Indian artists are in Cardiff making sculptures for the Hindu community’s holy festival of Durja Puja. The project will be the last at Butetown History and Arts Centre before it shuts . Artists flew over hosted by the Wales Puja Committee which has arranged workshops with local schools and the University of South Wales.
Dibyendu Dey and Sunil Paul, from Calcutta are making the sculptures from clay, straw and papier mache at the arts centre which launched in 1988 but will now close after failing to get future funding.
Bridgend carpenter Gerald Emmers is also helping work on the 6ft high main sculpture and four smaller sculptures which go on display at the Cardiff Story museum in July and August.
They will then be worshipped by the Hindu community in October at the largest Durja Puja festival ever held in Wales. More than 1,500 Hindus from across Wales and South West England are expected to attend the festival at Penyhreol Hall, Caerphilly f rom October seven to 10.
When the celebration ends the statues will be destroyed by being immersed in water as is traditional.
It is the first time in seven years a Durja Puja festival has been held in Wales. The last time statues were made at the Museum of Welsh Life in St Fagans. They are still in storage as the cannot be immersed until replacement statues are made, said Dr Raja Biswas was Wales Puja Committee.
Dr Biswas, who works at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, said an immersion ceremony is planned in the summer for the sculptures used in 2010 and the committee will seek permission to use the River Taff or Cardiff Bay .
The last time statues had to be immersed in water in Bristol as organisers were refused permission in Wales.
Immersing the sacred sculpture
“The five day Durja Puja festival is religious, cultural and social,” said Dr Biswas, “It symbolises the mother goddess Durga being welcomed to her father’s house for five days and then going away.
“We are expecting 1,500 people to come to the festival. Puja has been held in Wales for 40 years and this will be the biggest Puja ever held here.”
He said the statues were being made at the Butetown Art and History Centre because it was important to get the Welsh Hindu and wider community involved.
Pupils from Cardiff High and Radyr Comprehensive are visiting the artists while the work as well as art students. Passersby are also welcome to drop in and watch the artists at work, and two open evenings are planned.
“It is a unique project about education, history and religion. Puja is a huge festival in Calcutta, a bit like Christmas here,” said Dr Biswas.
Artist Dibeyendu Dey will return to India in July ready to create more Puja sculptures there, said he was using equivalent materials here.
“In India we would use clay from the Ganges or other rivers and paddy field straw. Here we have bought clay from a shop and are using hay. But it is the same.
“Because it is a Welsh festival we are also putting images of Welsh connections at the base of the main sculpture, pictures of the Welsh flag and the Principality Stadium.
“I came for the last Puja in Wales in 2009. I enjoy coming here to do this.
“We feel very satisfied when our work is immersed. it is part of our religion to immerse it.”