The Hindu Sculpture Makers of Calcutta

Folk Art from India India

On the banks of the Hoogly river a village is dedicated to making clay sculptures of Hindu gods.

Near the famous Howrah bridge over the Hoogly river in Kolkata, still often called Calcutta, is the village of Kumortuli and a warren of small workshops making clay sculptures from the river mud.

The black river mud is used to create fantastic Hindu sculpures for the numerous festivals. Towards the end of the festivals the statues are immersed in the river where they slowly dissolve - recycling the mud back to the river!

First, a wooden frame is built which is then covered with reeds, bamboo and raffia. Next, a rough covering of river clay mixed with straw. You can see both the wooden frame and the first covering of clay and straw in this first two photographs.

Clay sculptures of Kumortuli, Kolkata

Clay sculptures of Kumortuli, Kolkata

There are over 500 workshops in the narrow lanes and the practice of making these sculptures has been going on for several hundred years.

In the next stage we see the forms really take shape with with the application of smooth mud and skillful detailing - which is a delicate process. The expressions and shape of the faces and limbs mostly follow a local tradition but each workshop will have their own particular style. It's a very sensuous process especially in the modelling of faces and hands.

Clay sculptures of Kumortuli, Kolkata

Clay sculptures of Kumortuli, Kolkata

Clay sculptures of Kumortuli, Kolkata

A passing crab seller pauses in front of a shop, hoping for customers, his basket full of mud crabs.

Seller of mud crabs

The sculptures are painted and dressed. Bangles and jewellery are added; the hair looks almost life like! Each one is commissioned by an individual family as part of the offerings they'll maje at the huge festivals that dominate the town several times a year.

Clay sculptures of Kumortuli, Kolkata

The main festival of the year is the Durga festival where Durga is manifested in the form of Kalil with black skin and wild protruding tongue and shown in a moment of transcendental realisation as she is united with Shiva. The extended tongue can be a disturbing image - it was said to be the inspiration for the famous Tongue and Lips logo of The Rolling Stones.

Kali sculpture ready for the Durga festival, Kolkata

Protruding tongue of Kali

Durga clay sculpture, Kumortuli, Kolkata


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