Tag Archives: Saraswati

Residency at Maihol House

How wonderful! In January I was invited to be part of an international group of ceramic artists who would  be working together at Maihol House, an artists’ residency center in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh.  Countries represented are India, Australia, Latvia, France, and the USA.

Maihol House is also the family home of Ambica Beri, who owns Gallery Sanskriti in Kolkata.  Ambica, a generous and nurturing soul as well as an avid supporter of the arts, sponsored all of us to participate in this wonderful residency.  She is also in the midst of opening another amazing residency center not far from Maihol House, called Art Ichol.

Maihol House


A twenty-three hour train ride later, I was met at the Maihar station by Kolkata ceramic artist Aditi Saraogi.   At Maihol House, I met three of the other invited artists, Anjani Khanna from Mumbai, and Eugenia Logovia and Anatoli Borodkin of Latvia, as well as Ambica Beri and her brand new assistant, Tanya Dutt.  The next day Eugenia and Anatoli and I set out to spend some time at the famous Khajuraho temples, as well as to rendezvous with the remaining two invited artists, Isabelle Roux of France and Sandra Black of Australia. (Khajuraho is one of the closer airports to Maihar.)



Most of the temples of Khajuraho were first built around 1000 years ago!  They are covered with beautiful carvings of animals, dancers, musicians, and of course, lovers. Khajuraho is famous for erotic carvings, however, as our guide informed us, and we could see for ourselves, less than 15 percent of the carvings were explicitly sexual.




DSC_0004_01Most of the temples have had some sort of reconstruction of over the last few hundred years.  The platform for this little temple was created with what looks like portions from many different temples, giving the effect of sculptural collage.

The next day we began our work at Sanskriti Ceramics.

Aditi working outside near the ceramics studio
Sandra Black, potter extraordinaire!


My lovely roommate for the residency, Anjani Khanna, in the midst of creating one of her yalis.
The fabulous Anatoli Borodkin!
Isabel takes a break from work on her gorgeous vessel forms
Eugenia near the studio pond


My new friend who lives in that pond, and was the inspiration for the sculptural platter below


After some intense days, we set our works out to dry, and Ambica took us to the Maihar Devi temple, which is dedicated to Sharada Ma, an aspect of Saraswati (goddess of knowledge, music and creative arts).


one amazing shrine on the side of the main temple

On the way back to Maihol House we stopped near some brick makers and their kilns to learn about the process.




kiln for firing clay bricks


The next day we went to the Maihar Music School for a wonderful concert of Indian classical music given by the school’s instructor.  We learned that this school is famous as the place where Ravi Shankar studied.


Enjoying wonderful music at the Maihar Music School


If these great experiences weren’t enough — Aditi worked with Devilal Patidar of Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal to organize an international symposium at which we presented our works to a large and receptive audience.

bharat bhavan symp

Bhopal is a city that is very supportive of the arts, and we visited a number of beautiful museums, among them the astounding Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum.  Much thanks to Devilal for rolling out the red carpet for us all!

And then, too soon, it was time for me to say adios…..

A photo of our bisqued works laid out for an experimental woodfire. Eugenia’s lively elephants take front stage.

I had to leave the group a few days early, since my husband was flying to Kolkata for a long-awaited visit, and the return train ride would be at least twenty hours with the currently foggy weather conditions.  Nevertheless,  I left with many great memories!!  Much thanks to Ambica and Tanya, to Aditi for the invitation, Devilal, and to all of the other artists for the clayful camaraderie.  We shall meet again!



The Goddess of Knowledge

Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, music and art, and is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Ma Durga.   In West Bengal, Saraswati is revered by schools and universities, because of the belief that she endows the worshipper with speech, wisdom and learning.

Saraswati Puja takes place this year in later January, so preparations of clay images at Kumartuli began in late December.   The energy at Kumartuli is much quieter than the frenzied activity of Durga Puja preparations, but there were a group of artisans in the neighborhood who were making some spectacular images!

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This image is 10-12 feet tall.
This image is about 14 feet tall.


Saraswati is either accompanied by or seated on a swan, and is dressed in white for purity.  In the images made at Kumartuli, she is mostly depicted with two hands that play a stringed instrument called the veena.  In the images where she has four hands, the other two hands will hold a rosary and a book.

Tiny Saraswati images.
Pair of life sized Saraswati figures placed as if conversing.



Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography – the consort of Manjushri.   Her early history is as a river goddess, and I saw a number of figures adorned with flowing, watery imagery.


