| A Ganesha being packed and readied for shipment to Denmark, while a Durga and a Kali await their turn. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal
Twenty-one images of Hindu gods and goddesses are being packaged in Kumartuli now to be sent to Haldia, from where they will be shipped to Copenhagen. No, Denmark has not become idolatrous. Nor are the images meant for NRI devotion. The images will be displayed at the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen, along with an exhibition of photographs by Dev Nayak from August.
Banking on a grant he received from the India Foundation for Art, which he won in 1998, Nayak has been working on a project to document the artisans of Kumartuli since 1994. The young freelance photographer contributes to Time magazine on a regular basis. He has taken about 300 shots of Kumartuli since then, and some of them bring out the magical quality in these images. This has nothing to do with mumbo jumbo.
Nayak is able to capture their magic through his lens. The soft glow that seeps in through the tarpaulin and plastic canopies in Kumartuli gives his images that almost surreal look. He has also taken some stunning shots of pandal lights and of immersion processions, without ever using a flash.
Nayak's photographs go to show how a fertile imagination can give a fresh insight into a subject done to death by newspapers and by every foreign photographer worth his name. He has the eye to catch the fleeting moments when even the most humdrum scenes and objects look enchanting.
The colour photographs will be blown up to a giant eight ft by 10 ft because the two halls in which 80 to 100 of these will be displayed are of enormous dimensions. The walls are about 40 ft high. The 21 images are of different sizes and are in various stages of production. Some are just the straw and bamboo armatures, some have acquired clay flesh, while some are all accoutred and ready to be worshipped.
There are four Durgas — two in the traditional style still in vogue in stately homes, the third in the more experimental ‘Oriental’ style, while a fourth sports the ‘heroine’ look popular with the bigger organisers. There are Kalis in three styles — one after the image at Adyapith; Shyama or swarthy, as opposed to black; and totally naked, as she is worshipped in the burning ghats.
There are, besides, five Ganeshas demonstrating the process of image-making. There are also seven smaller images of Sitala, Narasimha, Biswakarma, Radha-Krishna, Jagaddhatri, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The Denmark ministry of culture will foot the enormous packing, shipping and enlarging bills.
The images will be permanently exhibited as an installation and the sounds of puja pandals, complete with the appropriate chants, have already been recorded in Calcutta. There are talks of inviting over two Kumartuli artisans to Copenhagen.