The 100-foot tall Durga surveys Pintu Paul, the 32-year-old Bengali idol maker. Pintu stares back into her eyes. Picking up a brush dipped in black paint he climbs onto a stool. Pintu draws himself up near the goddess’ face and begins to draw the outline for her eyes. For Bengalis, the eyes must be shaped like their beloved vegetable, the Parwal.
“This is the most difficult part,” says Pintu. “When you work on the eyes, your thoughts must not meander and your fingers must not shiver. Your mind should be on the eyes of the Durga.” Next to Pintu, Bikas Shaw, his friend, sculpts a Ganesha while his young nephew Bikas Paul works on a Karthik figurine. All these idols, dressed in lustrous attires will be displayed for the durga pooja celebrations, organised by the Bengali Association at the SNV Kalyana Mandapam, Ram Nagar, next week. Subrato Majumdher, the secretary of the association says that this is an occasion for the Bengalis in the city to bond and celebrate their culture. “Coimbatore has a strong Bengali community. Our association itself consists of 64 families. We have been calling these artisans for the past 12 years. We cannot do without the Bengali craftsmen as the local artisans cannot recreate the traditional flavour.”
A cotton yarn factory in the city has for the time being transformed into a workshop for Pintu and his team. Like always, Pintu has brought the clay to model Durga from the banks of the Ganges. “We cannot make our Mataji with any thing else. Ganga’s clay is soft and just right. You won’t get the right finish if you use other types of mud,” says Pintu.
Pintu has been following the footsteps of his father Keshab Chandra Paul who also used to come to Coimbatore to make Durga idols. “I came to the city with my father in 1998. There were not many Bengalis in the city then. We got few orders.” But now that’s changed, says Pintu. “I get orders from Annur, Karoor and Trichy. I make at least 200 idols. I also make idols for the Marwari and Bengali temples. Also, since Coimbatore has many Bengali goldsmiths, they also ask me to make Vishwakarma idols.”
In striking contrast to the peaceful Durga, stands a line of blue Kali idols in another corner of the mill. These goddesses, with their tongues sticking out, look ferocious. “These are for the Kali pooja. Thekrodh bhav must be pronounced,” says Pintu. Pintu has been crafting idols, since the age of 12. “Before I begin, I meditate for a while and then the goddess appears in my mind. I do not need a pen and paper.”
He prepares the colours, himself, using vegetables and other natural ingredients so that the immersion does not cause pollution to the water bodies. Yellow is the traditional colour for the Durga idol. Even though they create the same durga sculpture every year and stick to the traditional style, the artist can use creative liberty while sculpting other characters such as the asura, the buffalo and the snake, explains Pintu. “For instance, instead of one snake I can sculpt two. I have also tried to experiment with the sculpture of the buffalo. In one of them, I replaced the buffalo’s face with that of a demon, to represent the evil spirit.” Once the sculpture is ready, varnish is applied to make it appear glossy. And Durga is decked with ornaments and draped in the traditional Bengali red sari. “On Mahadashami, married women pray for the long lives of their husbands. After that, the idol will be carried away for immersion,” says Pintu.
As the city bids farewell to Durga Devi, Pintu bids farewell to the city . But he promises to be back next year. He says, “I like Coimbatore, its people and culture. If given a choice I would stay on. This city helps me make a living. This is my motherland.”