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Every year, months before autumn, Kumortuli in Kolkata comes to life. Artists and idol makers start shaping idols for the festival, the high point in every Bengali's year, Durga Puja. These are the idols that are going to come to life and be witness to countless prayers, tears, smiles, appreciation, and laughter. Ironically, these kumars are the god makers, the ones who birth the idols, which are then "brought to life" by a priest during the five-day festivities.
Much effort goes into making these idols for Durga Puja: the weather needs to be right for the idols to dry, the designs need to be contemporary, yet traditional, and the artists deal with multiple orders from all over the country with a strict delivery deadline.
The clay is brought by a boat down the river Hooghly from Uluberia, a village near Calcutta, because this clay is ideal for being shaped into idols. It is a ritual in itself. But the banks of river Hooghly aren't the only place where clay is collected from. Thanks to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and a flawless delivery by Madhuri Dixit, the world was made aware of a ritual that many Bengalis are still trying to reason out. That where Ma Durga's idol for the Pujo needs to be made from a mixture of cow urine, cow dung, and punya maati blessed soil.
A twist of fate, an ironic turn, poetic justice, or a marker of society's hypocrisy, whatever you want to call it, the ritual has been observed for many years and no-one has been able to trace it back to its origin. In recent times, the kumars have started going to the brothels themselves to ask for the clay. But traditionally, it is the priest who must go to a prostitute's house and beg for punya maati to be used to bring Durga to a form.
If the sex worker refuses, the priest must continue to beg until she relents. When the clay is being collected and handed over, vedic chants are recited by the priest.