Nemai Chandra Paul

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Hinduism, mysticism, religion, spirituality, tradition
Visual Arts (artefact, painting, sculpture)
Asia, Southern and Central
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June 20, 2003
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Making a Durga

Traditional clay images from West Bengal

Born into a family of traditional clay image makers in West Bengal, Nemai Chandra Paul has taken the artform to a high level. He started work under his grandfather and father when he was eight years old, making his first image when he was ten. He works internationally and has run successful education workshops in museums and galleries in the UK and USA.
Nemai Chandra Paul is a clay image maker from West Bengal in India. He was born in 1934 and began his profession at the age of eight, working under the guidance of his grandfather and father in the tradition of his community.

He made his first image when he was ten years old. At the age of 13, he moved to the Kumartuli potters´ community in Kolkata where he trained under various masters. During his early apprenticeship he followed the Gurukul (teacher and student) tradition by serving his master in all possible ways.

Nemai Chandra Paul is recognised as an exceptional sculptor and painter. He works strictly according to the Shastric canons, following traditional Hindu teachings. His images express a sense of proportion rarely found in the works of other image makers.

At the age of 24, he took up the work of imaging the life story of Sri Chaitanya in Krishnanagar, Nadia in West Bengal. Because of this connection, he always makes the image for the Krishnanagar rajbari palace.

The process of making the image of the warrior goddess Durga takes twelve days or more depending on the size of the finished piece. The various elements are build up out of straw and clay before being painted. Durga is the fiercesome Hindu goddess most closely associated with Kolkata and West Bengal.

The image is traditionally made for the Durga Puja festival, in honour of the ´clay goddess´. This takes place in late September/early October in West Bengal when offices, schools and colleges close down and there are huge celebrations with dance, music and drama. Images of the Goddess, in a tableau with her four children (also significant Hindu gods and goddesses) are worshipped in brightly adorned marquees. On the last day of the festival, the idols are carried in procession and immersed in the river. The next day the potters return to the river bank to collect clay which is reserved to make the goddess image the following year.

Nemai Chandra Paul is particularly recognised for his painting ability. Most conventional image makers are not conversant with the painting of the different features of goddess Durga but his special ability lies in being able to paint the facial features, especially the eyes of the Goddess, remarkably well.

Nemai Chandra has participated in several workshops abroad and travelled widely outside India. In 1995 he created a lifesize image of Durga at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, USA. In 2002, he travelled to Edinburgh for the project ´Making a Durga´ at the Royal Museum. He also ran a Durga making project in Cardiff, Wales in 2002.

During these workshops it is reported that he charmed audiences and engaged groups of children modelling different animals and portraits in a few seconds. He is assisted by Biswajit Chakraborty in his public sculpture projects.
Author: Judith Staines


Nemai Chandra Paul is a traditional clay image maker from West Bengal in India. Born in 1934, he started work under his grandfather and father when he was eight years old. He made his first image when he was ten. He has participated in a number of workshops overseas and led arts projects to make an image of the Hindu goddess Durga in the USA and UK.


Making a Durga - USA

Exhibition / Installation,
Project to create a traditional durga image for Kallol, a Bengali association in New Jersey, USA, July 2002.

Making a Durga - Cardiff

Exhibition / Installation,
Three week education and public art project at Cardiff, Wales organised by the Wales Puja Committee.

Making a Durga - Edinburgh

Exhibition / Installation,
Two week public art and education project at the Royal Museum, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK

Image of Durga

Exhibition / Installation,
Workshop at Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, USA to create a lifesize image of Durga under the sponsorship of Smithsonian and Indo-US Subcommission.


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Making a Durga

(16 October 02 - 27 October 02)


Crafts Council of West Bengal

General info on traditional arts and crafts of the region. Best point of contact for reaching village based traditional artists.
Making the Durga
Making the Durga