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Meet the family that gives shape to Chennai’s Durga idols

Despite multiple challenges, idol maker Kishori Mohan Pal and his sons are in Chennai in time for Durga Puja, continuing a tradition that began 38 years ago

While most Bengalis flock to Kolkata for Durga Pujo, here is a family that unfailingly chooses Chennai over the City of Joy. Every year, idol maker Kishori Mohan Pal of West Bengal, and his team, who have been visiting the city since 1982, camp at Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya in T Nagar where they create idols of Durga from scratch.

Kishori’s works are a regular fixture at the many Bengali associations in Chennai, Puducherry and Sriperumbudur on the city’s outskirts. The pandemic outbreak, however, threw his plans into uncertainty. “We usually reach Chennai three months before pujo. This time, we only got here in August,” says Kishori. A team of seven is now working long hours to complete the work at hand.

They received a call from the Kali Baari in T Nagar, and the following week were on a flight to Chennai. “Everything worked out to be much more expensive,” says Deben Pal, eldest of Kishori’s three sons, who has been accompanying his father since 1998. “We normally take the train. This time we had to book flight tickets online, something we attempted for the first time,” he adds.

Meet the family that gives shape to Chennai’s Durga idols

Even transporting the raw materials took longer and cost more. “We bring everything from Bengal. The mud with which we create the figurines is from the Ganges,” he adds. Due to lockdown, Deben remarks that they could not scour for raw materials, and had to make do with what was readily available.

The demand for idols is also low this time, which also reflects in the size of the idols: five feet, compared to last year’s 10 feet height. “Last year, we received orders for 30 idols of Ma Durga along with her family: Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Ganesh and Karthik. This year, it is only 17. A lot of places are not celebrating. The ones who are celebrating are doing it on a small scale,” says Deben. The price of the idols start at ₹ 25,000.

With small budgets but large expenses, not to forget the time spent away from their families, has this trip been worthwhile for the Pals? “We would anyway have been sitting at home. It doesn’t matter if we incurred a loss. What is important is we could make these idols so people can celebrate this festival and pray,” says Deben, and expresses hope: “Asche bochor abar hobe (again, next year).”

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