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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: September 2017

3 - Birth of Tradition, Coming of Modernity


The gradual change of Kumartuli from an artisans’ neighbourhood into a hub of clay- modelling artists took place through much of the twentieth century. After the pujas moved from the palaces and courtyards into the streets, in a slow process which lasted until Independence in 1947, the Kumars started to work fulltime in Kumartuli, mainly with the community based pujas, the sarbajanin durgutsabs. This paved the way for Kumartuli's most famous son, Gopeshwar Pal (1896– 1952). His eminence as a sculptor made it possible for him to travel to England for the International Exhibition in 1924– 25, followed by Italy where he attended a sculpting course. Later, the committee of the Kumartuli Sarbajanin Durgutsab in 1935 asked him to create its Durga pratima, image. He accepted the proposal and introduced what is described by contemporary Kumars as a dramatic stylistic change in the tradition of modelling for the Bengali Durga Puja.

The 1935 Kumartuli Sarbajanin with Gopeshwar's groundbreaking image is analysed as a key event in establishing a modernity in Kumartuli when it comes to the Maliks’ attitude towards their profession. Starting with Gopeshwar, this chapter will describe and analyse the Kumars’ relationship both to their artistic work in general and to individual innovations in the making of images. The beginning of this line of modernity in Kumartuli also witnessed the birth of the most senior inhabitants and workers of today. And some of the most senior Kumars tell about their ambivalent relationship to the break with tradition.

Gopeshwar Pal – an Artist?

The development of the image from the beginning of today's Durga Puja in the early seventeenth century is difficult to trace. A few old paintings dating from after its popularization in the last part of the eighteenth century, as well as oral tradition, provide some clues.

Originally it was ekchala or single- framed (see Figure 3.1), which means that the images were placed within a shared structure, a style contemporary Kumars call bangla (Bengali). Durga stands solemnly with one of her hands holding the trident which ends in the chest of Mahisha with his green skin colour.

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  • Online ISBN: 9781783085187
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