THE REAL ARTISTS!
Behind the scenes of Bengal’s stunning Pandals : Meet the farmers who are the real artists !
Did you know that in the Durga Puja, many farmers of Bengal swap their sickles with bamboos and ropes?
The hands of the very people who till land and sow crops turn into the hands of craftsmen, giving shape to some of the most stunning Puja pandal’s of the state’s biggest festival.
These pandal makers come in hordes to the city from various parts of Bengal, mainly from Paschim Mednipore and Purba Mednipore, the hurb of the handicraft and cottage industry, and other districts including Nadia and North and South 24 Parganas.
Work on a pandal usually starts six to eight months ahead of Durga Puja, right after the contracts are signed around January-February. However, it is only during the last one to two months before the puja that work takes on a frenetic pace- the pandal is put together at the site with people working three shifts a day.
Most pandal artists have their own teams comprising farmers, masons, carpenters, electricians, painters, etc., who take care of various parts of pandal-making such as building the structure of, covering the structure with cloth, artwork, painting, and lighting inside the pandal.
Usually pandal artists and makers have no formal training. They are self-taught or learn the ropes from a guru.
Kuila, a leading name in pandal art and a native of Purba Medinipur Birinchibasan village, is one such artist, who has had no training in this area. Born in a poor, agricultural family, Kuila was expected to carry on with the tradition and take on his family profession. “I spent several years working with my father, uncles and brothers on the farm before I chose to devote all my time to art,” says Kuila.
“My heart was never into farming and I spent most of my time drawing and creating little artworks.”
Kuila embarked on this journey 25 years ago. But it was in 2002 that he rose to prominence after winning the National Award for handicrafts. There was no looking back since then for the self-taught artist. This year, Kuila and his 150-member team have worked on four Durga Puja pandals commissioned by some of the oldest and biggest puja organisers — Barisha Club, 41 Pally Club, Mudiali Club and Tridhara Sammillani.
For poor artisans, Durga Puja art is more than just a creative outlet-it is an opportunity to improve lives and social status.
Kuila says what pandal-makers earn during the two-three months of Pujas far outstrips the annual income made from farming.
Typically, a pair of hands working three shifts earns up to Rs 1,500 a day with the pandal artist’s fees ranging from Rs 200,000 to Rs 1 million per pandal. An artist of good repute can expect anywhere between Rs 1 million to Rs 2 million per pandal. For the top of the heap, the fees are even higher.
In contrast, annual income from multiple cropping (in this case two crops of paddy, betel leaf and vegetables in between) a farmland of one bigha (a fourth of one acre) would yield a profit of not more than Rs 5,000-Rs 7,000 every four months while a farm labourer would make Rs 120 after toiling hard for a day.