac and 22 percentage of them earn make more than 60 lacs.”
The cost of raw materials has increased sharply but the prices of the images have not been increased proportionately. As images of different gods and goddess are required for the various pujas (religious worship) held through the year, the products being made in the image makers’ workshops have very short production cycles. Workshops are small and cramped and do not have sufficient space to store unsold stock. Therefore the crafts persons are forced to sell their products at whatever prices they can command, even if it entails a loss of investment (Das, 2009).
Bhattacharya (2008) writes,
“Of primary importance is the storage space that the artisan will require to keep these idols that are made in advance. The storage space or warehouse needs to be rented, the cost varying from Rs 150 per month to Rs 5000 for a season (five to six months). If an idol is stored for a long period of six to seven months, the paints tend to peel-off, the lustre fades and hence just before delivery the whole idol needs to be re-painted. Other than these, storage also involves transportation costs since either a cycle van or a mini truck (LeV) should be hired along with five to eight porters (coolies) to transfer the completed or semi completed idol from the workshop to the warehouse and back at the time of delivery.”
Apart from the problem of storage and rising cost, the instability and unavailability of labours are another issue. Banerjee (2017) opines, “People get easier work near their homes under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. So they do not want to come all the way to Kolkata to work, until 2013 the daily wages of semi-skilled workers was Rs. 200. From 2014 it has been doubled.”
Not only the labours who need seasonal migration to be a part of the idol making process in Kumartuli, the next generation within the community itself is not really very keen to join the hereditary business. Mukherjee (2017) opines that the younger generation is not that keen to pursue idol-making as a profession as there is less social recognition and monetary benefits and thus the new-generation of idol makers now defy many of the age-old traditions. This is further supported by Das (2009),
“In the absence of respect for their skills, appropriate remuneration, access to basic facilities and infrastructure; government support or civil society recognition, a number of traditionally trained image makers are abandoning their profession. The younger generation of these artisan families is also wary of continuing the profession for the same reasons. Consequently, the tradition of image making in clay is under decline.”
Redman and Mory (1923) define research as a “systematized effort to gain new knowledge.” Kothari (2004) opines,
“It is actually a voyage of discovery. We all possess the vital instinct of inquisitiveness for, when the unknown confronts us, we wonder and our inquisitiveness makes us probe and attain full and fuller understanding of the unknown. This inquisitiveness is the mother of all knowledge and the method, which man employs for obtaining the knowledge of whatever the unknown, can be termed as research.”
If research is a voyage, research methodology is the radar that shows direction to the researcher amidst the sea of vast unknown. It introduces the techniques and methods that are required to reach the desired outcome. It defines how the researcher goes on with his research, carries out investigations and analyzes the findings in order to reach a conclusion.
Field of study
Kumartuli, the field of study, is a colony of potters that is located In the northern part of Kolkata in the state of West Bengal. It falls under the ward no 9 of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC). It is located between Rabindra Sarani and Hoogly River. The potters’ community resides here mainly along Abhay Mitra Street, Bonomali Sarkar Street, Durga Charan Banerjee Street and Rabindra Sarani.
This neighbourhood as well as the community has its own significance in the history of Kolkata. The initiation of idol-making at Kumartuli follows a certain lore which is even popular amidst the artisans as well as the retailers who specialize in selling ornaments. A lore ascribes the significance of the development of the potter community in the present region. According to the lore, the first potter was brought over to the region from Krisnanagar (Nadia district in Bengal) by Raja Nabakrisna Deb of Sovabazar to build a Durga idol to commemorate the worship of the deity in honour of the victory of the British at the Battle of Plassey against the Muslim power of Siraj-ud-Daullah in 1757. Eventually, inspired by the example, several other rich families of the region started giving similar orders to the potter to build clay idols for their respective families. As gradually the demand started increasing, the potter found it a daunting task to travel to and from Krisnanagar to build the idols and requested for a place of residence along with the artisans and other artists to assist in the process of idol making. Thus, as the wishes of the potters were granted, Kumartuli came into existence as a centre for clay art in Kolkata. Since then Kumartuli stands as a unique centre of art and business. And the potter community residing here are artists and businessmen at the same time.
The objectives of conducting the research work among the unique community of North Kolkata are as follows:
To find out the conditions of business by the artisans of Kumartuli.
To find out the main challenges that the artisans of Kumartuli are facing.
To find out the future of idol making as a family business that runs generation after generation at Kumartuli.
