If music has no boundaries, art too has no religion. This has been proved this Durga Puja season in Assam by national award-winning sculptor Nuruddin Ahmed who made several idols of the Mother Goddess that adorned the puja pandals in different parts of the State.
For Assam, fondly referred to as the land of Sankar-Aazan (after the 15th century neo-Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankaradeva and the 17th century Sufi preacher of Islam in Assam Aazan Fakir), such things as Nuruddin, a Muslim, making Durga idols do not come as a surprise.
After all, with a population of 35 million, Assam is known for its history of Hindu-Muslim bonding ever since the time of these two great saints whose core message was aimed at promoting communal harmony.
“I have been sculpting and painting idols of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon since 1975. Both Hindus and Muslims alike have been embracing my work ever since. In the beginning, things were not smooth, I had to face a lot of challenges. Born a Muslim was the primary challenge as Islam prohibits idol worship. But, I had to follow my passion as I was hugely attracted to this art since my childhood,” Nuruddin told Awaz-the Voice in an exclusive interview.
In 1970, Nuruddin joined the JJ College of Arts in Bombay to pursue a course in art and sculpture. “My family tried their best to dissuade me. The local clerics, too, opposed the idea. But I went ahead. At one point, my family stopped my allowances, forcing me to drop out of the course after 15 months and return home in Nalbari, in western Assam,” Nuruddin said.
The turning point in his life came in 1975 when Nuruddin decided to shift base to Lakhimpur, a district town in northern Assam, on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra. There he sculpted his first Durga idol.
“There has been no looking back ever since,” he said, without the least regret. For the past 46 years, Nuruddin has been making idols of not just Goddess Durga, but other gods and goddesses to mark every occasion in the Hindu religious calendar, a feat unparalleled by any other idol maker in the region.
Nuruddin uses various materials like timber, bamboo; saw dust, fibre glass, bronze, iron, jute and other items he can lay his hands on to make an idol. He has also sculpted statues of legendary personalities of Assam such as music maestro Dr Bhupen Hazarika, first premier of Assam Bharat Ratna Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi, and Assamese writer-politician Nabin Chandra Bordoloi, among others.
People in Guwahati get to see his creations, including decorations and sculptures, in almost every major Durga Puja pandal each year. Besides, samples of his works and unique creations like the traditional Assamese dhol (drum), brass pot and other items can be seen in the city’s major shopping malls.
Nuruddin’s 2017 creation of the tallest Durga idol (109 feet) using over 5000 bamboos at Bishnupur in Guwahati helped him enter the Limca Book of Records. The work that Ahmed and his team completed in 45 days met with a misfortune after a storm damaged parts of the sculpture a week ahead of the Durga Puja celebrations.
He, however, did not lose his cool and completed repairing the damages within a week.
Joint secretary of the Guwahati’s Bishnupur Sarvajanin Durga Puja Committee Devashish Das said: “Despite belonging to the Muslim community, Nuruddin had been designing and making idols for our Durga Puja every year from 2013 to 2017 following all the Hindu religious traditions and rituals. He used to adopt a different theme every year giving our Puja a unique identity. We will always appreciate his artistry and I am sure everyone will do so.”
His works have fetched him the President’s Award and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award apart from various other national and state level awards.
Born in an economically backward Sathikuchi village in Nalbari district, 63-year-old Nuruddinhas not only created a niche for himself in Assam, but also brought laurels to the State with his artistic creations in major metros of the country such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and abroad in countries like Bangladesh and Singapore.
Apart from sculpture, the veteran artist is also associated with face art and mask making, drama, mobile theatre, Bhaona (Vaishnavite one-act plays), puppetry etc. His extraordinary talent was evident at a tender age when he prepared the stage for a play ‘Dillir Machanad’ when he was just a student of Class V. And, starting with an initial compensation of just Rs 40, Nuruddin earns about Rs 15 lakh a year with his artistry and has created employment for at least 30 people (all from Assam) as on date.
Nuruddin says, “Assam is a harmonious land of cultural diversity. There has never been any communal intolerance or hatred despite a section of vested interests trying to sow the seed of communal hatred over the past few years. I believe they will never succeed because Assam is a land of unity in diversity where everyone belonging to different caste, creed, race and religion live an inclusive life.”
About missing the Durga Puja last year due to COVID-19 pandemic, Nuruddin said: “I missed Durga Puja idol making only twice in my 46-year-long career and it pained me a lot. This time too I did not sculpt many idols because the puja celebrations continued to be a low-key affair because of the pandemic. I am hopeful of better days by next year.”
Guwahati-based journalist Haidar Hussain said: “Nuruddin Ahmed has achieved great heights with his artistic pursuit which is a matter of pride for us. However, it’s a matter of concern that a section of so-called custodians of Islam have always tried to undermine his achievements rather than appreciating those. This is largely because of misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Quran and Hadith by a section of people who have limited knowledge and always try to impede the society’s progress.”
Source: Awaz The Voice