Ladies in waiting : MODERN TIMES
Saturday 11 February 1995
This mass production of Sarasvatis happens every January in Kuartuli, the religious statue building quarter of Calcutta, just before the Sarasvati Puja, a festival in the goddess's honour. Later in the year, the quarter again turns out hordes of female statues for the puja of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and again, for the big puja for Durga, wife of Shiva. This perhaps helps explain the utter lack of surprise on the faces of the passers-by in this photograph.
When the hands are finally attached and the cracks all sealed, the statues will be painted, and dressed in shining saris and acrylic wigs. As the personification of all knowledge, Sarasvati should be possessed of exquisite beauty, so the statues are painted and their faces heavily made up. And thanks to the paint, it will then become clear that the cudgels are in fact vinas, a seven-stringed lyre associated with the goddess.
Look closely and you can see birds' heads poking out among the crowd of statues. Traditionally, Sarasvati rides a swan to signify control of the passions, and a peacock as a symbol of the world in all its glory. The most elaborate representations of Sarasvati show the goddess holding: a rosary, a book, a noose, a conch shell, a discus...and more and more accoutrements.
The figures shown here will be put on display in shrines in the sitting rooms of middle-class Calcutta or on make-shift street altars which blare out music from distorted speakers and block the already crowded thoroughfares of the city. Figures of this size will cost 300 to 500 rupees (£6 to £10) and thus represent a substantial sum for many households. However, by local standards, the statues are small fry - a truly commanding Sarasvati will stand 12 or 15 feet high and have a tent built to house it.
At the end of the Sarasvati Puja, the figures are taken down to the Hooghly River, turned round several times, and finally cast into the river where the clay will dissolve back into silt. Then, in another great recycling of sorts, the poor waiting on the river banks dive in, and come back clutching damp wigs and rolls of sodden material. Amanda Mitchison
Photograph by David Klammer
Life & Style blogs
Ebola outbreak: Why has a disease that's only ever killed 2,000 people captivated the darkest side of our imagination?
Ebola virus: UK health officials issue warning to doctors as experts admit the outbreak 'is not under control'
National Orgasm Day: Don't get caught up on climaxing
Watch: Vogue Italia's plus-size models in fetish-inspired lingerie shoot
Ebola: UK is ready to deal with outbreak, says Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
- 1 Russell Brand accuses FOX News anchor Sean Hannity of terrorism after aggressive Israel-Gaza debate
- 2 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness – including don’t try to convert other people
- 3 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 4 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 5 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- < Previous
- Next >
£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...
£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...
£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...