Crafting the Expressions: When the Goddess is Animated



Hedau is in a rush as he is preparing to leave his house to visit an artist, who has given him a contract. It is of making hands and feet for idols of goddess Durga, who will be welcomed with great fervour in the next few days. 

The artist takes a look at the half-finished idols of the goddess in his own workshop, waits for a moment, and contemplating completion time for each, leaves. 

A professional red clay sculptor, canvas painter, and rangoli artist, Parag Hedau has multifarious artistic abilities that always keep him busy. However, in the month-long period preceding Navratri when he is engaged in hand and feet-making, he finds himself most occupied. Many sculptors in the town of Yavatmal seek his expertise to make the hands and feet for Durga idols they sculpt.

As Hedau reaches a sculptor’s atelier, he examines the idol for which he has to sculpt fingers. After scrutinizing the arms and the context, he takes out a lump from the dough of red clay and rolls it into a coil, which he cuts across into chunks that would make fingers.

Next, he grabs a carving tool, incises a nail at the tip of the piece, flattens it, renders bends, and makes creases. This is how a finger comes into existence. Then, he inserts a thin wire in its base, so that the finger can maintain stability during the movement of the idol. Also, as fingers are made with soft clay, sculptors add cotton in the clay, which helps ensure the firmness of fingers.


The sculptor churns out ten fingers at a time for two hands, in order – little finger, ring finger, middle finger, index finger, and thumb. He considers the function the hand will perform before giving shapes to fingers. So, for the hand holding lotus, he fully bends the ring and the middle fingers at the base knuckle, and bends the little finger at the middle knuckle, while keeping the index finger and thumb straight. For the hand holding sword, the artist bends the two middle fingers while rendering light bends to the rest of the two fingers, as thumb is positioned to depict a hold. Then, he places the hilt firmly in this arrangement of fingers. 

As each finger comes with a different expression requirement, the process of finger-modelling becomes fairly complex, though the fast manoeuvre of the sculptor makes it seem easy. If the idol has eight hands, then the sculptor must make fourty fingers. And for idols with eighteen hands, he has to make ninety fingers. 

Before attaching fingers, the artist makes a palm with the thenar and hypothenar shaped to match the forearm. Shallow holes are made at the top of the palm. In these holes, the artist secures the fingers with the help of thin wire that he had fitted into them, attaching fingers one by one and then arranging them to bring out the intended expression. Then, the artist creates various lines and curves on the hand. He keeps fine-touching the fingers and the palm by applying water and levels them until they are merged with each other.

“Well, making mistakes is a part of any learning process, but with sculpting, you hardly have any scope. And at least with hand and feet-making, you have little room for mistakes. You need to be attentive so that your creation comes out in its perfect form right in the first attempt.”


“The challenge is that the portion of hands till wrist are made by different sculptors, and then you have to align palms and fingers with the shape and size of the arms,” remarks Hedau. 

For toes, the sculptor checks how the feet have been positioned, and then sculpts each toe. He then attaches them to the ball, arranging them all to complete the foot. 

In toe-making, the artist follows almost the same process he follows for making fingers, just that he keeps toes longer and thicker to showcase the typical foot expressions. 

Seemingly tricky, the task has become a cakewalk for Hedau, today. He effortlessly rolls clay clods and models them into fingers and toes. “The feministic expressions conveyed through the face must align with that of the hands. All elements must work in synchronization for the work of art to successfully depict the intended emotions,” stresses Hedau. Altogether, it takes him around four hours to finish hand and feet-making for one idol.

Making these parts is one challenging task in the entire Durga sculpting. Each hand exhibits a unique expression and each toe must correspond to how the feet have been set, which is where the sculpting skills of an artist are put to test. So, one might feel as if the hands and feet have been made with a mould. But no such mould exists, and artists craft these expressions with their hands.

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