Selection of sample
Population is a term that refers to a huge range of people. Though the majority of the population of Kumartuli depends on the clay idol making business there are people of other professions too. Especially, depending on the core business of idol making different ancillary business has developed down the decades. Many of the idol makers has taken up the job of sculpting portraits out of plaster of paris. Even among the idol makers there could be found two groups. Firstly, the people for whom idol making or working in the idol making workshops are a profession of their family which they are associated with generation after generation and another, that is the art college graduates who don’t really belong to the community but have taken up idol making and builds idols which are not traditional in form. The target population of the research is the porters who belong to the community that is crafting idols with clay, following the tradition and carrying on their family business. Thus, to reach the representatives of the target population and due to lack of time and resources purposive sampling technique is employed here. Any porter that is associated to the idol making institutions in the process of idol making and thus is associated with their family business is a respondent.
Tools of data collection
For the study quantitative method of data collection is used. For that a questionnaire is made keeping in mind the objectives of the study. The questionnaire consists of both the closed and open-ended questions in order to launch the respondents straight to the heart of their problems and to get much deeper insight of their problems and present scenario.
The quantitative data has been obtained from 84 respondents. Then the questionnaire has been coded and data entry has been made with the help of Microsoft Excel. And finally the data has been analysed and presented as bar graphs and pie charts to get a proper and useful insight into the matter.
Duration of study
The study has been conducted over a period of ten weeks.
Especially due to lack of time and resources the study has a few limitations. The sample size could be greater, which would give a better insight into the matter. The population of former clay idol makers who has shifted to other forms of sculpting could be surveyed in order to know the reason behind their shift. It would also help us to understand the trend and future of the involvement of new generations in it. Some of the artisans also were unwilling to reveal data about their income to the unknown researcher. The researcher himself is not much familiar with the community. One, who is familiar with a certain community, has always has an edge to dig deeper into the problems and sensitive issues than a stranger.
Findings and Analysis
Among the respondents that were surveyed visiting 25 workshops or institutions of Kumartuli most of them were male and apart from their gender the respondents can be categorized among two main categories on the ground of their status in the workshops or institutions. The following tables shows the the categories of the respondents.
Table no. 1: Participation of male and female
Table no. 2: Owners and labours among the artisans of Kumartuli
Male Female Male Female
26 4 43 11
Total owner 30 Total labour 54
Grand total 84
Thus these tables show that the participation of females in the idol-making business and process is less in stark contrast to the number of males. Only there is 26.2% of female population engaged while male participation is of 73.8%. Figure no. 1 confirms the same.
Figure no 2 shows the artisans divided into two categories that is based on their status in the institution. There are 54 wage labourers involved in the 25 institutions of Kumartuli that were surveyed. In both the categories, that are owners and labourers, we see the participation of women is less than that of men. Thus, it shows that the art and business of idol making in Kumartuli is more or less confined within male population.
Figure no. 1: GenderFigure no. 2: Status
Even if we carefully look into the participation of people on the grounds of religion and caste we will see that it is confined within the Hindus and the OBC caste. 98% of the artisans are Hindu while 2% is the Muslim population which is the only other religion found in the study. Percentage of the OBC people is 60.7%, while the nwxt in line is the General category people with a percentage of only 16.7.
Figure no. 3: Religion
Figure no. 4: Caste
When the respondents were asked if they feel the working conditions in the workshops are adequate or not we get a disheartening result as 63.1% of them feel that the conditions are poor, 2.4% even feel that they are very poor, 23.8% opines that they are average and only 10.7% feels that they are moderate, while none of them feels that the conditions are excellent.
Figure no. 5: Working conditions
Certainly the working conditions of the workshops need upgradation. The respondents feel that the poorest of the factors that need to be upgraded are the area, which is their space for production and storage; height of the workshops as most of the workshops are 10 feet in height and the orders placed the taller than this and accommodation place for the artisans as most of the labours travel from their native place during the season and stays at the houses of the owners of the institutions
Figure no. 6: Factors to upgrade
Addressing individually one of these three major factors, firstly, 36.4% of the population opined that area is a major problem. Now, we find that 23 of the 25 institutions have only one studio, two of them have two studios and none of them has more than 2 studios; as it is highlighted in figure no 7. It is noteworthy that these studios serve both as production and storage space.
Figure no. 7: Number of studios
Another important issue is the lack of a proper space for accommodation of the artisans, who can be called seasonal labours. Most of them travel from their native place during the season to work here. In figure no 9 we can see that only 2 of the labours belong to Kolkata while 19, 21, 4, 4 and 4 of the remaining 52 travels from Nabadweep, Krishnanagar, Bankura, Burdwan and Murshidabad respectively.
Figure no. 8: Native place
If we rank the main challenges that the artisans of Kumartuli are facing today, as is explored, we get a list like the following:
Rising cost of raw materials and labours and relatively low returns
Lack of interest in the new generation
Competition with artificial fibers
Instability of labours
Lack of technical expertise
Lack of raw materials
Figure no 9 confirms the ranking. 67 out of 84 respondents said that rising cost and low returns are the main challenges, while 31 respondents chose unsatisfactory workshops as one of the major challenges, 29 believed that lack of interest in the new generation is one of the threats, 27 saw competition with artificial fibers as a threat, 24 blamed instability of labours, 12 and 9 of the respondents opined that there is a lack of technical expertise and raw materials respectively and 7 others saw other factors such as rain as the major challenges.
