Looking at the idols high up on the altar with beautiful outfits, one could hardly imagine how much work is put to produce the clothes and the idols. Smrita Jain studied deep into Durga puja, an Indian festival, and discovered the fashion effort behind the tradition.
Celebrating the 10-armed goddess Durga’s glorious return after defeating an evil named Mahishasura, the 10-day festival is similar to Christmas in the Western world. Indians worship the goddess and her fellow deities by carving sculptures and reappearing her majesty in front of the public.
For such a festival, it took 4 – 5 months and families of artists. Look carefully at the sculptures; each arm of Durga has different adornments and decoration.
The fashion design of Durga, meanwhile, is more flexible depending on budget set by the community or organisation that hired the artists.
Either all decoration is carved onto clay or placed on the sculptures after the production of garments. The main material used is called Shola, a plant that grows only in marshy areas near West Bengal. On top of that, traditional costume 9-yard sari with kyari shape that symbolises mother’s womb and represents the power of women giving birth to new life is essential. Everything is handmade.
The most important part is to bring out the glory of Durga and her fellows, which takes extremely delicate work of artists since they have to put clothes on Durga without breaking any of her fingers (each has 50) or fragile parts. One Durga takes a few artists to finish and one artist would take a few orders.
“My mother who grew up in West Bengal/Calcutta said each artist that crafts these idols gets around 15 to 20 Durga idol sets. It’s their livelihood and these families have been doing this for generations. The artists in Delhi whom I documented had about 8 to 10 idol sets,” reflected Smrita.
Just like all other festivals in the world, people will dress up during Durga puja. Dominant colours like yellow, red, gold, pink, orange and blue are popular and it was said that different colours were for different days, yet this detail bit is lost in time already.
After the festival, all idols will be submerged in water as part of the festivity. Since the fabric is plant based, it is environmentally friendly to “handle” the idols in such a way and return the gift to the nature.
“I want to bring focus to the artists and the craft that makes the crux of this festival. They are the image creators and I wanted to document the craft. The creative process is a celebration of its own,” said Smrita.
She faced a few challenges for the documentary: asking permission to document the creative process, photographing in “studios,” which are roadside corners covered with plastic sheets and limited light source. All photos are taken under natural light by a film camera with no post-production.
Other than the cultural implication, Durga’s fashion has given meaning to peoples’ lives in India not only because the materials are environmentally friendly but the festival itself supports numerous families’ living.
“These artists don’t have MFA and pick up skills from the age of 10 and work alongside their families. No one is born with skills: it’s the time, effort and environment that can help bring life to ability and artistry,” concluded Smrita.
要讓節日順利舉辦，需要四至五個月的和以家族計的手作人。仔細觀察雕塑，杜爾迦女神的每一隻手臂都有不同的設計和飾物。話雖如此，不同地方的女神像都會不同的服飾 – 視乎制作雕塑的機構的預算。
創作雕塑，最重要的一環必然是彰顯杜爾迦女神及同伴的光輝 – 這非常考驗手作人的功夫。試想要為十隻手臂的女神穿上衣服並且不能弄斷任何一根手指（每個女神像有50根手指）或任何部分！一個女神像需要數位手作人共同完成，而一位手作人亦會同時幫忙製作好幾個雕塑。