From Clay Moulds to Devi

In the age of modernity, puja committees elsewhere in the country are experimenting with the look and theme of Maa Durga, but those in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar have their trust ingrained in the time-honoured traditions.

One such tradition lies with the divine face of the Goddess, which has remained unchanged at many puja pandals in the Twin City over the years. Almost all the puja committees have  moulds that are used to shape the Devi’s face and these have been passed on to them through their predecessors.

Members of the puja committees say the moulds are their most precious possession.
In fact, at Binod Bihari-Balu Bazaar Puja Committee in Cuttack where community Durga Puja is being organised since 1514, the deity’s face has seen no change for the past 124 years. “It is believed that Mukha of Maa has not changed ever since the Sarbojanin puja was started here in 1890 by both Bengalis and Odias in the area, even as the height of the idol has increased over the past few years. The family of Askshya Kumar Banerjee prepares the idol and also worships it here,” says Binod Bihari-Balu Bazaar Puja Committee president, Surya Kanta Sangneria. Even the rich yellow colour of the deity, which is prepared using natural ingredients including Kendu, has remained intact.

At Old Station Bazaar in Bhubaneswar, the puja committee has been using the same mould for Her face for the last 59 years. “We have not changed the mould till today and it is worshipped by the purohit of the committee at the pandal every day without fail. Extreme care has been taken in maintaining the mould and thankfully, it has not required any repair so far,” said Deepak Jena, secretary of Old Station Bazar Puja Committee. Here, Rajendra Muduli from Cuttack makes the idol and his ancestors did the work in the past.

Apparently, all committees have separate artisans who prepare the body and face of the Goddess.

Artisans say there are two distinct styles of face moulds that are used for Maa Durga. In one style, the most common contours of the visage is triangular shape with a square chin, a hooked nose, bamboo-leaf shaped eyes and eye brows that extend from the bridge of the nose to the hairline.

Another style used in the mould is a softer one. “This is round in shape and mostly used by Odia artisans. The  complexion is like molten gold, just like the sun at the crack of dawn,” says Laxmidhar Rana, an artisan from Cuttack, whose ancestors have been making the idol of Maa Durga at Saheed Nagar Puja Committee since 1977. Rana adds that at Saheed Nagar too, the face has not been changed since beginning of the puja.

Whatever may be the design, the theme of the face is same – they depict the battle between Durga and Mahisasura as written in the ancient texts.

Apparently, face of the deity is the last addition to the idol’s frame. “The body is prepared first and work on the face begins only four to five days before the Mahalaya. We cast clay in the face mould and dry them in the sun. A very good quality fine clay is used just for the face, mostly procured from banks of river Ganga,” says Kalipada Acharya, an artisan from Kendrapara who has made the idol for Nayapalli Puja Committee this year. After the mould dries up, artisans give delicate touches to the facial features. At the end, Maa’s eyes are painted by the main artist. Then jute ‘hair’ is glued on, the idol is varnished and dressed up with fine clothes and ornaments.

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