“Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission
“Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.
The term can be applied to music that has been evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by popular and art music and it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community.
The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning the re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk-character.”
The above definition of folk music was accepted by the International Folk Music Council in 1964. However, this definition can be broadened easily to other arts by substituting the word “music” with the word “art”.
The art of idol making can be considered as a major “urban folk art” (Guha-Thakurta, 2004). The art that is nurtured within the four walls of the workshops of Kumartuli has its roots in the cultural heritage and history of Bengal. Bhattachaya (2008) points out,
“These traditional idol-makers of Kumartuli have been associated historically with the culture of Durga puja celebration in Bengal and in Kolkata for over the last 250 years or so, and have marked a niche for themselves as a specialized group of craftsmen among the ordinary potters. It is this community of people who are undergoing adaptations and innovations in their life and work in order to fulfill the ever changing demands of the Durga puja, trying to maintain that fine balance between ritual authenticity and innovative ‘art'”.
Presently there are about 500 workshops within a total area of 6.6 acres (Guha-Thakurta 2015). A typical workshop of the karigars at Kumartuli is a linear rectangular room with an entrance facing the road or the lane. The walls are of bricks and slopping roof of tin shades supported on bamboo truss system and has mezzanine floors. The height of these workshop ranges from 18 feet to 20 feet (Banerjee, 2017). These workshops comprises of working space, storage space for idols, storage space of raw materials, eating, cooking and sleeping space of karigars. It is a place where Karigars or labours work and live in the same space (Banerjee, 2017).
Das (2009) observes,
“A majority of the establishments operate out of kuchcha construction and are therefore susceptible to water logging, poor sanitation and fire hazards. The area has a very high ground coverage of 90% which prohibits the entry of light and causes poor ventilation. The drainage, sewerage, solid waste management system and water supply system are inadequate to say the least. Accessibility is extremely poor and any circulation within the area through whatever narrow roads are available is impeded by encroachment and unauthorised structures.”
Most of the people in this are area running their businesses generation after generation, so there are businesses found to be older than 200 years.
However, after even a couple of centuries the business has remained mostly within the boundaries of hindu religion and more precisely within the cast of potters. Banerjee (2017) points out, “The artisans are mostly Hindu (88%) but 8% Muslims were also found along with remaining 4% other religion.” The potters of Kumartuli belong to the Kumbharar caste, which is now considered to OBC in West Bengal.
However, it is not only limited to a certain religion and caste but also the division of labour is note worthy. Banerjee (2017) even points out that the Idol making industry is mostly male dominated, only 37 percent of the total workers are found to be female. Das (2009) writes,
“The Kumartuli is an idol making industry in which the division of labour is based on sex and age. Here the women mainly engage with house hold activities. But they also engage with the business work indirectly. They cook for the laborer which is a part of the business. Some females also hold their father business. Women are mostly engage with the stages of idol making such as preparing the coloring the idol, face of idol, eye drawing, wearing cloth and ornament to the idol etc. Some years ago for the male dominancy the women only engage in house hold activities. They haven’t the permission to do other outside work. Their work is to stay at home and do only house works. Earning money is completely a male work. Some old persons still think that “Mayera Mayer Jat” (the girls are as similar as mother) so it is good for them to stay in the house and do the house work more than doing a job or higher education.”
He further writes,
“There were also some division of labour on the basis of work and experience on the work. On the basis of that there were 3 types of laborer such as- Main laborer, Medium laborer and Patel. Except these there were some artisans who draw eyes and some is expert to wear cloth to the idols.”
Bhattcharya (2008) observers that the population in Kumartuli is now no more a homogenous group and can be divided broadly into three major groups: the master artists of Kumartuli, The educated, Art College graduate artists, who are not necessarily from potter caste and The numerous small artisans, mostly belonging to the potters’ caste but also from other lower caste groups, there are even Muslim potters among them. She further writes that apart from these three distinct categories, the entire industry is supported through the labour ofinnumerable wageworkers or karigars as they say who are engaged in the various stages of production. These labourers are, unskilled, semi-skilled or skilled and derive their livelihood from this work. They might have formerly belonged only to the traditional potters’ caste but now are a heterogeneous mixture of many castes – higher and lower in the hierarchy.
