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Rebirth of the Devi after immersion

Devoid of the dazzle, darkness is descending early on the banks of the Hooghly these evenings. As one part of the city tries to shrug off the last traces of revelry and get back to the soporific routine of daily life, for another, celebration is just round the corner. The bisarjan signals the season of plenty. When “working overtime” has lucrative rewards. Their temporary profession has no name as such, but it would be safe to call them the kathamo collectors, scavenging the river for the frames of the Goddess.

“The idols, now only soggy lumps of straw washed up on shore may have fallen from grace for the clubs that had spent a fortune getting them made. But Ma, the spirit behind the pujas, reserves a parting gift for her special children who really care,” says Mahadeb Gharami.

The collectors, who work in tea stalls or run roadside food stalls for the rest of the year, colonise the banks a few days after bhaashan. While it is the framework of bamboo that is the most attractive, pith decorations, accessories, her glistening weapons, and shiny ornaments are all fair game. But for the early birds who take the plunge the moment the idol is a safe distance from the shore, the trophy is the perfect mother’s face.

Here, however, there is as much peril as there is opportunity. “Artisans and visitors at the immersion pay as much as Rs 300 for a perfect specimen. Only, the organisers don’t find the decapitating of the goddess amusing. But more often than not, we manage to swim away to where they cannot get us,” smiles Gharami. In an almost philosophical moment, he adds: “Just as we cast our feeble bodies for a fresh one each time we are reborn, so does Ma. Every year she is reborn to another artisan and welcomed into a different family.”

“The kathamos can fetch anything between Rs 500 and Rs 2,500 at Kumartuli, depending on the size of the façade and the quality of the bamboo,” said Bijoy Thatoi, who runs a teashop at Babughat. With no dearth of pujas in the city, and the turning tides bringing all of them to “this part of the river”, most leave happy, Thatoi explains, before diving once again into the cloudy waters to intercept flotsam and towing it to shore.

Then the wait begins. The wait for the Pals from Kumartuli to arrive and take back the kathamos; to be moulded afresh with layers of straw, clay and coats of paint. “The kumhars arrive a fortnight after Dasami to bid for the best of the stock. And by the time they leave, we have enough money to eat drink and make merry,” he says.

Then the wait begins for the Pujas the next year.

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