Tale of two women: Mother Teresa and Ma Durga | kolkata | Hindustan Times
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Tale of two women: Mother Teresa and Ma Durga

As people go pandal hopping, pilgrims make a beeline to pray at the memorial of Saint Teresa of Kolkata.

kolkata Updated: Oct 07, 2016 15:07 IST
Arindam Sarkar
Saint Teresa of Kolkata.
Saint Teresa of Kolkata.(Subhendu Ghosh)

This autumn, people will throng to see Ma Durga in the pandals and the pilgrims will make a beeline to pray at the memorial of Saint Teresa of Kolkata, says Arindam Sarkar

Unless told, most going down the Central Avenue would miss the destination. Just after the Shovabazar Metro Station is the famous locality of city’s idol-makers who for centuries have been churning out models of Devi Durga in the workshops situated on both sides of Banamali Sarkar Street.

This autumn is special for Kumartuli. The masters and the artisans are not only busy making the idols of Durga, Mahishasur, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartik for the Durgotsav, but also life-size statues and busts of Saint Teresa of Kolkata.

Canonised by the Vatican on September 4, 2016, there is a surge in demand for the statues of Saint Teresa of Kolkata. No wonder, many of the workshops in Kumartuli are making Durga idols along with that of Saint Teresa of Kolkata. “Hindus venerate Ma Durga. Christians seek the blessings of Mother Teresa. And the artists’ aim is to create their models to near perfection,” said famous artist Naba Pal, while giving delicate touches to a Lord Ganesha model.

This is the time in Kumartuli when the artists are decking up Ma Durga and her escorts. The models are complete and the artists are focusing on the accessories and saris that the Devi would wear before standing on more than 2,500 city puja pandals on Panchami.

A complete model of Devi Durga at Kumartuli. (Subhendu Ghosh)

“There is a demand for both theme-based and traditional (Sabeki) Devi models. The artists are mostly from Nadia in Bengal and Bikrampur in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The models of Bikrampur artists are gorgeous,” said 43-year-old Naba Pal, who has been making idols since the age of 10.

This year, Naba Pal is making 30 idols, mostly theme-based and few traditional Durga that will be displayed at Suruchi Sangha in Behala, Kashi Bose Lane, Telenga Bagan, Shovabazar Sangrami, etc. “Ma Durga epitomizes peace, love and victory of the good over evil. She essentially blesses people with peace,” added Naba Pal, the son of maestro idol-maker Kartik Pal.

Kartik Pal along with Ramesh Pal and Mohan Banshi Rudra Pal once dominated Kumartuli and pandals of India and abroad with their fabulous Durga idols. Getting emotional about the past, Kartik Pal said, the story of Durga itself is inspiring. It is the light that emanated from Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma that created Durga to tame the demon Mahishashur. She was provided weapons by all the gods.

“It is a moving story of feminine power, love and strength. It also tells how Durga established peace by defeating the demon,” said Kartik Pal, who mastered the art of making traditional Durga.

Famous idol-maker Kartik Pal moulding the face of Devi Durga. (Subhendu Ghosh )

Kartik Pal doesn’t find it surprising that model of Saint Teresa of Kolkata is being made at Kumartuli. He says some of the best sculptors work in the damp, dingy and dark workshops of the Kumartuli’s labyrinthine lanes.

“Mother Teresa got Nobel peace prize. She worked for the common and poor people. She was a symbol of salvation. And Mother Durga is a symbol of peace, who comes down to the mortal world to bless her children with prosperity and tranquility,” said Kartik Pal.

The maestro said that with Mahalaya, Devi Pakkha begins and there is bliss, peace of mind and a divine spirit prevails all over the world. He pointed out that with Durga now ready, the workshops start looking clean. This is the only time when the studios are not stacked with bamboos, clay, soil, hay and wooden frames. There is a shape and life to everything around us. “I am 75. I no longer make idols. But I direct the idol-making of 97-year-old Bagbazar Sarbojanin and Shimla Byam Samiti. Two of the oldest Barwari pujas of the city,” said Kartik Pal.

Mohan Banshi Rudra Pal’s two sons Sanatan Rudra Pal and Pradip Rudra Pal are both famous Durga sculptors. Taking forward the tradition of their father, the two brothers make Durga for the pandals of Ekdalia Evergreen, College Square, Park Circus, Naba Durga, Gouri Bari, Bhowanipore Sarbojanin, Sreebhumi, Singhi Park, Ballygunge Cultural, Triangular Park, etc.

Although Pradip, like his father Mohan Banshi Rudra Pal, loves to make Sabeki Durga, he has also excelled in thematic Durga models. This year, he is making 70 Durga idols. “There has not been much change in the process of sculpting the anatomy. The change is noticed in ornaments and colour combinations. Change is vital. People want something new,” said Pradip Rudra Pal.

“My Durga has a soft expression on the face. It has its own style statement. I value the emotional aspect of victory of good over evil,” added 50-year-old Pradip Rudra Pal.

Sanatan Rudra Pal claimed that the Durga idols were much simple in the past, but it is much more intricate and there is special emphasis on the quality of Durga sculpture these days. “I have been making idols for 42 years. This year I am making more than 40 idols. It is the divine feeling that brings out the artistry to make a Durga idol. Drawing her eyes is most important. The whole experience is peaceful,” said 61-year-old Sanatan Rudra Pal.

The artists said that it costs around Rs 2 lakh to make a set of 15 feet Durga idol with her family. The cost of material and labour has increased but the profit has remained the same. “I hire 60 artisans throughout the year. It is a costly affair. But the profit margin has remained 20 per cent for every idol sold for the last two decades. That makes things difficult,” claimed Pradip Rudra Pal.