Figure no. 9: Main challenges
If we dig deeper into the most threatening challenge of ‘rising cost and low returns,’ we that 84.5% said that they don’t get fair return and only 15.5% said that they get fair return.
Figure no. 10: Receiving fair return
Now if we concentrate on the cost part of their production 66.7% identified that clay is the most inflated raw material followed by straw(29.8%). It needs no mention that clay is the raw material that is needed the most in quantity in the process of idol making and inflation in its price is no doubt a danger for this age old profession.
Figure no. 11: Most inflated raw material
One of the factors that is to be blamed for the inflation in the prices of the raw materials is the presence of middle man. 93.3% of the owners admitted that they buy their raw materials from a middle man, while only 6.7% claimed that they don’t buy them from such a middle man. (Figure no. 12)
Figure no 12: Presence of middle man
Moreover, 76.7% of the owners have taken a bank loan in order to cope up with their rising investment. Only 23.3% could manage to invest without the help of any bank loan.
Figure no. 13: Bank loan taken
Artificial fibers are a genuine threat to the traditional idols made with bamboo, straw and clay. Most of the ‘pujas’ in the city are inclining towards theme based ‘pujas, ‘if they are not already celebrating it. The theme based ‘pujas’ demand modern idols which will be in harmony and will be a complement to their modern themes. Artisans of Kumartuli also recognize it to be a threat. 70.2% said that they think that the craze of theme based ‘pujas’ and idols are raising an alarm.
Figure no. 14: Theme based idols: a threat
29 of the respondents blamed the lack of interest in the new generation as a challenge. However, not only newer generation but the working generation also doesn’t want their children to join their family business or at least get some better job. 57.1% of the respondents said that they don’t want their children to join the profession in contrast to only 15.5% of the respondent said yes. 27.4% respondents showed their doubt. It is represented in figure no 15.
Figure no. 15: Children joining family business
Among the respondents who said that they don’t want their children to join the same profession mainly identified three reasons. 47.9% of them said that their children with degrees and education should not join the profession; 33.3% of them said that irrespective of their children’s educational background they should not join it as they will not be getting fair returns; 18.8% of them said that there are better options available today than idol making. It is shown in the figure below.
Figure no. 16: Reasons for saying no to children joining family business
It is pretty evident that newer generations are not coming into the business from the age of the respondents. Most of the respondents belong to the age group of 40-50 years and 50-60 years and their numbers are 31 and 30 respectively as we can see in figure no 17. We can also see that 12 of the respondents belong to the age group of 30-40 years and only 4 of the respondents are under 30 years of age.
Figure no. 17: Age
Figure no. 18: Age of the institutions
In complement to figure number 17, figure no 18 shows that 17 of the 25 institutions were set up before 20 years, 6 institutions age is between 10-20 years and only 2 institutions are set up in the last 10 years. Thus it is very much clear that new workshops are not being founded recently and the trend shows a decrease in setting up new institutions.
Everything needs a little motivation to flourish. Did the artisans of Kumartuli have any motivation to stay in the business or to inspire the next generations to join their family business? Only 9.5% of the artisans got any reward or recognition, while 90.5% of them are deprived of it. (Figure no. 19)
Figure no. 19: Awards/ recognition received
Moreover, all of the respondents (100%) said that they don’t enjoy any Government schemes or help regarding this, which could provide oxygen to the dying patient.
Figure no. 20: Enjoying Govt. schemes
Main findings and Suggestions
After analyzing all the findings got from the study, the picture of the community studied is much clear in respect to the objectives of the study. The economic condition of the business of the artisans of Kumartuli is on a decline. The factors that are behind this decline are the rising cost that is of raw materials and lobour; the unfair returns and the presence of middle men that has corrupted the system of buying raw materials. Though most of the raw materials are inflated in the present scenario, clay, the main item in the process of idol making stands apart on a different ground altogether in the list(figure no 11). If we dig to find its roots we can see that there are mainly two reasons behind the inflation of the price of clay. Firstly, though clay is very much an available item, pollution in the Ganges has changed the character of clay. The artisans of Kumartuli use mainly two types of clay that are ‘antel mati’ and ‘bele mati’. Bele mati is the ‘ganga mati’ that they get from the bed of river Ganges. However, due to pollution of Ganga and the change is the characteristics of its bed soil they have to transport it from as far a place like Uluberia. Thus, their transportation cost rises. The first reason reinforces the second one. The rise in transportation cost is one of the main reasons behind the inflation of the raw materials. Especially, in case of straw that they used to transport from Burdwan by boats, now has to be transported in truck on road. It has contributed to the rise of transportation cause, as well of the cost of raw materials, and hence production.
