Kolkata (formerly Calcutta, renamed in 2001)
It's possible to see the idols being handcrafted at Kumartuli Potter's Town in north Kolkata.
The settlement of Kumartuli, meaning "potter locality" (Kumar = potter. Tuli = locality), is over 300 years old. It was formed by a bunch of potters who came to the area in search of a better livelihood. Nowadays, around 150 families live there, earning a living by sculpting idols for the various festivals out of clay.
The majority of idols are made by lesser known artisans, who are experimental in nature. However, there are a few renowned names that make traditional idols that inspire deep devotion. One such person is Ramesh Chandra Pal, who works out of his studio at Raja Nabakrishna Street. There's always a rush to see his idols during Durga puja.
If you love art, you shouldn't miss visiting Kumartuli. But regardless, it's a place that offers a unique dose of culture. The narrow maze of lanes and alleyways team with humanity, and gods and goddesses in various states of creation. Wandering through them, and seeing the artists at work, reveals a fascinating world within a world right in front of you.
Kumartuli is in north Kolkata. The main location is Banamali Sarkar Street.
Idol making for various festivals happens mostly from June to January. Of course, the biggest occasion is Durga Puja. There's usually a frenzy of activity around 20 days before the Durga Puja festival begins, in order to get all the work finished. Traditionally, the eyes of the Goddess are drawn on (in an auspicious ritual called Chokkhu Daan) on Mahalaya -- seven days before Durga Puja starts. It's worth seeing.
Can't make it to Kumartuli? Check out how Durga idols are handcrafted there in thisexclusive making of Durga photo gallery.