The memorial of Saint Teresa of Kolkata at AJC Bose Road in the city. (HT Photo)

“Cost is rising and we are unable to meet the demand because the purchasers are not willing to pay higher price. It is a peculiar situation. We are also experimenting with fibre, glass and other material to make Durga, but how to reduce the cost?” added Sanatan Rudra Pal.

If hectic activity, cacophony and chaos are Kumartuli, at the other extreme of the city, the modest-looking Mother House on AJC Bose Road is a silent fortress. Carols and hymns sung by the nuns of Missionaries of Charity (MC) at specific hours of the day is the only break from the monotony of silence.

Life has not changed in the Mother House since her canonization. Only a small pictorial board, few notices and hymns and psalms dedicated to her by the nuns in the chapel, where the grave of Saint Teresa of Kolkata is located, everyday tells us that the champion of the poor and destitute, the apostle of peace and the saint of the gutter is now worshipped by the believers.

One is a saint of the Catholic Order and the other is the leading Goddess of the Hindu pantheon, whose prayers are accompanied by Sanskrit chants. But both symbolize the power of love and preach peace. One fought the evil of poverty, hunger and disease, the other a demon to save the human kind.

Idol-maker Naba Pal working in his studio at Kumartuli. (SG)

“Love one another as I have loved you,” Mother Teresa said. In fact, few know that since Mother Teresa respected all religions, Durgotsav had a special place in her heart. This was the time when she visited Durga pandals with her followers. “She did not go alone. But when people came to take her to a pandal, she went and then got back to her prayers after returning home,” said MC spokesperson Sunita Kumar.

Mother Teresa maintained a punishing schedule. She got up at 4.40 am. At 5 am, she was praying and meditating. At 6 am, she led the Mass. At 6.45 am there was a break for breakfast, and then she prayed again. Between 7 am to 8 am, she oversaw the household chores. At 8 am, she along with the nuns left the Home for visiting the other centres and dispensaries of MC.

“She loved children. A visit to Shishu Bhavan was a daily part of her schedule. She also visited Nirmal Hriday for the dying and the sick regularly. No less important to her was Gandhi Prem Nivas for leprosy patients,” recalled Sunita Kumar, who worked with Mother Teresa for more than 50 years.

Mother Teresa and nuns returned Home by noon and the lunch was over by 12.30 pm. This was followed by prayers. Between 1.30 pm to 2 pm would be rest time. Spiritual reading began at 2 pm and from 2.45 pm to 6 pm, it would be time for prayers and hymns. Supper was over by 8 pm. And after the night prayer at 9.20 pm, the lights were switched off in MC Home at 10 pm.

Painting the eye of Goddess Durga. (Subhendu Ghosh)

But while the nuns slept, Mother Teresa worked in her small attic room above the kitchen. The wooden furniture and no fan explain the simple life that the Albanian nun lived since February 1953. “She lived in a room which was above the kitchen. There is not much ventilation either. It is furnished modestly. She really lived a simple life and loved all whom she met and those who came to meet her,” said Sister Blesilla of MC.

Mother Teresa died at the age of 87 in 1997. Pope John Paul II disregarded the ten-year wait period for starting the process of sainthood. The Congregation of Saint-Makers at Vatican put Mother Teresa on a fast track to sainthood five years after her death. She was Beatified on October 19, 2003, by Pope John Paul II. And on September 4, 2016, Pope Francis made Mother Teresa a saint.

“Her message of peace and love moved the people. Her care for the sick and the suffering caught the world’s attention. Even before she became a saint, pilgrims visited her memorial. And since festival days will also be holidays, we expect a huge number of pilgrims to visit the Mother House to seek the blessings of Saint Teresa of Kolkata,” said Sister Blesilla.

On October 2, the Archdiocese of Kolkata and the Missionaries of Charity will celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa at Netaji Indoor Stadium. This will be followed by another function in honour of Saint Teresa of Kolkata on November 4. “The second function will be held in the Mother House. She was a Mother to the world, especially to Kolkata – not to any particular religion,” said Sunita Kumar.

Surprisingly, in this world of technological advancement, science has not made inroads into the factories that manufacture Durga or the Mother House. Even today, the artists of Kumartuli use age-old tools, bare hands and traditional materials to make beautiful idols of Durga.

And almost a similar picture exists in the Mother House. There is no air-condition, and instead of email, the sisters still prefer to fax messages on MC letterheads; the home is modestly furnished and simple utensils are used for cooking and eating purposes. And like Mother Teresa, the MC nuns do not use mobile phones. The BSNL landlines are the only means of communication with them.

Mother Teresa leading a Mass at the Mother House. (Subhendu Ghosh)

“Our studios are actually three-storied bamboo structures. We use wooden ladders to reach the upper floors which are all made of bamboos. When the statues are almost done, it becomes congested and very difficult to work inside these workshops. I believe it is Ma Durga’s blessings that make such artistry possible in such a dilapidated condition,” said Naba Pal.

But space is not something that the MC nuns complain about. For that matter, it is very difficult to know what exactly they desire or is disturbing them. Because led by Superior General of MC Mary Prema, the silence of the nuns is ominous and very difficult to penetrate even in the trying times of the Catholic Order and in the face of harsh criticisms.

“It is the discipline that Mother Teresa inculcated in her Order that prevails in all the MC homes of the world. And the MC and the Vatican believe that the life of good moral values that Saint Teresa of Kolkata lived will inspire her nuns and followers for the times to come,” said Sunita Kumar.

It is time for pomp and gaiety. Durgotsav will light up the city, dazzle the eyes, titillate the palates and fill the heart with divine spirit only to be over with the immersion of the Devi in the Ganges, leaving us in sorrow and silence. But the `Mother’ will come again, next year, same time and same place.