Tag Archives: Shovabazar Rajbari

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.


Kali Ma

I prefer Kali to Durga.  Why?  Since I’m not exactly sure, I thought I’d use the writing of this post to help figure it out.


In Kolkata, Kali certainly has less fanfare than the almighty Durga, but from my vantage point, Kali’s devotees appear to have as much or maybe even more fervor for their goddess.  While Durga is considered to be the goddess of supreme power, Kali is thought of as the goddess of empowerment.  That strikes a chord in me – copacetic to what I feel and think when making my figurative sculpture in Santa Cruz.

Kali fascinates me — consider her lolling tongue, that rhythmically wonderful strand of severed, grimacing heads around her neck, and DSC_0514her very active gesture of stomping on her consort Lord Shiva (other interpretations are that of accidentally doing so, and also that her foot on his body calms her anger).

Regarding Durga, even with all ten of her hands loaded with weapons, it always appears to me that her lion is doing, well, the lion’s share of the work (sic) when it comes to battling Mahishasura.

Dilipda and his assistants began their Kali in Dilipda’s studio.  DSC_0029Once  the figures of Kali and Shiva had been formed in straw, they moved them to the street outside of the Shovabazar Rajbari, just next to a tiny Shiva shrine.  Over the next several days, a bamboo, cloth and paper pandal was built over and around the figures.  I enjoyed observing this process immensely, because simply by being present in the situation, I became part of  the rhythm of the street.


Netal Pal buiilding up Kali’s strand of demon heads.


Dilipda at final clay detailing stages of his Kali Ma
Dilipda’s Kali, now painted and adorned with flowing black tresses. Dilipda completes the final details on Kali’s consort, Lord Shiva.

















The fabulous Kali figure above stunned me outside another shop in Kumartuli!  Kali Ma!

Durga Puja

This first day of Durga Puja is also known as Maha Shasthi, and during this day a series of rituals are performed to symbolically awaken Durga.  For more information on the rituals of Durga Puja and their timings, check out

http://www.bangalinet.com/pujacalendar.htm or http://www.durga-pujas.com/shashti.shtml.

For today’s pandal-hopping, Stan and I decided to return to Kumartuli, particularly to view the final installation of Dilip-da’s Durga pandal at the Shovabazar Rajbari.

DSC_0005Waiting outside the Rajbari for the pandal viewing to begin later that evening.

DSC_0018First glimpse of Durga

DSC_0319The Durga pandal with all of the clothing, headdresses, jewelry and other props, except – Durga’s hands are yet to be holding their ten weapons.



Here’s the Ganesha, side by side with his earlier photo!

DSC_0115A short distance from the Shovabazar Rajbari was this mountain-themed pandal, studded with giant heads.  A few close-ups follow:




Inside, a contemporary rendition of the Durga scene using near life-sized figures (sadly, some other pandal hoppers’ heads are blocking my view of Kartik and Ganesha).

At the foot of this installation is a tiny traditional Durga pandal.



Around Kumartuli and pretty much everywhere in Kolkata, you will find advertisements using Durga to sell products and services.  These photos show ads selling underwear, health care, and food.




Another lotus-themed pandal!


This Durga has a cartoon-character quality.


DSC_0251   Fabulous chandelier


On our way back to the metro, we stopped to check out one more traditional community pandal, tucked into a lane.  It was full of energetic and exuberant children!   Their Durga is below.





When we peeked into some of the Kumartuli workshops, some image-makers were already hard at work on gigantic pandals for Kali Puja, which takes place in a few weeks’ time.






The countdown to Durga Puja is well underway by Mahalaya,  which is observed seven days before (September 23rd for 2014).  It’s on Mahalaya that preparations for Durga Puja reach their final stages, and it’s believed that on this day Durga, the goddess of supreme power, descends to earth.  One older custom still observed by some is the painting of Durga’s eyes on this day, as a symbol of her invocation and impending presence.

On Mahalaya, my husband Stan and I paid an early morning visit  to the Shovabazar Rajbari.  Dilipda’s Durga sculptural tableauxl had been painted and dressed, but final details, such as hair and weapons or instruments that the gods and goddess hold in their hands, have not yet been added.  While we were there, we encountered Sri Krishna Deb, the community organizer for the Shovabazar’s pandal presentation.  Sri Deb graciously invited us to attend the community’s Mahalaya celebrations that evening!

When we returned in the evening, the celebration was getting underway with a beautiful ceremony in which many small oil-filled clay dishes were lit.



After the lamps were lit, Sri Deb rang the puja bell.  Far in the distance (center of the  photograph) you can see a priest sitting on the ground and performing the evening’s rites.







Then began a lovely musical program including members throughout the Shovabazar community, beginning with the youngest members, and progressing to the most accomplished dancers and musicians.




IMG_2218Invoking Durga through dance!

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.