In art the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine-Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Navratri2021 season is on. People are looking forward to festive cheer & fun although they are well aware that the Covid pandemic is still around. The fact is, everyone is looking forward to good times. However, the celebrations will be subdued this year and entry to crowded places will be restricted.
Navratri, as the name denotes, is a 9 night long festival. The festival is performed to worship the goddesses Durga, Lakshmi & Saraswathi, the many avatars of the supreme goddess Shakti.
It is also considered auspicious to celebrate the girl child during this period as she is considered an incarnation of goddess Shakti.
How is Navratri celebrated?
Each Indian State has a unique and distinct tradition. However, there are some common themes. For instance, worshipping the goddesses is a central theme. Idols of all the goddesses are beautifully crafted and displayed in homes & in pandals in public places.
Further, new clothes are purchased for young unmarried girls. Festive food in the form of sweet milk (payas) and halwa are prepared. Singing and dancing accompanied by musical instruments take center stage.
Art & Crafts in Navratri 2021
Navratri is a time when crafts are displayed by skilled artisans. Idols, big and small, and the erection & decoration of the pandals /marques are the work of artisans & craftspeople across India. As a matter of fact, there are identified villages and communities that are involved in making these items
Let us look at some of the cities where the artists are busy creating magic with their fingers.
Navratri 2021 in Kolkata, West Bengal
As we are all aware, Durga Puja is the most important festival in West Bengal. Starting from the 6th day till the 9th day of Navratri, the whole State is in a festive mood. Pandals & marques are erected and the idol of Durga the Goddess is installed therin. Folklore has it that the goddess took the form of a demon in order to kill the demon(asura) king Mahisasura. She is hence referred to as Mahishasura Mardini. Goddess Durga is worshipped with music, dhol, conch shells, singing & dancing. This goes on for 9 days.
Kumartuli – All About Art
The artisans prepare idols of the goddess in a variety of shapes & sizes. Some sitting atop a lion & some killing the demon and so on. The materials used vary from mud to paper and wood. The lifelike idol of goddess Durga is really a work of art.
Artisans who make the Durga idols come from a village called Kumartuli in Kolkata. Kumartuli literally means “potter community”. About 100 -200 potter families live in that area.
Making of the idols-ART
Firstly, the frame is made with bamboo. Further, it is wrapped with straw to give it a firm structure. Subsequently, clay is mixed with soil and is plastered on top of the bamboo frame. Finally, the idol is dried and painted. In addition, some of the idols are wrapped with silver foil. Generations have been involved in making these exquisite idols in the Kumartuli village. The craftsmen and women excel in drawing out the eyes, nose & lips that give it the essential character and sculpting the various postures of the goddesses. It takes remarkable talent to craft something so magnificent. Multiple forms of the idols are available in a variety of colours. The idols are placed in Durga puja pandals and also in palatial Kolkata homes as well.
Navratri 2021 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu & Bangalore, Karnataka
In Chennai & Bangalore, it is considered auspicious to invite people home during Navratri. It is less of a community celebration in that sense. Pujas for the goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati & Durga are held in the mornings. There is a colorful display of mud dolls (golu dolls) in homes for 9 days. The magic of Indian mythology is exhibited through the dolls. Themes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata & several other puranas are beautifully displayed in this manner.
Homes are cleaned & decorated. Music is central to Navratri celebrations. Carnatic vocal music, violin, the dhol (mridangam) & flute are all practiced and performed in this period. It is an auspicious beginning for children to start to learn performing arts in this season.
Making of Golu Dolls- Art
The mud dolls & figures are made in a village named Velichari, near Madurai in Tamil Nadu and in a village near Kumbakonam. The entire village is involved in creating the beautiful mud dolls. It is a cottage industry. Traditionally, clay is used to make the dolls. However today, papier mache is also used as it is lighter. The clay is molded into the desired shapes with the identified mold. It is then evened out for imperfections. The finished piece is left to dry in the sun. The molded clay is subsequently painted in some astonishingly bright colours that befits the objects. The doll collection includes chariots, animals, temples and entire scenes from mythology. The sizes vary from 6inches to 3 feet.
Navratri celebrations in Delhi
Navratri starts with the Kalash (metal pot) puja in individual homes. A small idol of goddess Durga is installed on the Kalash and a daily puja /worship with flowers and fruits is undertaken. Unmarried young girls are invited home and food and clothing are distributed to them.
According to the legend of Ramayana, Ravana, the 10 headed demon king of Sri Lanka, abducted Lord Ram’s wife Sita. Lord Ram defeated Ravana to take Sita back. Dussehra is a celebration of Ravana’s defeat. Hence, on the 10th day, the effigies of the demon king Ravana and his brothers Kumbakarna & Meghnath are burnt.
Ram Leela, the story of Lord Ram, is enacted on a stage in temples, towns & villages. The community joins in the celebrations. People from all walks of life get to play their roles either as actors or behind the scenes. The biggest celebrations are conducted on public grounds. Towards the end of the play, Lord Ram kills Ravana with his magic arrow. When Lord Ram’s arrow hits the demon Ravana, fire crackers placed inside go up in smoke. Symbolically, this represents victory of good over evil.
Statues of Ravana- Art
Statues of Ravana are made in Beriwala Bagh in Subash Nagar and in Tagore Garden in West Delhi. Iron mesh, bamboo & paper are used to create the demon king. Firstly, the skeleton is made using bamboo. This is the most important step. The size and shape of the Ravana statue is determined and the frame is accordingly made. Then layers of paper are stuck on the top. At times, cloth is also used instead of paper. Finally, painting is done in vibrant colours while highlighting the eyes and lips.
All of the artists are very gifted and their creativity and skill are on full display during the Navratri season. It is interesting to note that they are seasonal artists who find employment outside after the Navratri season. As a matter of fact, generations are involved in this craft.