The presence of middle man in the system of buying raw materials in Kumartuli has an adverse effect on it. It certainly gives rise to the cost of raw materials. Most of the institutions of Kumartuli are a victim of this corrupt system (Figure no. 12). In order to cut down the cost of production it is suggested to omit or at least bypass these middle men.
In order to balance cost and returns it is necessary to cut down the cost of production, which is one of they major challenges to Kumartuli (Figure no. 9), as cost is the factor that the artisans may control to an extent while reruns are totally dependent on their customers. Apart from the cost of raw materials, the cost of labour is another important aspect. There is already instability of labours (Figure no. 9) and a cut down in their wages only instigate their instability. Thus to control the labour cost the factor regarding their migration is to be focused. Most of the labours come from Nadia district (Figure no. 8) and there is already a lack of expertise in labour (figure no. 9). Thus it means that the owners of the institutions can’t really depend on the local labour force. The expert labour, or the lack of it directly affects the quality of production. Thus, expert labour is needed. However, there is a lack of accommodating space for the labours. Thus, building up labour hostels may give a partial solution to the problems of rising labour cost and instability of the labours.
The physical conditions of the workshops are also not well (Figure no. 5). The workshop provide with the production space and storage space for the artisans as well as living space for the labours. While living space is concerned, especially hygiene is a factor that should be focused on. Though only 1.6% of the respondents pointed out the bad hygiene of the workshops, introduction of artisan hostel will increase the living standards of the artisans.
Most of the wokshops are older than 20 years in Kumartuli (Figure no. 18) and the two physical factors that need to be updated the most are the area and height of the workshops. Most of the institutions have only one workshop (Figure no. 7), which as discussed earlier are the working and living place of the labours as well storage space for the raw materials and idols. Increase in area or in height would make the institutions more productive, when quantity is concerned. More production means more returns.
Unfair returns are one of the main demotivating factors for the artisans of Kumartuli and it is to such an extent that 57.1% of the population doesn’t want their children to join the hereditary occupation (Figure no 15). All the three reason that those respondents gave to justify it points at the economical factor (Figure no. 16). However, their thought about their children’s education and joining the heriditary business reveals another social aspect about it. It indicates that there is a lack of respect in the profession. Respect can be seen as a major motivating factor. If we look into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the third step in the pyramid is the “esteem” needs. Awards and recognitions boost self-respect and thus increases esteem. But unfortunately 90.5% of the artisans never got any award or recognition (Figure no. 19). It is unfortunate that today with commodification of Durga puja where crores of corporate money flows in and almost all the big pujas bag an award or two at least; these artisans never come into the limelight.
The community is so much deprived that they enjoy no government schemes or aids (Figure no. 20). Today all the traditional and folk art forms and crafts receive at least some aid but even if we don’t consider idol making as a folk art form, this traditional craft is totally deprived. If they had granted some aid the Maslow’s second step of the pyramid that is the “security needs” would have been fulfilled.
If these factors are not fulfilled it will be impossible to revive this community in what they do best. Next generations will find other work and a history and tradition of hundreds of years will eventually die. It must be noted that this craft is to a great extent confined within a small number of people and not only in a small area. It is dominated by Hindu OBC males only and participation of others is nearly negligible (Figures no. 1, 3 and 4). Thus it is very important to encourage next generation to understand its importance and to give life to this dying art. Otherwise, with time the rich heritage of these narrow lanes and muddy workshops of Kumartuli will live in the history books only.
Llewyn Davis the main protagonist of the movie Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) defined: “If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.” The same goes for the art of Kumartuli. It is not new and never gets old. However, study reveals that it is certainly under threat and getting stagnant, if not dying. With decile in the prosperity of Kumartuli and its art a certain part of our rich cultural history and heritage fades too. Thus, its renaissance is of much importance. The Puja committees and the corporate that floods the good pujas with awards must think of these artists too. To turn the spotlight on these artisans is very important in oder to inspire them and tus to make the art survive the tough times. Government must take steps to rejuvenate this hereditary business. RCH and RCCH of West Bengal Government in collaboration with UNESCO has taken many steps to rejuvenate the folk art forms like Baul, Bhawaiya, Jhumur, Raibenshe and Chau and many folk crafts like Sitalpati craft and Dokra craft. Beyond the rural boundaries their little care towards this age old craft may provide it with much necessary oxygen. As long as Bengalis survive, Durga puja will survive and as long as Durga Puja survives Kumartuli will survive. The main challenge to Kumartuli is now to return to its former glory.
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Map of Kumartuli (Not to scale)
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