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Probably the most beautiful warrior queen in Hindu Mythology, Goddess Durga, is anything but submissive. She is an embodiment of pure love and courage, and in a pantheon of male Gods, she has always protected the cosmos from evil and pain. Devi is something that all women of today can identify within a stereotypical society. So, we can proudly say that Durga Puja is a celebration of women empowerment.

In an engaging conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, two popular women artisans of Kumartuli- Chaina Pal (46) and Mala Pal (43) shared their thoughts on how they were plagued with the problems when they stepped in a male-dominated field and what it took to keep their passion alive despite humiliation from society, particularly from elderly male artists.

Chaina in China

This year Chaina got the opportunity to visit China to showcase her work (two idols), which are displayed in a Chinese museum, which added another feather to her cap.

Rapt in attention and carefully adding the intricate details to the protima using her fingers and paint brushes, the first iconoclast of Kumartuli says, “When my father Hemanta Pal died in 1994 and my brothers refused to take up the business of idol making, I had to step in. It was not easy in the beginning and I did face opposition from the society. But today, I feel happy that I have come this far and has never let anything stop me.

chaina pal woman idol maker durga pujo

Chaina Pal

She is fondly called Dashabhuja (referring to Goddess Durga who has ten hands) in her area as she is a multi-tasker and manages everything efficiently- be it making idols, managing her workshops (at Kumartuli and Baghbzar), doing household chores and taking care of her 84-year-old mother.

The whole process of idol making is a lengthy one. It takes immense patience to craft a single idol. During pujas, we speed up the process so that we can pull this off within 10-12 days,’ says China.

Bringing these clay idols to life as if Goddesses are mortal, Chaina is popular in her area for making clay models in traditional Saveki style and because of high demand for her work, her shop is almost running out of space.

Mala for Street Children

My profession is more than a business because I put my heart and soul into it,” says Mala. This year, she has made an idol for street children (Footpather Durga Puja) so that these children too can perform anjali and bishorjon like others, which they have only dreamt till now.

While her father late Dulal Chandra Pal taught her the nuances of this art form, brother Gobinda Pal helped her to hone her skills, she says. Now she also runs her own shop where her husband works with her and supports her in every possible way.

I am making idol since I was 14 years old. It was not easy in the beginning because opting for something that is a male-dominated profession, makes you look like an intruder but I feel blessed because my family has always believed in me and supported me even when the society was skeptical about my work.

mala pal woman idol maker durga pujo

Mala Pal

A documentary was made on her life that has inspired many women to come forward and take up this art form. “My husband also shares the duties and responsibilities of the family. My daughter also helps me in my work whenever possible,” says Mala.

From 1985-1992, Mala has worked at Pragati Maidan in Delhi on several projects and says that time has changed and now it has become easier to publicize art.

Apart from Mysore, Bangalore, Chennai, and Delhi, her work has also been showcased in Chicago.

Due to high demand, she has hired 7-8 workers who are helping her with the process of the idol making. “Making idols requires immense patience. Apart from traditional idols that requires clay, straw, stones, and paints- and are an all-time favorite with our customers, there has been a spike in demand for fiber idols lately,” she adds.

We don’t know whether Durga is a Goddess first, or a woman, but whatever is the current situation of women in India, surely the society will remain at a woman’s feet during this time of the year.

Salute to every woman who has fought or has been fighting bravely despite society being skeptical about them!

Happy Durga Pujo!