Though not a cottage ‘industry’ as such, idol-making constitutes a craft-based occupation which is gradually taking the shape of an industry, can be identified as having a ‘cottage craftsman mode’ of production, wherein the members of the family and kin group, i.e., domestic group control the manufacture and sale of the product (Goody 1982).
The production of idols is a commodity production, which involves a direct exchange and has a specific use value. The consumers are scattered throughout the world in almost all places where there is a concentration of Bengali population. Though the market is chiefly concentrated within Kolkata and the other parts of Bengal today the idols from Kumartuli reaches the corners of the world. Mukherjee (2017) writes,
“A spokesman of Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samity, an association of the craftsmen, Babu Pal told UNI that the NRIs of countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia, Austria and Poland, come to Kumartuli to buy images. US based NRIs, including the Bengali Association of Southern California, Bengali association of Greater Chicago, Dakshini, Sanskriti, Garden State Puja Committee of New Jersey, East Coast Durga Puja Committee of New York, come to Kumartuli to select deities to ship to their cities. Additionally, hundreds of agents in Kolkata service NRIs seeking idols from Kumartuli, he said. With the internet expanding exponentially, Kolkata’s traditional idol makers launched a community website for Kumartuli so that they could reach potential overseas buyers of Durga idols. More than 15 idol makers have already launched their websites till now. They have already secured direct offers from around the world, said Mr Pal.”
However, Banerjee (2017) shows,
“Annual income varies a lot in this businesses some studio (shop) owners those who export a good number of idols to foreign countries they earn better profit than others. But the income of the idol makers are not very satisfactory, whatever the owner earn they get ¼ percentage of that or more or less among those 18 percentage those who earn more than 60 lac annualy they export durga idol to foreign countries like United Kingdom, America, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Nepal, various countries of Europe etc.
Like other industries an ancillary industry formed based on this idol making industry too, mostly their products are decorative artifacts, jewelleries, pottery works, garlands, floor drawings etc. Profitability of this ancillary shops highly dependent on idol making industries, 26 percentage of these shop owners annual turnover is 1-20 lacs, 20 percentage of those earn less than 1 lac and 22 percentage of them earn make more than 60 lacs.”
The cost of raw materials has increased sharply but the prices of the images have not been increased proportionately. As images of different gods and goddess are required for the various pujas (religious worship) held through the year, the products being made in the image makers’ workshops have very short production cycles. Workshops are small and cramped and do not have sufficient space to store unsold stock. Therefore the crafts persons are forced to sell their products at whatever prices they can command, even if it entails a loss of investment (Das, 2009).
Bhattacharya (2008) writes,
“Of primary importance is the storage space that the artisan will require to keep these idols that are made in advance. The storage space or warehouse needs to be rented, the cost varying from Rs 150 per month to Rs 5000 for a season (five to six months). If an idol is stored for a long period of six to seven months, the paints tend to peel-off, the lustre fades and hence just before delivery the whole idol needs to be re-painted. Other than these, storage also involves transportation costs since either a cycle van or a mini truck (LeV) should be hired along with five to eight porters (coolies) to transfer the completed or semi completed idol from the workshop to the warehouse and back at the time of delivery.”
Apart from the problem of storage and rising cost, the instability and unavailability of labours are another issue. Banerjee (2017) opines, “People get easier work near their homes under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. So they do not want to come all the way to Kolkata to work, until 2013 the daily wages of semi-skilled workers was Rs. 200. From 2014 it has been doubled.”
Not only the labours who need seasonal migration to be a part of the idol making process in Kumartuli, the next generation within the community itself is not really very keen to join the hereditary business. Mukherjee (2017) opines that the younger generation is not that keen to pursue idol-making as a profession as there is less social recognition and monetary benefits and thus the new-generation of idol makers now defy many of the age-old traditions. This is further supported by Das (2009),
“In the absence of respect for their skills, appropriate remuneration, access to basic facilities and infrastructure; government support or civil society recognition, a number of traditionally trained image makers are abandoning their profession. The younger generation of these artisan families is also wary of continuing the profession for the same reasons. Consequently, the tradition of image making in clay is under decline.”