Dilip Pal and his assistants were working on eleven commissioned Saraswati images during this time, ranging from two to four feet tall. The floor of Dilipda’s studio at the Shovabazar Rajbari was blanketed with straw, as assistant Netal Pal bent and wrapped and compressed the straw into voluptuous female forms.

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Small Saraswati pandal in the Kumartuli neighborhood.


Just a few more pandals…..

This post is a gallery of Durga Puja pandal image highlights from our explorations of Kolkata pandals throughout the following three days of the holiday.   We admired some pandals for the beauty and creativity of their designs, and others for the mindbogglingly extensive craftsmanship that was required for their creation!

A South Kolkata pandal decorated entirely using braided jute.





A Central Kolkata gilded beauty –




With images that are highly realistic — this pandal is also non-traditional in the sense that it includes many other figures besides  the traditional scene of Durga, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik, Mahisasura, and the Lion.  Gods such as Brahma are also present, in addition to several human and animal onlookers.

DSC_0449Durga’s lion atop Mahisharsura, the Buffalo Demon


Amazing chandelier!


In South Kolkata, a hybrid pandal of  peacock, boat, and stone temple



the “boat’s” interior decorations


DSC_0139A priest performs the traditional rites at the foot of this pandal’s Durga image.


Waiting in line to go inside this monumental pandal near College Street, the famous central Kolkata street of booksellers.

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The Durga pandal, surrounded by the stony-textured interior


The figures of this pandal also include a few image-makers, who are now forever putting the final touches on the pandal.


And out the exit we go!  In the larger pandals, it is often very difficult to stay for a long time and enjoy the Durga pandal images, due to the numbers of people visiting, and the often very tight crowd controls.  In a couple of the larger pandals that we visited, we spent over an hour reaching the inside of the pandal, only to have about ten seconds to look, before traffic volunteers directed us to the exit.   However, in many of the community pandals, we were welcome to sit and spend as much time as we wanted.


Enjoying the camaraderie and hospitality of a community pandal.





DSCN4043Stan and I enjoyed a delicious lunch and great conversation with the community members sponsoring this pandal near Park Circus.



Durga pandal of a central Kolkata home, where Stan and I were invited in to share a bounty of homemade traditional sweets.

Soon the end of this holiday will come, and Durga will return home, after the pandals are physically and/or ritually immersed in flowing water.

Kumartuli – the second and third visits

With great excitement, I returned to Kolkata at the end of the first week of September, specifically to observe Dilipda and his assistants in the next stages of work on their Durga Puja sculptures at the Shovabazar Rajbari.


In the above photo, Dilipda’s assistant,  Netal Pal, is adding the second layer of smooth clay to this roughed-out form of Ganesha. You might remember from an earlier post that this Durga Puja tableaux of images had been started about a month ago, and had been given several weeks to slowly dry.

Below, Dilipda’s other assistant, Bishonal Pal, works on adding the second clay layer to the Durga form that is central to the entire tableaux, or .


When I returned the next afternoon, Netal Pal was sitting on the floor with a chunk of clay from which he was modeling the hands and feet for all of the figures.

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Then — Netal and Bishonal began to add the hands and feet to each figure, ending with Durga’s ten hands — and for me a magical energy filled the Rajbari.  I felt an intense need to stay and observe until Durga’s final hand was attached and secured to her tenth wrist.

IMG_0732Ganesha (above), now fully detailed and needing just one more hand!

IMG_2072Bishonal Pal works on Lakshmi and Netal Pal works on Kartik.

IMG_2078 Netal Pal works on Durga’s hands


In the above photo, Dilipda is working on refining the details of the images.  His images are structured in what several people have referred to as the “traditional” style.  However, regardless of the style in which the figures are rendered, most Durga Puja sculpture groupings have the following images (I’m listing them in bold from left to right):  Ganesha; Lakshmi; Durga; below Durga is her Lion, who along with Durga, is attacking Mahishasura, the Buffalo Demon; Saraswati, and Kartik.  Often Mahishasura will be emerging from a buffalo form (he is after all, half man and half buffalo).  Below is a photo of another Kumartuli work-in-process where the buffalo imagery is more apparent (under Mahishasura but not painted white).


Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartik also have puja celebrations specifically dedicated to them at some point during the year. The timings for when the festivals take place are based on the positioning of the sun and moon, and not on a specific calendar date.  Timings are available for past, present and future years from websites such as http://www.drikpanchang.com/ .

Often referred to as Durga’s children:
Ganesha is the god of beginnings, good fortune, and the removal of obstacles;
Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, love and prosperity;
Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, music, and the creative arts;
Kartik is the god of war.