Bringing clay to life, one idol at a time! Meet the ‘Murtikars’ of Lucknow’s Bharat Puri
Amidst the vibrant celebrations, bustling festivities and lively processions of the ongoing Navratri festival, Durga Puja, affectionately known as 'Pujo' among the Bengali community, emerges as a truly exceptional affair. Much like the other festivals, Durga Puja is celebrated with unparalleled grandeur and unwavering fervour, weaving itself seamlessly into the colourful tapestry of Lucknow's cultural landscape.
In our quest to uncover the heart and soul of the auspicious Pujo, we embarked on a journey through the winding streets of Talkatora, particularly the Bharat Puri area, home to the murtikars (sculptors) of Lucknow. Here's what we found out-
Houses of Bharat Puri, brimming with idols
Residing in a small cluster of houses within the Bharat Puri area, these few murtikars have been native to Lucknow for many decades. These craftsmen possess a talent that goes beyond the ordinary and have an unwavering dedication that goes into crafting magnificent pratimas (idols), for not just one, but for most of the pandals of the city.
To give you a firsthand account of Bharat Puri, this time of the year, the old Lucknow neighbourhood has an eccentric charm of its own. As we wandered through the area, we were greeted by an incredible sight: Houses brimming with hundreds of idols, each undergoing meticulous final touches and a few even in the process of being transported to their destined pandals.
In an era marked by the mechanization of virtually every craft through the use of high-end machines, the murtikars of this unique street, both men and women, defy the trend. Here, they continue to masterfully craft the huge pratimas from inception to completion, skillfully undertaking the intricate processes of designing, crafting, colouring and giving those all-important final touches.
A tete-a-tete with an artisan from Bharatpuri
Another remarkable aspect of this place is that there are just two or three families residing in the area, who collectively uphold this cherished tradition.
Sandhya, one of the humble sculptors of the street, no matter how busy she seemed, engrossed in adding the finishing touches to the majestic idol of Devi, greeted us with a warm smile. As she stood atop a peedha (wooden stool), meticulously attaching a decorative piece with a nail and hammer, she shared, "I have been involved in creating idols ever since my childhood, almost for forty years now."
"Although I live with my in-laws in Kolkata, I am a native to this place and travel all the way over here to carry on the tradition of crafting pratimas," she adds.
The versatile neighbourhood even delivers pratimas outside Lucknow
To create the colossal pratimas of Goddess Durga and the Shiv Parivar for Durga Puja, as well as the Ganesh pratimas for the Ganesh Utsav leading up to Navratri, these dedicated artisans commence their work as early as May.
Furthermore, they also craft idols of Laxmi and Kali, which find their way to Kolkata for the exclusive celebrations of Laxmi Puja and Kali Puja in the state of West Bengal.
A neighbourhood closely resembling Kolkata's famous Kumartuli
Beyond the surface, there's a rich of effort and artistry at play. Crafting countless idols, that too with the responsibility of infusing life into a multitude of city pandals, is a task requiring overwhelming effort.
The entire endeavour asks for relentless hard work and unwavering dedication, all executed with the utmost perfection and grace.
Just like Sandhya, all the families of artisans belonging to the neighbourhood reunite, travelling great distances to come home. Working in unison to undertake this delicate task, the artists carry every part of the job with devotion.
Hence, it wouldn't be wrong to say- what Kumartuli is to Kolkata, Bharat Puri to Lucknow. A place contributing to the multifaceted fabric of both the vibrant cities!